Commissioning Green Buildings in Tourism
- Legislation Changes and Beyond
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Legislation and growing consumer demand for tourism operators to prove their green credentials are drivers for lower carbon emissions. Whether undertaking a refurbishment or a new build, building greener is unavoidable. However, green or sustainable architecture is more than just low carbon buildings. Commissioning a low carbon or sustainable building requires a shift of thinking about building processes. As the Government introduces more legislation to push this thinking along it will no longer be a choice. This article clearly explains the new building regulations and its implications, and illustrates with tourism examples good practice in this area.
'Government policy means the UK will move towards a low-carbon economy… regulation is coming and in five years architects will be designing either low carbon buildings or none. No client will commission anything but a low carbon project.'
RIBA head of policy, Ewan Willars 
Climate change is affecting tourism operators’ built environment; their buildings and surrounding spaces. While bringing changes in temperature and weather patterns, it is also the impetus for legislation to construct zero carbon buildings.
There is a greater risk of flooding, drought and driven rain. Existing buildings will need to adapt, and shelter may need to be provided. New buildings will need to be designed to cope with flood risk and more extremes in temperature, not just to provide cooler comfort in a warmer climate.
The tourism sector will need to rethink ways in which they meet customer expectations: spas, swimming pools and integrated high tech gadgets for example, will need to be procured sustainably, or at the very least to legislated low carbon standards.
Food production, travel and construction produce roughly equal amounts in the total make-up of carbon polluters – all are components of the tourism industry.
Buildings consume almost 50% of the UK’s power demand . With power production being a significant contributor to carbon emissions in the UK, and carbon emissions to climate change, legislative changes for carbon reduction are being driven towards buildings.
As the built environment forms a large part of tourism, whether the building is the destination itself, or part of the surrounding support and infrastructure such as hotels, cafes, restrooms or information kiosks, tourism operators in the UK thinking of refurbishing or carrying out building work will be affected by recently introduced, currently proposed and future revisions to Building Regulations. Building greener will be unavoidable.
New building projects will be affected whether large or small. It may be a viewing platform, ticket booth, a visitor centre, an extension to a bed and breakfast, a large resort or a new airport – all will eventually be expected to be zero carbon, not just energy efficient.
For tourism businesses, deciding to refurbish or build green may also currently be driven voluntarily by marketing, growing consumer demand for more eco-friendly holidays or accommodation, operational cost savings, personal conviction or belief in sustainable environments.
In the past ‘green’ or ‘eco’ architecture has had a woolly image. Not long ago the mention of an eco lodge would have thrown up images of a free-form earth building and composting toilets. Now it can be sexy, contemporary and even luxurious, as the opening of Cornwall’s The Scarlet hotel last year has shown (see below). Consumers wanting green holiday experiences now have more choice, and more consumers are putting a green factor into their travel decision-making process.
For example, within the hotel industry there has been a growing awareness and interest of eco issues amongst guests. A recent European-wide survey  of 5,000 travellers shows that:
- More than three quarters (76%) are as conscious or more conscious of the impact they have on the environment when staying in hotels compared with their behaviour at home.
- More than half (54%) say sustainable energy sources, such as wind, solar or hydro-electric power, should be used.
- Almost a third (29%) of respondents would choose a known ‘eco-friendly’ hotel if it was offered by a popular online booking system.
There is no universal grading system for defining an eco-friendly hotel or business. Operators can, with a minimum of effort, add in a few ‘eco-friendly’ devices, such as low water usage taps and toilets, and some energy efficient light bulbs to label or market themselves as green without showing any real commitment to sustainable issues. As consumers develop a greater understanding, and legislation changes, this may no longer be the case.
In tourism, architecture can be a useful marketing tool, as for example with the use of an iconic building (see the June 2009 Tourism Insights article Iconic Buildings and Tourism: Where to Next?). It won’t be long before legislation drives low carbon architecture to be the norm, changing the opportunities available for a ‘green’ building marketing edge. Operators wanting to differentiate themselves will have to show that their businesses and buildings are sustainable and more than just low carbon.
Pines Calyx conference and event centre
Low to zero carbon buildings use carbon rather than energy efficiency or usage as the measurement tool, a change introduced in the 2006 Building Regulations. A building is considered to be zero carbon when the net CO2
emissions resulting from all energy used in the building is zero. Carbon offsetting doesn’t add into reducing carbon emissions.
There are a multitude of low carbon building technologies available, or coming into production, aimed at reducing a building’s power consumption or producing up to 100% on site, or community-based clean renewable power supplies such as wind turbines and micro hydro-electrics. These help to reduce carbon emissions. However, if chosen unwisely and used inappropriately low carbon technologies can also be ineffective and result in little more than cosmetic ‘eco-bling’.
