Sustainability Appraisals and Refurbishment

Sustainability 2010 style - crush and bury on siteDespite claims to the contrary by the development industry, there has been an increasing awareness that reusing existing buildings can be as sustainable as new-build, due in large part to the amount the waste inherent in demolition and the energy required to produce and transport new building materials. Further claims are made that retention / refurbishment can often be more desirable - visually, socially and in terms of quantity and locality of labour and in terms of life-span, as historic buildings last longer and hold their value better than new ones. These principles are now very much to the fore in PPS5 (notably Policy HE.1), PPS5 Planning Practice Guide, The Government’s Statement on the Historic Environment for England 2010 and in guidance from DEFRA's waste advisors WRAP, e.g. 'Designing out Waste - A Design Team Guide for Buildings' (WRAP, 2010).

With its key strengths in sustainable development, RPS is a UK market leader in the provision of sustainability appraisals and carbon footprinting for developments of all sizes, ranging from single buildings to major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail. For residential and commercial developments, this usually consists of pro-forma sustainable building appraisals under BREEAM or the Code for Sustainable Homes.

RPS has been aware for some time that its refurbishment clients feel that BREEAM and CfSH give inadequate recognition to the merits of reusing built fabric. So long as landfill is not involved, the methodologies make no discrimination between existing fabric being crushed and buried on site, carefully salvaged for reuse or retained in a refurbished building. Each scores the same (1 credit or 1% of total possible score in BREEAM, for example). This is the same as the credit for providing a space for a recycling bin.

Pending hoped-for reform of industry sustainability appraisal methodologies, RPS is developing a methodology to assist its refurb clients through the sustainability benchmarking process. The cornerstone of this is the ability to calculate the energy embodied within an existing building, within the retained fabric of a refurbished building, within the new fabric of a refurbished building and within a comparable new-build. Qualitative environmental and social benefits are also stressed.

For a thoroughgoing industry-standard refurbishment of typical 3-storey Victorian terraced building, bringing it up to the standard of a comparable new build, refurbishment saved 25 Tonnes of CO2 (roughly 10% of operational energy over 50 years), assuming in both cases that all demolitions materials were recycled at highest value. With Pathfinder having proposed the demolition of 500,000 homes and Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute promoting the replacement of 3.2 million homes by 2050, the benefits of making best use of the carbon locked up in our existing buildings deserves a higher profile.

Rob Kintchin-Smith
Senior Historic Environment Consultant
RPS Planning & Development
November 2010