To understand sustainability start by considering a simple system or process and describing the qualities by which it could be defined as sustainable. This may suggest that a sustainable system or process is one that:
This suggestion however concentrates on qualities that emphasise environmental sustainability but over the last decades sustainability has more generally been applied to ‘maintaining life on Planet Earth’. But then Planet Earth itself sustains innumerable eco-systems on which life depends. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest global environmental organisation, offered the following definition, “Sustainability is about improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems”.
It has to be recognised however that human life is constantly evolving. It is on a path of continuous growth and development and this brings with it social and economic challenges. Accordingly, later definitions concentrate on sustainable development and the universally accepted definition was offered in 1987 by the Brundtland Committee to the United Nations, “Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
The 2005 World Summit further clarified this statement by noting that “Sustainable Development requires the reconciliation of environmental, social and economic demands” which they termed the ‘Three Pillars of Sustainability’.
The Importance of Sustainability
The Earth’s eco-systems are being stressed by the effects of human inhabitation. The exploitation of fossil fuels was inextricably linked with the development of the industrial world, particularly in the 18th, 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. But the stark reality is that these resources are finite and they pollute.
The depletion of the ozone layer, with global warming and climate change its consequence, has been the principal focus of inter-governmental strategies. They have given commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help developing countries make similar commitments but without damaging their economic development and future living standards. See web reference ‘Climate Change’
It is clear that action is required across a broad front. The continued rise in global population and the unsustainable consumption of the Earth’s resources present serious challenges. These include:
Legislation Relating to Sustainability
The legislative framework regarding sustainability in the UK has emanated from the Government’s legally binding commitment to three tiers of sustainability policies. In other words, those commitments have been given at global, European and domestic levels.
Inter-governmental (global) Legislative Framework
The Kyoto Protocol was established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992. It was forged after taking key scientific input from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was created by the United Nations in 1988. The Kyoto Protocol committed developed countries, including the European Union, to targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2012. It also committed them to helping the developing nations through the provision of funds.
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and became legally binding in 2005; essentially ratified by nations responsible for 55% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
European Policy and Strategy
UK Domestic Policy
To give effect to EU directives the following legislation was introduced in the UK:
Professional Institutes / Institutions
1.2 Impact of Sustainability
Sustainability and sustainable development have been described as achieving a better standard of living while:
It is clear from this description that if the inhabitants of Planet Earth wish to benefit from its aspirations then all must take actions towards the sustainability goals it outlines. These actions and benefits are considered in terms of the users of the energy and resources (Customers) and the providers of the energy and resources (Utility Companies) in the following text.
The Effect Sustainability has on the Customer
Customers aspire to a better standard of living and the inter-governmental commitments set out the corresponding global consequences. In terms of understanding specific customer effects it is necessary to consider their customer categorisation, the source(s) of their sustainable energy and the actions required of them for introducing energy and resource efficiency.
Governments of developed countries have accepted that the attainment of the global aspiration on sustainability requires action at home combined with assistance for developing countries. In the UK the action at home has required the introduction of primary legislation and incentives to encourage investment in new and renewable technologies.
Primary legislation (EU and UK) has identified different grades of consumers or customers:
These customers are either regulated by the legislation to reduce carbon emissions or encouraged through taxation or higher energy bills to improve energy efficiency. Their applicability or influence depends on a customer’s categorisation but in both cases the Government’s immediate aim is for all to benefit from lower energy costs, a better standard of living and an environment that is better protected.
Renewable Sources of Energy and Electricity
The Government has charged energy suppliers with sourcing an increasing proportion of their demand from renewable sources. Targets are expressed against total supplies of energy and electricity.
There are three principal sources of energy; fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable. In 2008 the proportions of globally consumed energy produced by these means was fossil fuels 78%, nuclear 2.8% and ‘renewables’ 19%. In the UK only 2.2% of energy is being realised through ‘renewables’ though the UK has a target to raise this proportion to 15% by 2020.
The production of Electricity is a similar story to that for overall energy production. There are four principal sources and their production proportions are fossil fuels 69%, nuclear 13%, hydro 15% and ‘renewables’ (non-hydro) 3%. In the UK in 2008 the production of electricity from renewable sources was 5.6% but it has targets of 10.4% for 2010/11 and 15.4% for 2015/16.