Sustainable architecture goes beyond this by considering the environmental, economic and social aspects of the building project and the building process, such as water sustainability, responsible sourcing, waste management and resource depletion amongst others.
When Life Cycle Analysis is added into the equation, it takes into account carbon footprint analysis of all the components and materials used in a building across its life, including the transportation and manufacturing processes; their ‘embodied energy’.
Pines Calyx conference and event centre in Kent is a carbon neutral building with a marketing strategy clearly aimed at the green consumer. Their procurement philosophy was to create a commercial building sustainably, one that incorporated the modern technologies expected of a conference and event centre but used the lowest possible amounts of embodied energy in the construction process. They chose to use historical construction methods to help achieve this, along with on site potable and waste water management systems.
For businesses wanting to commission a green building or undertake refurbishment, a good starting point is to gain some background knowledge of the issues and then seek the advice of an architect, designer, or, if the project is small, a construction company or builder specialising in sustainable construction. The Green Building Register has a database of building professionals specialising in this area, while the following will provide some background knowledge.
Made up of many components, any building is complex and requires a multitude of client decisions during the procurement process whether it’s an alteration, refurbishment or new build. Deciding to build green is a significant one, charting the course of the design and components from start to finish.
The most effective stage for considering sustainable and low carbon initiatives for any project is at the early stages – the brief, outline and developed design. Being aware of issues surrounding sustainable building allows for them to be incorporated into the brief and design, thus ensuring the project heads off in the right direction from the very start. It also helps avoid expensive time wasting changes of direction later during the project.
The design of any building project has to meet a range of legislated requirements. Currently if a project is to be very green or sustainable then the building work is voluntarily commissioned, designed and carried out to higher standards than those legally required, as legislated levels are set at minimums.
There are many pieces of legislation, standards and codes in place to set out criteria for building work. In general terms, statutory requirements for a building project may include planning application approval and listed building consent during the earlier design stages, and, under most circumstances, construction will require Building Regulations Approval (England and Wales) or a Building Warrant (Scotland). For projects with a value of £300,000 (excl VAT) or more, a Site Waste Management Programme (SWMP) must also be put in place.
Although not a statutory requirement, larger projects, such as a high-rise hotel or new support services to a significant historic or natural attraction, may also be subjected to a CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) design review which takes into account sustainability issues. Review findings, where relevant to a planning application, will then be submitted to the local planning department and be given weight in the approval process.
Smaller projects, such as a bed and breakfast business operating out of a home, may fall under design and construction guidance codes such as the Code for Sustainable Homes. There are similar codes in the pipeline for all sizes of non-domestic buildings.
The Government undertook a legal commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Many pieces of environmental legislation have been put in place and guidance for businesses relating to these can be found online at NetRegs.
For the built environment specifically, the 2008 budget set out ambitions for zero carbon targets for new building projects – homes are to be zero carbon by 2016, schools and central government estate by 2018 and all non-domestic buildings by 2019. There is also growing pressure on the construction industry sectors, with bodies like RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) pushing for zero carbon retrofitting targets to be introduced .
The definition of ‘zero carbon’ homes was announced by the UK Government in July 2009. As yet there is still no agreed common definition of ‘zero carbon’ for non-domestic buildings with the government’s consultation paper having closed on 26th February 2010 (for further information see www.communities.gov.uk/). Policy to achieve zero carbon building targets is mostly through a stepped delivery of changes to the Building Regulations standards at no less than three yearly intervals . Implementation has already commenced with the next round of changes due – the first come into effect in April 2010 with further ones scheduled for later in the year.
The zero carbon homes policy affects tourism sectors falling into mixed-use categories, where businesses operate out of a home such as bed and breakfasts, furnished holiday lets or a produce shop attached to a house, for example. Here new building work is required to comply with the more onerous and advanced stages of Building Regulation legislation aimed at zero carbon homes rather than non-domestic buildings. Across all tourism sectors, refurbishment, alterations and additions to existing buildings will also be affected.
An existing building will not be required to be zero carbon, however in most cases new construction work associated with it will be required to meet the same higher specifications set out in changes to the Building Regulations, along with the possibility of having to upgrade some or all of the existing building fabric.
New work may constitute an extension, alteration, consequential (ie substantial) improvement, material alteration, replacement or renovation of thermal elements (walls, roofs and floors). It also includes changing building use, as for example from an office to a hotel, house to a lodge. Exactly how much upgrading work will be required depends on the type and scale of work being carried out. As requirements are project specific it is best to seek guidance from an architect or Building Regulations authority.
