Building efficiency

From their construction and use through to their demolition, buildings consume a great deal of energy. According to
the Carbon Trust, the built environment accounts for 40% of all carbon emissions in the UK.

Now, though, the construction industry is trying to get its house in order, in part due to regulation but also due to customer demand.

Dr Paul Toyne is head of sustainability at construction management company Bovis Lend Lease. He says that clients are increasingly concerned with the environmental impact of their construction projects, whether it is because they have made strategic commitments to sustainability or because their employees demand it. “In many cases, staff are asking their employers, ‘Why don’t we have a green office, which has low carbon emissions and low energy outputs?’,” he explains.

To meet this need, Bovis Lend Lease has set its own sustainability targets. Not only does it seek to build more efficient buildings (it aims for all new-builds to be rated at least ‘very good’ by the BREEAM building efficiency assessment), the company has also pledged to cut the footprint of its own operations. “We set a target of reducing our carbon emissions by 20% from a 2008 baseline by the end of 2010,” says Toyne. In order to achieve this feat, the company is applying information technology in a number of ways.

Clean construction

The majority of Bovis Lend Lease’s carbon emissions derive from its construction sites, which include the MediaCityUK development in Salford and the regeneration of Stratford in London’s East End.

One system that the company uses to address these emissions is named Compass. Built in partnership with an external software development agency, Compass is a web-based tool that helps employees assess the environmental impact of their decisions at the various stages of a construction project.

“For each particular stage of the project, Compass asks the employee to answer certain questions, which could be around the water management or biodiversity impact of what they plan to do,” explains Toyne. “This acts as an early warning system; if any of their answers suggest a possible risk or opportunity, the system tells them what to do or who to speak to so that we can manage or appraise that.” Toyne adds that this system helps to disseminate expertise and experience relating to energy efficiency across the organisation.

Another use of IT to control the environmental impact of construction is what the company describes as its ‘online environmental data capture system’. This is a carbon accounting tool that is based on the World Resources Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol and that measures the ongoing consumption of energy resources.

Data is collected to produce metrics including electricity use, natural gas use, vehicle use and other energy purchased. These form the basis of monthly reports, which are in turn discussed in regular environmental management meetings to find areas for improvement.

“This system gives us real-time data about our consumption and waste of energy,” explains Toyne. “By analysing that data, we can actually look at our projects and identify areas where we can make interventions to improve our performance.”

Business operations

Beyond the construction projects, Bovis Lend Lease has also used IT to cut the energy burden of its business operations. One critical method for achieving this has been to cut employee travel, through the use of videoconferencing and Microsoft’s Live Meeting web-conferencing tool.

“We’ve been able to reduce our carbon emissions associated with business travel by 25% in the past 18 months,” says Toyne. Employees were motivated to participate in this initiative by the example of the company’s executives, he claims, although they only managed to cut their travel footprint by 13%. Even the company’s office operations, which account for just 3% of its total carbon footprint, have been put under the knife.

One way in which Bovis Lend Lease has cut the footprint of its office facilities has been to install the NightWatchman tool from power management software company 1E, which automatically switches off desktop PCs at 8pm, unless they are still being used. This simple measure has reduced the energy consumption of the company’s PC infrastructure by 32% in ten months.

Toyne argues that Bovis Lend Lease’s efficiency drive makes economic sense not only because it reduces energy bills today but also because it protects the company from rising energy prices in future. “We’re creating a sustainable solution in the long term,” he explains.

As well as being in charge of sustainability at Bovis Lend Lease, Toyne serves on the London Sustainable Development Commission, and he argues that IT can drive energy efficiency at a citywide level too. “Sustainability should be the aspiration of any city, because that will mean it supports the kind of quality of life that people want; the right people will move there and it will therefore attract inward investment,” he says. “It’s important to have instruments to manage sustainability and to optimise transformational change. One way to achieve this is through traffic control and monitoring demand for public transport,” adds Toyne. “IT plays an absolutely critical role in doing all this.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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