Energy and Electricity Users
Major domestic and industrial-scale supplies from both renewable and traditional sources are managed by the major utility companies and the current adequacy in capacity enables them to deal with peaks and troughs in demand. Thus the UK customer is able to rely on consistent power and continuity of supply; not all nations can give their customers the same reassurance. As a further reassurance to UK customers, Ofgem has been charged with monitoring reliability and protecting customers from the effects of market speculation.
The Government is also encouraging the development micro-generation technologies and enabling Parish Councils and Community Groups to invest in local suppliers of energy.
Micro-generation is defined as ‘the local or small-scale production of heat and/or electricity by homes and businesses from low-carbon sources’. It encompasses the energy sources and technologies defined in the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 and is limited by the capacities defined in the same Act.
Whilst technologies are still developing, the Government allows some micro-generation plants to be hooked up to the national electricity grid which can deliver supply certainty and decreased costs to the customer through financial re-compensation schemes.
For an introduction to the different renewable sources of heat and energy including guidance on their supply and installation, follow the website reference to ‘the renewable energy centre’.
Low-carbon energy from ‘renewables’ and micro-generation plants will have a major impact on the UK’s commitment towards climate change. Between a quarter and a third of UK emissions are associated with housing and so there is a clear need for energy saving by domestic customers as well as those in industry, commerce and government. The clear message is that energy efficiency helps counter the on-set of climate change and reduces individual energy bills.
In global terms approximately 35% of human water use is unsustainable due to depleting aquifers and depleting river flows; a position that climate change will not improve. Indeed it poses a severe risk of water supplies becoming polluted even unsanitary. Therefore, Government strategies have been prepared (Defra: Future Water Strategy to 2030 and EA Water Resources Strategy and Regional Action Plans to 2050) to promote better management of the water cycle.
Consumers are being encouraged through regulation, licensing, metering and tariffs to take measures to conserve water supplies, reduce waste and prevent pollution. The EA Water Resources Strategy entitled ‘Water for People and the Environment’ gave commitments to:
Increase investment in technology for all types of use including agriculture and industry
This action will help to secure the quality and quantity of supplies with obvious benefits to the consumer.
Sustainable Housing and Products
The Government strategy for Sustainable Construction 2002 sets out 10 requirements for developments procured through central and local government offices. These were adopted into the OGC Achieving Excellence in Construction: Procurement Guide on Sustainability. In relation to energy, water and waste it requires developers to:
These requirements bring obvious benefits to the consumer and in addition a great deal of research and innovation is taking place. Modern methods of construction and energy efficient building products are reducing emissions and the carbon footprint during construction and during the building’s life-cycle usage.
Government strategies on energy efficiency and climate change have encouraged changes in housing and construction in general. For example, Part L of the Building Regulations that outlines requirements on energy consumption has been extended by the Code on Sustainable Homes. It introduced a sustainability rating system for homes built after 1 May 2008 and includes minimum standards on energy and water efficiency that correspond to the 9 categories of sustainable design.
The Effect Sustainability has on Utility Provider
The regulatory framework outlined earlier requires energy producers (specifically electricity and gas) to take measures to conserve supplies and seek sources of renewable energy. In 2007 the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists declared, “There is a 90% probability that the atmospheric increase in carbon dioxide has been human induced and that is mostly the result of fossil fuel emissions and to a lesser extent changes in land use.” Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the commercialisation of renewable energy and developing less carbon-hungry technology is firmly in the lap of the utility providers.
The UK is currently, and is likely to remain for some time, the world’s largest single market for off-shore wind. The Energy Acts 2008 and 2010 have enabled investment in further off-shore gas supplies and research into the development of off-shore carbon capture and storage schemes that are intended to decarbonise electricity generation. The Acts also extended the requirement to supply an increasing proportion of energy from renewable sources to 2037.
Therefore energy suppliers are at the forefront of development of sustainable energy production. Inevitably, the investments made will be covered, at least in part, by government grant and higher returns from the customer.
Utilities are also required to act on energy efficiency. Under the Energy Act 2008 the utility companies are required to install 47 million ‘smart’ meters into 26 million households by 2010. These will allow both consumers and utilities to constantly monitor energy use and to take timely actions towards its reduction.
The Government’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) requires all major domestic suppliers to make savings in the amount of CO2 emitted by low income, vulnerable households. In partnership with local authorities and community groups the utility companies are promoting ‘whole house’ energy efficiency measures under the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP). This also targets low income areas but offers packages best suited to the individual household. The Green Deal, intended to come into operation in Autumn 2012, will streamline these two programmes into a new Energy Company Obligation to ensure households and businesses can benefit from energy saving. See website reference.
