The churn rate of buildings is less than 2% in many countries, with economic downturns focussing attention on maximising the use of existing buildings. This in turn has increased the rate of refurbishing various buildings, but operating at varying levels from a refresh through to a more fundamental upgrade.
Developers often face the dilemma of whether to refurbish or redevelop. If sustainable construction is to be widely adopted as a practice, developers need to be convinced that it is commercially viable, including both capital costs and whole life costs. Refurbishment is perceived to be the more sustainable option, but this is not always the case. Buildings should have second and third uses. Many buildings since the1960’s are incapable of being changed which limits their potential both as an asset and also to develop a cohesive community landscape.
Sustainable building refurbishment is driven by the market and legislation. With a focus on energy security, costs and climatic change, the impacts of energy have partly been internalised within the cost of both these drivers enabling a differentiation to be seen in the market. Whether the other environmental practices become internalised will help to drive these areas forward.
How these drivers are packaged together to develop the most appropriate strategy to meet a clients objectives with their buildings, and how they are deployed, are critical to the success of the refurbishment. However, included in the assessment must be the non-financial activities including occupant performance which can help to improve the letting of a building; increase the performance of staff; and make the business a more attractive proposition. If a refurbishment scheme is able to produce workspace which contributes positively to the performance of their occupiers while delivering a satisfactory level of return to the investor, it should be viewed as the most economically sustainable option.
Development of a framework to enable the refurbishment to be delivered through techniques that can be used including Green Leases or ISO14001. The application of the framework provides a rigid structure to review, implement and importantly ensure that the sustainability aspects have been achieved post completion. Minor refurbishment projects will have a different framework approach as they are more likely to occur with occupants within the building and therefore the focus will be on buy-in, communication and gaining support. The higher levels are associated with major changes when occupants are not in place so are more structured against environmental targets to be met.
Finally, how sustainability issues can be managed within the project through recognised international systems will provide a further level of structure, consistency and credibility. Implications on individuals through occupancy evaluation and behavioural change requirements must also covered as key issues which predicate the success of the sustainable refurbishment into operation.
Identifying sustainability in the existing building stock is problematic largely because there is no universally accepted assessment method. The focus of both current mandatory and voluntary certification schemes, such as BREEAM and LEED, is on development and construction rather than the in-use efficiency of the existing buildings.
Although there is a lack of a universally accepted environmental sustainability rating system, there are common areas of agreement between the principle codes, both mandatory and voluntary. These can be grouped under the broad headings of energy, water, waste and indoor environmental conditions. However, there is a clear need to move to a place where there is agreement and ideally a common metric for the measurement of sustainability that allows us to compare building projects and the occupant benefits that are achieved.