Updated guidance aims to take the drive for sustainable construction beyond good intentions
A quarter of UK carbon emissions derive from housing. Despite good intentions to reduce this, many new and refurbished homes have been found to use twice the amount of energy aimed for. We know housing is a political issue, so you would think a thorough understanding of how to achieve quality outcomes would be central to government strategy. Sadly, this is not the case. Housing development takes place largely in the absence of a comprehensive system for establishing performance in terms of standard setting, testing or feedback in use. It has been said that people are better informed about their breakfast cereal than they are about their homes.
In recent times, governments have taken the view that housing standards, regulation and guidance have stifled the market.
The regulatory space has arguably become overcrowded, but instead of an effective programme of rationalisation, the tendency has been to strip away worthwhile checks and balances. The dearth of feedback loops in the built environment generally, and housing in particular, has left the homebuilding industry lagging far behind almost all other aspects of consumption. It’s not just cornflakes that you can rely on for predictable performance these days. White goods, cars, communication systems, leisure and tourism services are among a wide range of industries subject to open systems of feedback on standards of performance that are clearly described.
If we are to move towards reliable delivery of meaningful built performance, we need a theoretical basis for doing so that is accessible and understandable. Energy consumption is part of it, but there are other aspects too, particularly the impact on human wellbeing. Unless and until we have suitably universal systems for standard setting, predicting, measuring, feedback and learning from the outcomes, we will be hampered from overcoming these existential threats.
It is said that people are better informed about their breakfast cereal than about their homes
Post-occupancy evaluation (POE), the assessment of how building performance measures up to the expectations of the team that designed and built it, has huge potential but is still rare in private and public sector contracts. The RIBA is calling for POE to become a requirement in public sector capital funding programmes and for all housing providers to consider its benefits. We’d like to see ministers appoint departmental POE leads and to spearhead reform and share data between and within departments and with contractors and designers. POE adds less than 0.25% to the project cost, but would have enormous benefits for existing and future buildings.
An industry consensus is emerging on the key sustainable outcomes that the RIBA expects to become the standard measurables for all projects in the future. New RIBA guidance to be published towards the end of the year will fully embed sustainability into the RIBA Plan of Work and provide the means for teams on any project to target sustainable outcomes in the brief, manage their delivery through each stage and undertake meaningful analysis up to three years after handover.
Led by members of the RIBA’s Sustainable Futures Group and supported by professionals across the industry, this work will result in an updated guide to using the RIBA Plan of Work. Supporting this will be detailed guidance on ‘sustainability’ and ‘plan for use’ strategies that define standard tasks for the prediction and measurement of a core set of outcomes, for use in a new professional services contract for post-occupancy evaluation.
Close the gap
The RIBA recently published guidance on closing the gender pay gap, outlining a range of effective measures to improve gender equality. This is accompanied by a #CloseTheGap pledge, developed by a core group of gender pay reporting practices, which commits participants to several actions including operating fair, equal and unbiased recruitment and promotion procedures, supporting flexible working patterns and appointing a Diversity Champion. All RIBA chartered practices are encouraged to sign up.