In the early 1990s research showed that humans were using between 40% and 50% of globally available freshwater in the proportions 70% Agriculture, 22% industry and 8% domestic. The Water Act 2003 required the water companies to agree plans to manage this supply and demand for the following 25 years. Defra and the Environment Agency have powers to regulate these plans and have also been given powers to amend abstraction licenses. In relation to future industrial, commercial and housing developments they require the developers to produce measures to support water neutrality, particularly in areas where water supply is under stress.
Being required to encourage water efficiency in domestic and non-household buildings, water companies and the EA are working in conjunction with regional planning authorities, to reduce water consumption. For example, the Regional Spacial Strategy for South East England has a policy commitment to reduce per capita water consumption from 169 litres / day (2003-04) to 135 litres / day by 2016.
1.3. Ways to Facilitate Sustainability
All providers of energy, heat and water are seeking alternative and sustainable sources and taking measures to conserve supply quality and capacity. Consumers are also acting to reduce consumption not only by improving efficiency of use and reducing waste but also through changes in lifestyle. Developing technologies are providing the alternative sources of energy and their contributions will increase in significance at all levels including industrial, commercial, SME, community and household.
Energy and Heat Supplies
The Government is encouraging the development of a nationwide network of public fuelling stations for alternative fuels. Grants of up to 30% of the cost of equipment, construction and land purchase may be available through the Energy Saving Trust.
Some commercial organisations have developed micro-generation plants using technologies including:
Under the Government’s Enhanced Capital Allowance Scheme they may write off the whole of the capital cost of their investment against their taxable profits in the same period. SMEs may also benefit from interest-free Energy Efficiency loans of up to £100 000 for the replacement or upgrading of energy related equipment. Applications are administered by the Carbon Trust.
Legislation has also been put in place for Parish Councils and Community Groups to promote micro-generation projects. E.ON, the power and gas company, is offering grants of up to £30 000 to UK communities with projects that reduce carbon emissions.
The Government’s Low Carbon Buildings Programme (closed to new applicants in Autumn 2010) provided grants towards the installation of micro-generation equipment as long as energy was not being wasted elsewhere by the user(s).
The Government is encouraging home owners to introduce sustainability measures by providing grants and supporting the dissemination of information.
Grant aid for Home Renewable Projects is available to most households and allows such measures as improvements to roof and wall insulation. It also offers further assistance and support for households on income related benefits. A Guide to Home Energy Saving has been produced by the Renewable Energy Centre as an introduction to the subject and the Energy Saving Trust manages 52 Energy Efficiency Advice Centres across the UK; see website references.
Families in ‘fuel poverty’, defined as needing to spend more than 10% of their disposable income on energy, may be eligible for 100% grants for insulation, lighting or more efficient heating. Free and grant assisted loft and cavity wall insulation may be available to all homeowners and tenants through the Green Project. Information is available through local Energy Efficiency Advice Centres.
Improving water efficiency, reducing water consumption and the volumes of water going to waste and encouraging water recycling are key themes for Defra and the Environment Agency. They are promoting the dissemination of information and customer guidance to encourage sustainable actions at all stages in the water cycle.
Waterwise, a UK NGO which is the leading authority on water efficiency in the UK, provides information and guidance for all consumers. Two of its reports entitled ’Water Efficiency in New developments’ and ‘Evidence Base for Large-scale Water Efficiency in Homes’ give clear guidance on water savings from water efficiency measures. Many of these measures are an integral part of the requirements in sustainable housing. These can be found at the web site Waterwise shown below.
The EA are encouraging manufacturers of fittings, fixtures and appliances to provide water efficiency information on their products. In response, the Bathroom Manufacturer’s Association (BMA) have introduced a voluntary Water Efficiency Product Labelling Scheme to allow comparisons of products that meet the industry standards on water efficiency. It also provides information that enables consumers to reconsider how, when and to what extent they should use water.
Water Consumption and Waste Water
The Department of Communities and Local Government have developed the ‘Water Efficiency Calculator for New Buildings’ that is required under Part G of the Building Regulations and the Code for Sustainable Homes. In addition to the calculation of wholesome water consumption it also enables assessments to be made of the value of Rainwater Harvesting and the collection and recycling of Greywater. See website references.