Larger projects often have long lead times in the planning, design and documentation phases before construction starts on site. For example, the new development for John O’Groats announced in 2009 is expected to roll out over the next 15 to 20 years . As the UK comes out of recession mothballed or new projects will also start coming on line again. Projects in the planning stages now or the near future will need to consider how to incorporate tougher low carbon targets if building work hasn’t started on site before the next round of legislation changes.
Along with the government’s commitment to zero carbon targets, the EU Directive on energy performance of buildings also requires all EU countries to enhance their building regulations towards reducing energy consumption and eliminating wastage.
The Building Regulations Approved Documents set out targets, but as every building situation is different there is a combination of factors that contribute to, and not one particular way of, achieving requirements. As the 2010 version moves out of consultation phases the following changes, with a brief overview, are proposed for introduction in England in 2010.
- Part G – Sanitation, Hot Water Safety And Water Efficiency
Comes into effect on 6 April 2010, introduces hot water temperature limiting devices, new requirements on the supply of wholesome water and sink installations where food is prepared, and minimum whole building water efficiency standards for all new homes, for example by using flow restrictors, smaller volume fittings (baths, sinks etc). Non-domestic building efficiency standards were removed from the draft version and are now expected to be included in the 2013 revisions.
- Part L 2006 – Conservation of Fuel and Power (Part J in Scotland and Part F in Northern Ireland)
Anticipated to take effect from October 2010. The review proposes 25% carbon reduction in 2010 over the 2006 requirements for new dwellings, increasing to 44% in 2013. For non-domestic buildings, specific targets have not yet been set but the aim is to raise standards for energy efficiency generally towards target carbon dioxide emission rates. Measures to reach the targets include meeting higher thermal efficiency rates, for example with increased building airtightness and testing requirements (to stop hot air escaping), insulation and triple glazing. It also introduces thermal efficiency criteria for swimming pool basins where they form part of a building.
- Part F – Ventilation
Anticipated to take effect from October 2010. A review in terms of energy efficiency requirements, for example maintaining healthy air quality as buildings become more airtight.
- Parts A – Structure and C – Site Preparation And Resistance To Contaminants And Moisture
Due in 2010, with no date specified yet. Changes to technical guidance to address climate change adaptation issues for buildings and the built environment such as driving wind, rain and flooding and drought.
CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) is the government's advisor on architecture, urban design and public space. Larger tourism developments, or ones that have a significant impact on the environment may be submitted for, or subjected to, a design review.
CABE provides downloads and advice on green issues for the built environment useful for destination managers . One such initiative is ‘grey to green’, pushing for often disused built up ‘grey’ areas to be converted into ‘green’ landscapes. Examples include New York's Highline where, instead of pulling down disused elevated freight train tracks, they were turned into a public park. This attractive area, which hovers above the city, retains an element of the city’s heritage. Stage one opened in June 2009 and it is now firmly established as a visitor destination .
The following codes and design standards can be referred to for building low carbon and sustainably, but there is currently no statutory requirement to meet these. It is also possible to design and construct a sustainable or low carbon building without relying on, or with minimal use of low carbon technology – the PassivHaus standard below is one such example.
- BREEAM BRE Environmental Assessment Method is a method for measuring the environmental performance of a building and building components. It sets technical standards for sustainable design.
- Code for Sustainable Homes The code became operational in April 2007 and is active nationally. It measures the sustainability of a whole home as a complete package with a rating system of six levels based on nine categories of sustainable design. Level one is the entry level and meets higher criteria than building regulations require. Level six is zero carbon. A Code for Sustainable Non-Domestic Buildings is anticipated, there is no release date as yet.
- PassivHaus This is an international ultra low-energy construction standard. ‘The core focus of PassivHaus design is to dramatically reduce the requirement for space heating and cooling. This can be achieved without compromising comfort or needing to rely on the falling costs of renewable energy technologies.’  It can be used across all sectors of the tourism industry as the principles can be applied to residential, commercial, industrial and public buildings. Examples of multi unit development projects on their website could be translated into serviced holiday apartments or hotels .
The construction process produces large amounts of waste. UK landfill capacity is becoming more limited, toxic waste, and resource depletion are all driving factors for waste reduction. Since April 2008 in England and Wales it has been mandatory to have a site waste management programme (SWMP) for building projects with a value of over £300,000 (excl VAT). A contractor or consultant will produce this.
On projects with smaller budgets, clients wanting a more sustainable approach can request the contractor to put an SWMP in place. A contractor’s SWMP might include things like ensuring that waste is separated on site into recyclable and non recyclable, ensuring materials aren’t over ordered or left in storage for too long to avoid risk of damage and thereby waste.
