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HVAC men say crunchtime for sustainability

At a lively debate on sustainable buildings, the audience attending a seminar at this year's M&E exhibition were told of building services' battle to go green.
'Why aren't sustainable buildings happening?' was the provocative title of one seminar, sponsored by SummitSkills. At the seminar, Faber Maunsell's Ant Wilson told the gathering 'Have we got sustainable buildings- the answer is no. We have buildings that are more sustainable than than they were'.

Other industry figures spoke of the problems of swallowing the costs of construction and the operation of sustainable buildings. They highlighted the issue of managing rising construction costs which were out of sync with initial quotes given for jobs.

Bob Shelley, MD of Sharpe and House, based in Oxford, said 'One way we secure work is by competitive tender. If a project is over budget, all sustainable measures go out the window.'

Shelley complained of the 'payback period' thinking tied to sustainability saying 'if you buy a new car you don't work out how long is it going to be before payback.'

M&E Sustinability's Mike Malina said in discussions with a member of one FTSE 250 company, he'd spoken of a sustainable technology that had a 2-3 year payback. He was told the firm was looking for a return on investment in six months. Malina told the crowd 'A payback of 2, 3 or even 5 years is a good ROI. We need to look at the real world and how we're spending money. Imagine if the government's £50 billion bailout for banks had been put into energy efficiency'.

One source from the government's Ministry of Defence said 'For new builds, in relation to the tender process, it comes down to cost. We take the cheapest quote.Sustainability is very low on the agenda during assessment.

'We are spending tax payers' money and value for money is our mantra. We need tangible evidence that fitting sustainable products is value for money'.

HVCA chief executive Robert Higgs, hosting the debate, said 'If finance directors of businesses don't care about sustainability, it seems we won't have drivers of sustainability except through legislation.'

Lack of skills in the industry and education of clients were other key sustainability issues raised in the debate. Higgs added 'Clients don't know what they want or what's available. Whose job is it to inform them?'

There were attentive listeners to the words of one speaker who said 'Nobody learns from the buildings already in use- there is no culture in construction of learning from the past and what happens in buildings in use'.

There were renewed calls for stakeholders, architects, contractors, customers and clients to put an end to the culture of silo'd thinking and work together for sustainability.

Many said the involvement of the m&e industry early on in the planning stage for buildings was crucial. One consultant spoke of the frustration he felt being contacted because of a planning issue that had arisen, but he'd been brought on board too late in the process.

Kevin Talbot, the head of the HVCA's ductwork group and MD of Cranworth Engineering said 'The client knows what he wants to pay, architects make decisions and as the bottom of the chain we're not getting the opportunity to put our thoughts across early.'

'The Roadmap to Sustainability' programme of seminars sponsored by Summitskills spanned the two-day M&E exhibition held on October 8-9 at London's Kensington Olympia.
8 October 2008

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