Alternative systems are also available for the latter part of the water cycle. Composting toilets can be installed on a domestic scale to produce waste that can be used as a fertiliser in the garden. On the other hand, Reed Bed sewage treatment systems offer secondary treatment of sewage that can provide very low maintenance, aesthetically pleasing wildlife habitats. See the website reference for Renewable Energy Centre
Renewable Energy Centre
Is an industry-sponsored website that provides information, guidance and indicative costs on alternative and renewable sources of energy at both industrial and domestic level. It includes methods of reducing energy use and of improving water efficiency and alternative sources of providing water and space heating. In addition information is offered on grants and funding along with useful websites for further advice on renewable energy and energy saving.
In addition to the detailed advice they offer on the practical application of micro-generation technologies, information is also offered on improving the household. Measures such as cavity wall, loft and under floor insulation are outlined along with links for further information and commitment. Other actions are similarly outlined as are options for glazing, under-floor heating and the concept of environmental design.
A further section is included for waste water recycling, sewage treatment and rainwater harvesting. See website reference for the Renewable Energy Centre.
All construction projects should be planned and delivered in a way that best promotes sustainable development. The Government responded in 2000 when it established its Strategy for Sustainable Construction that encouraged the construction industry to:
It also recognised that all decisions within this strategy involve balancing the conflicting needs of the Social, Economic and Environmental aspects of sustainable development.
Under the Office of Government Commerce initiative ‘Achieving Excellence in Construction’ two high level guides, three core guides and eight supporting guides were offered for use with central and local government construction projects. One of these guides, the Procurement Guide for Sustainability adopted the aims of the 2000 strategy and helps clients to follow an appropriate process towards a sustainable construction. It governs the process of procuring and constructing all significant government (central and local) buildings.
The Code for Sustainable Homes has been introduced by the Department of Communities and Local Government to reduce carbon emissions and create sustainable homes. Its Technical Guide 2010 sets out the process by which the standards of the Code Assessment can be reached. Its guidance is in 9 sections including Energy/CO2, Water, Surface Water Runoff, Waste and Pollution.
New technologies and innovative products significantly help the construction industry and the UK in their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the construction industry is very much project led, each one unique and generally involve temporary teams. This allows little time for, or investment in research and development.
In 2008, the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (now the Department of Business Innovation and Skills) backed 5 pilot projects so that UK business could benefit from the specialist expertise of FE Colleges. Within each pilot, projects were identified for research into innovative components and practices and expert advice offered on their use in improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. In one such pilot, six East Midlands colleges combined to produce ’Innovation in Sustainable Construction’ which gives expert advice on a variety of products and processes.
The ‘Sustainable Construction Innovation Network (iNet)’, part funded by the European Union and the East Midlands Development Agency, is raising the level of innovation in small to medium-sized construction businesses. Its advisers offer assistance in researching, developing and implementing new sustainable services, products and processes. It encourages skills development, networking and can provide access to appropriate grants.
2. Sustainable Legislation
2.1. Development of Policy
Over the last 25 years the world has become more aware of the environmental problems its development is causing and resolved to rectify the areas that are likely to contribute to these problems. The main concerns related to:
Governments recognised that the level of environmental degradation and current practices of economic development could not be sustained without significant impacts upon future generations.
This was highlighted in 1987 by the Brundtland Report, (also known as Our Common Future) which alerted the world to the urgency of making progress toward economic development that could be sustained without depleting natural resources or harming the environment. It recognised that economic development taking place could no longer compromise the development needs of future generations. This concept of sustainable development aimed to encourage people to consider the harm economic development was having on both the environment and on society.
Building upon this, the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 represented a major step forward towards the goal of achieving sustainability, with international agreements made on climate change, forests and biodiversity. Out of this Summit was formed Agenda 21, which was a blueprint for sustainability in the 21st century. It championed the concept of sustainable development and provides a framework for tackling social and environmental problems, including air pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, health, overpopulation, poverty, energy consumption, waste production and transport issues. Agenda 21 required each country to draw up a national strategy of sustainable development.
2.2. United Kingdom Sustainable Development Strategy
In response to Agenda 21 the UK and all participating nations developed national strategies for their sustainable development. The UK Government based its vision of sustainable development on four broad objectives:
The policy statements relating to sustainability are responsible for the development of codes and legislation which is being introduced in the UK: These include the following:
The details of each can be viewed at the Olswang website below.