Sustainable management of waste can have economic benefits as well as environmental benefits, saving or, in some, cases earning money for a project as illustrated by the former site of The Arkenside Hotel in Cirencester .
In 2006 instead of using traditional demolition methods, where the existing building would have been crushed and mostly sent to landfill, the complete building was systematically dismantled, sold and reconstructed at a new site. The following shows a cost comparison of the two methods.
|Traditional demolition process||Salvage and re-use led demolition|
|Mechanical demolition option (not taken) 5 week programme to crush and landfill 800 tonnes of material|| ||Reclamation-led demolition 12 week programme of careful deconstruction|| |
|Total cost||£29,000||Total cost||£34,000|
|Income from sale of|
|3600ft² Victorian pine flooring||£4,480|
|2,200 Welsh slates||£2,640|
|880m² Cotswold flagstone||£8,800|
At the brief stage the project team can be directed to design in waste reduction and minimisation measures for construction, as well as for occupants and users of the finished building. This could include recycling depots or extra space for recycling bins in hotel rooms for example.
Further guidance about incorporating waste management strategies into a brief is available from WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme).
Many factors contribute to the decision making process when shaping a building. A green building, alteration or refurbishment doesn’t mean being restrictive. It can be designed in any style, with a range of materials. Even building to high levels of sustainability can cater for the luxury end of the tourism market. One of the major controlling factors for clients however is the cost of the building procurement and its ongoing operational costs.
As a rule of thumb building green will aim to reduce operational costs with sustainable power, water and thermal efficiencies. However with construction costs it can move either way and payback on investment over the operational life of a building then enters into the decision making process.
A Tourism Insights case study, Sustainable energy development, describes the Caravan Club’s Poolsbrook Country Park site which incorporates solar hot water heating, a heat pump, and photovoltaic and wind turbine low carbon technologies. It also includes strategies such as smart metering for monitoring actual payback against projected payback.
At the other end of the scale, it was the personal beliefs and ideals of the owners of The Scarlet to build a luxury hotel to the highest levels of sustainability, not only in building terms with minimal carbon footprint, but in the whole ethos of the business model. In doing so they accept that that the payback will be longer than traditional hotel business models.
Along with an outdoor pool the hotel has a spa area consisting of outdoor hot tubs, an indoor pool, a steam room, tranquility room, light and deep relaxation rooms, a hamam (heated stone slabs and water cleansing treatments) and rasul (steam and mud room). All are run and sourced sustainably. The outdoor pool is warmed by solar power and filtered to crystal clear with a reed bed system. The outdoor hot tubs are wood fired and the indoor pool and steam rooms run with the biomass (wood chip) boilers. Instead of an air-conditioned indoor gym there is a gym instructor on hand for classes on the nearby beach or surrounding outdoors.
Projecting payback is not an exact science. Prices fluctuate for national grid power supply and market forces come into play. Legislation for zero carbon buildings is stimulating the low carbon technology market. As manufacturing processes develop and more competitors enter the market, in theory, costs should come down.
Many new technologies and products useful for the tourism industry are also emerging such as:
- road surface or under paving systems that generate power (roading to or within destinations or hotels with tennis courts could utilise this for example)
- hydrogen production from algae (used for clean biofuels in transportation and power production)
- steel cladding systems incorporating phase change technology to produce electricity (for use on buildings and kiosks etc).
- building design can reduce the need for power consumption by orientating it towards the sun for solar gain and thermal mass heat retention to minimise the need for mechanical heating
- by planning for natural ventilation it is possible for large buildings to be comfortable without the need for air-conditioning
- sustainable sourcing of materials could be from local suppliers within a 30-mile radius of the project
- building the structure of a nine storey building in lightweight timber (renewable) rather than concrete (not renewable and a high carbon emitter) and steel (non renewable but recyclable) can reduce the cost of foundations and benefit from shorter delivery times.
Every project has its own specific set of requirements and influences from the environment. Ensuring that technologies are used effectively and appropriately for their situation is an important cost factor.
However, there are also many other ways to procure sustainably which may be more effective in achieving higher environmental, community and cost benefits than bolting on low carbon technologies. For example:
Commissioning a low carbon or sustainable building requires a shift of thinking about building processes. As the Government introduces more legislation to push this thinking along it will no longer be a choice.
Sue Cambie is a director at SCD Design Ltd, a UK based Architecture, Interiors and Project Management Practice with associate offices in New Zealand, Thailand and the Caribbean. The practice is a member of the Green Building Register and would be happy to answer any queries you have on sustainable building design issues.