Sustainability Specialists – Three Reasons For Early Appointment on Real Estate Development Projects


Sustainability is a powerful and far reaching concept that requires local interpretation, definition and articulation. The increasingly higher demands on real estate development projects to make a significant contribution to the sustainable development agenda make an early identification of the constraints, opportunities and requirements essential. A sustainability specialist can help with identifying the risks and opportunities and provide advice to the planning and design team about measures that improve the sustainability of the development project. In this article I will present three reasons why a sustainability specialists should be appointed in an early stage of the development project.

1. Avoid unnecessary costs and programme overruns.
Many sustainability requirements have a fundamental influence on certain design elements. Consequently, delaying the management of sustainability issues to later stages in the development programme bears a significant risk that fundamental changes to the design are required or that high cost alternatives will have to be implemented. Consider the provision of on-site renewable energy generation as an example. It is often a requirement that a certain amount of the energy that is used on site is generated on the development site using renewable sources. The most cost effective ways are often a medium sized stand-alone facility such as a biomass combined-heat-power installation. These solutions require some space. When the energy strategy is considered late in the project cycle all available land has usually already been assigned a particular use. The two options available are usually either the provision of micro-generation attached to each individual building or the fundamental redesign of the entire project. Both solutions will add to the cost of the project. The first solution will increase the capital cost of construction, the second solution means additional costs with redesigning the project.

2. Maximise the sustainability potential of the project.
Many sustainability solutions will be cost neutral, provided they have been identified early on in the project. Appointing the specialist at an early stage maximises the sustainability rating of the project. Consider the provision of ecological features on site as an example. Projects that are planned on previously developed land often have little or no negative impacts on the ecological resources in the area, because the value is so low. In these cases it is possible to actually increase the ecological value of the development area by carefully designing in ecological features, such as drainage ponds. Only when this benefit is recognised at an early stage in the project can the drainage design take account of ecological benefits and thereby positively contribute to the sustainability of the project.

3. Get free BREEAM credits.
The leading benchmark for the assessment of the sustainability of new buildings, BREAAM, recognises the importance of early engagement of a sustainability specialist on the project. Through a recent change in the methodology the benchmark now gives credits purely for the early engagement of a BREEAM accredited professional. Assuming that a specialist will be appointed at some point, doing this early will lift the sustainability rating of the project without any additional cost.

Addressing sustainability within development projects is now an essential element of any real estate development project. This article has demonstrated the advantages of appointing a specialist early in the project.

Paul Giesberg is founder and Principal Director at Planning for Sustainability Ltd. This firm specialises in providing sustainability support to development projects such as BREEAM assessments and environmental impact assessments.

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Author: Piyawut Sutthiruk

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