The objective of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy is to provide a healthy, clean and safe environment. It aims to do this by reducing pollution, poverty, poor housing and unemployment. Global environmental threats, such as climate change and poor air quality must be reduced to protect human and environmental health. The use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels cannot be stopped overnight, but they must be used efficiently and the development of alternatives should be used to help phase them out.
The UK Sustainable Development Strategy recognises the need for a new, more environmentally sound approach to development, especially with regard to transport, energy production and waste management and this has lead to a number of codes and legislation including legislation relating to the following:
2.3. Building Regulations
One form of legislation which has been in force for many years is the Building Regulations. These are a set of Government approved documents giving technical guidance on all types of construction work, including aspects that relate to sustainability. The document that deals with fuel and power is Part L (Conservation of fuel and power) which lays down the requirements that must be adhered to. If you visit the website entitled ‘Planning Portal’ below you will be able to access the Approved Documents. You should determine which apply to sustainability and view the requirements.
2.4. Code for Sustainable Homes
Sustainable Communities Plan
In 2003, the UK Government launched the Sustainable Communities Plan which set out a long-term programme of action for delivering sustainable communities in both urban and rural areas.
The Plan included major reforms of housing and planning and a new approach to building, in order to bring about development that meets the economic, social and environmental needs currently and for future generations.
Sustainable Procurement National Action Plan
On the 12th June 2006, the Government published the National Action Plan: Procuring the Future. This aims to deliver sustainable procurement to stimulate innovation through public procurement and deliver sustainable procurement by complementing and building on existing activity.
The Code for Sustainable Homes
From 1 May 2008 the Government introduced a mandatory code to measure the sustainability of new homes. The Code for Sustainable Homes provides a comprehensive measure of the sustainability ensuring that new homes deliver real improvements in key areas. These are measured against categories in order to give the home a ‘whole home’ rating. The code uses a 1 to 6 star rating which gives an overall sustainability performance to the new home.
The nine categories of sustainable design are:
The Code sets minimum standards for energy and water use and provides information to home buyers. It also offers builders a tool which enables them to improve sustainability.
You should be aware of the fact that the code is continually developing and the date of registration of a home will depend on the version it must conform to. The requirements can be found in ‘Code for Sustainable Homes: Technical guide’ accessible from the link below.
A number of publications are available from the Communities and Local Government website shown below which explain the code and provide guidance on how to comply with it. These documents can be accessed from the website and can be down loaded.
You should also visit the site below to watch the ‘Web based videos’ to gain another perspective on sustainability.
You will also find an excellent article on at the web link ’Towards Sustainable Homes’.
The Passive House (Passiv Haus) Standard
The Passive House (Passiv Haus) standard is a voluntary standard which relates to an ultra-low energy building design system. This uses an energy efficient building envelope which reduces the energy consumption in a structure.
In order for a building to be classified as a Passive House a set of requirements have to be met. Although the standard specifies housing it also relates to a variety of other types of buildings such as offices, schools and supermarkets.
In order to find out more about this you should visit the website Passive House Standards below.
The Merton Rule
The 'Merton Rule' is a planning policy, developed and adopted by Merton Council in 2003. It requires the use of renewable energy onsite to reduce annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the built environment in that new commercial buildings over 1,000 square meters must generate at least 10% of their energy needs using on site renewable energy equipment. It has subsequently been implemented by a number of other Councils and has become part of national planning guidance.
2.5. British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)
BREEAM is used to assess the environmental performance of new and existing buildings. Its aim is to set standards for sustainable developments and to measure environmental performance. It is predominantly used at present at the design stage although construction stage assessments are an optional extra.
A BREEAM assessment currently involves inspections by a licensed BREEAM assessor who measures the performance of the building in several areas and ensures that the mandatory minimum requirements for energy and water consumption are adhered to. The areas of assessment relate to:
The assessment looks at each of these areas and awards credits according to the performance of the building against specific criteria. The credits in each of these areas are then added together to produce an overall rating based on a weighting system. Currently the available ratings are Pass, Good, Very Good and Excellent.
2.6. EU Sustainable Development Strategy
The EU has been responsible for a great deal of legislation relating to the environment. The UK government has been required to adopt this which is having a significant effect on the construction industry.
The EU Sustainable Development Strategy was adopted by the European Council in June 2006. It is an encompassing strategy for all EU policies which sets out how it can meet the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The Sustainable Development Strategy deals with economic, environmental and social issues and lists the following seven key challenges:
This Unit is now complete.
You should send all of your Tasks to Gates MacBain for assessment who will then get back to you with your results.
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