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From de-regulation to re-inspiration: the Ecobuild effect

The Enterprise Centre, UEA

Ecobuild is always a hectic week for us at the BRE, with many hot sustainability topics under debate and solutions put forward to engage with, and this year has been no different. There was much discussion around themes as diverse as BIM, occupant wellbeing, the industry skills gap, solar battery storage, resilience, and the housing crisis. Although the event has left us bleary eyed it also inspired us by pointing to a bright future for sustainability.

Something I will personally take away from the past few days is the scale of the opportunity that lies ahead as we move towards a more sustainable built environment, and the inspiration that we can take from exemplar projects around the world today.

Since May last year, the direction of travel from UK government has been one of de-regulation that has been met with despair by many professionals in the construction industry. We’ve seen a shake-up of 13 policies including Zero Carbon Homes and the feed-in tariff, in a seemingly haphazard approach that has been likened to a game of Jenga.

Ecobuild week however has showed cause for considerable optimism. The 2016 BREEAM Awards held in London on Tuesday was an exciting event that has grown every year in scale and reach, and now celebrates some of the best buildings in the world. Six of the nine building awards presented at this event went to BREEAM certified projects outside the UK. So, why is this a good sign for sustainability in the UK construction industry you might wonder?

Some of the winners at the BREEAM Awards 2016
Some of the winners at the BREEAM Awards 2016

BREEAM started out 25 years ago as a pioneering approach by leading developers to improving the economic, environmental and social impacts of UK construction projects. The benefits it offered were soon recognised across the industry and in government, with it becoming the ‘de-facto’ assessment method for green buildings. More recently however, international developers and building owners have seen these benefits and adopted BREEAM on an entirely voluntary basis, and there are now projects in over 70 countries.

In embracing BREEAM these overseas clients have in turn encountered the wealth of experience and expertise which UK plc offers, embodied in the some of the fantastic buildings seen at the awards. So now is the time to bring this experience full-circle and take confidence and inspiration from the international stage – where often there is also something of a regulatory vacuum. The success shown in the BREEAM awards is proof that the UK construction industry can not only stand on its own two feet, but continue to take a leading role in the global sustainability agenda.

The awards also show that we can match the best in the world – a case being one of the three UK award winners, The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia. This new home for the Adapt Low Carbon Group is certified to both Passivhaus and BREEAM standards, with locally sourced materials including its pine timber frame and thatched timber cassettes used for rain screen cladding. Fantastic exemplars like this are to be celebrated and, most importantly, learned from so that we continue to build the best quality, future-ready buildings we possibly can, regardless of which way the winds of regulation are blowing.