Environmental Assessment: Joint Workshop with BRE Links Research, Policy and Practice

Environmental Assessment-Joint Workshop with BRE_3The School of Construction management & Engineering at the University of Reading hosted a workshop with BRE on 17 July to help address key policy and practice questions around the environmental assessment of buildings and communities.

The workshop brought together more than 50 participants from academia, industry and national and local government to present new research findings on the use of such methods, and how successful they have been in promoting more sustainable development.

Environmental Assessment-Joint Workshop with BREDelegates who attended heard from developers, planners, assessors, academics and others about their experience with using assessment methods such as the Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM, and about assessment methods operating at the community scale, as well as the key issues around establishing and measuring sustainable communities. Academics from the University of Reading included Dr Libby Schweber, Professor Martin Sexton and Professor Tim Dixon of the School of Construction Management and Engineering and Joe Doak and Professor Gavin Parker of the School of Real Estate and Planning, who also highlighted key strengths of the University‚Äôs new Sustainability in the Built Environment programme of research.

Keynote speaker, Steve Quartermain, the CLG's Chief Planner, gave an update on the Government's reforms of the planning system, and, in a highly interactive set of panel sessions, shared learning amongst the delegates was an important feature of the day.

Key questions highlighted during the sessions included:

  • How to scale up the transition to a low carbon future;
  • The importance of continuing to improve assessment methods and procedures; and
  • How we can best build capacity in the sector to tackle current and future challenges.

As well as academic input, speakers and panel members included representatives from CLG, Zero Carbon Hub, Mott MacDonald, Stonewood Design, Synergy BSS, Prologis, RTPI, and BRE. 

Environmental Assessment-Joint Workshop with BRE_2Professor Stuart Green, Head of the School of Construction Management and Engineering, who chaired the workshop, said: "The workshop highlighted a range of contested issues associated with the use of environmental assessment methods. The way in which such methods are used in practice is an active research interest at the University of Reading. At worst, such methods can result in a box-ticking mentality which distract attraction away from good quality design. However, when used properly they can act as a genuine catalyst for the promotion of higher standards in building design. I was genuinely refreshed by the richness of the debate and the diversity of opinion. "

Environmental Assessment-Joint Workshop with BRE_1Chris Cousins, Local Government Liaison Manager at BRE Global, said: "The feedback from both researchers and practitioners was extremely valuable in understanding the impact that sustainable building standards have had in driving innovation and improvements in the construction industry. And it was interesting that the day after the event, DEFRA published its report on the Olympic legacy [London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, The Legacy: Sustainable Procurement for Construction Projects, A Guide, July 2013], emphasising the important role that independent and externally audited standards such as BREEAM played in the success of the Olympic construction projects.

In turn, that success has been instrumental in furthering the success of UK firms in gaining valuable work overseas, for example in projects such as the Green Building Park in Beijing , in Brazil (Pisac) and in the city of Portland, USA. Domestically, the low carbon goods and services sector, of which sustainable construction forms an important part, last year accounted for about of the UK's GDP, but some 30% of its growth, outperforming pretty well every other sector of the economy. Ensuring that we have the standards to keep the UK at the leading edge of sustainable construction is thus of huge importance to the country's economic well-being."

For the Building4Change News item click here

Download the presentations from the day here

A report of the conference will be available here later.

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