One of most recent projects to be completed by the Simons Group was the new M&S Cheshire Oaks store, the retailer's greenest to date. Here we talk to Rosi Fieldson, head of environment at Simons Group to find out more about her role and the challenges the sector faces.
Describe your role at Simons Group?
I look after the interests of the environment on all of our projects, whether that's in relation to ISO14001 or timber certification or making sure a development scheme achieves a planning condition. Our sustainability strategy is called 'Building Greener' and it covers carbon, water, waste biodiversity and responsible sourcing; we have set ourselves targets and I'm responsible for making sure they are met.
How did you get into sustainability and did you always want to work in this field?
It started as work experience as an undergraduate in 1993 when I was still training to become an architect at Newcastle University. Thanks to some inspirational tutors and guest speakers I really enjoyed how sustainable design fused ideas from geography and art. After some years learning the profession I decided to undertake a PhD on sustainability in retail architecture. Since completing that in 2007, I have trained to be a BREEAM assessor and spend much more of my time working on environmental performance management than true design.
How are your clients responding to the sustainability agenda and if there was one piece of advice you could give them, what would it be?
Often we are responding to our client's responsibility agendas. The multitude of agendas can be a problem; with every client being more focused on different issues and indicators. If they would all use the same indicators it would make our lives a lot simpler and we'd improve the UK construction industry faster too.
What projects are you currently working on?
I'm involved in BREEAM and environmental performance reporting for a fizzy drinks factory build, a retail development and a leisure development which are all on site with Simons at the moment, on the drawing board we are looking as a number of mixed use and retail developments. All of these have BREEAM and customer's sustainability objectives to be met too.
Improving the performance of existing buildings is a huge challenge, what work are you involved with in this area and what have your experiences been?
We have recently re-worked a "crinkly tin" retail terrace which Simons built in the late 1980's. The project showed how new cladding and landscaping can extend the life of substructure and frame to save embodied emissions, we also collected a lot of data on demolition waste recycling. All of the existing and new tenants will be able to enjoy much reduced energy bills than they would have had if the cladding had not been fully replaced to current U-value and airtightness standards.
Standards are moving very fast in this area though. We moved into our current head office in 2006 so the new Part L of the Building regulations had not yet come into force. The building was quite energy efficient at the time but many of the systems are being surpassed by current generation technology. The services are unlikely to need replacing for another 10 years, by then regulated energy use on new build will be zero emissions.
You’ve done a lot of work around embodied carbon in buildings, how is this progressing and how do you see it developing in the short term.
I'd like to promote the work RICS have done to try to set reporting standards in this area, there is still a lot of unnecessary obfuscation promoted by life cycle analysis traditions which need to be left behind if we want to reduce the carbon in the materials.
We have started to look at normalising the carbon in materials by the value of the work packages (in the same way as WRAP have encouraged us to normalise waste data) so that differences in carbon intensity and the money spent can be better understood.
There are still a lot of myths out there about the emissions from transport of materials - if a lot of fuel was really needed these materials would be priced out of the market, and companies need to take a much closer look at the transport emissions of the individuals travelling to sites in cars alongside and often many times after the materials were delivered particularly to correct snagging on site. The idea of saving carbon by doing things well first time round sits nicely alongside the idea of reducing waste by doing things properly too.
Water consumption is moving up the agenda, how are you addressing this in the construction and specification for projects?
We have been measuring water use on sites for a few years now but it's more about how efficiently we can manage welfare facilities. We haven't found many options coming forward to use less water in concretes, screeds or conventional masonry but using off site manufacture and timber systems does address that area to some extent. We'd like all of our customers to adopt best practice sanitary fittings and rain water harvesting but there is a behavioural change to be brought about for things like waterless urinals for both sexes. I have also designed composting toilets for a customer who was completely off-grid, that's a rural solution to the problem though. We have had a stab at installing district rainwater storage capacity for tenants to draw off but it was not popular so stayed just a retention system in the end.
How are you tackling waste reduction in your sector?
We use portal based site waste management plans with our waste broker so this helps to keep track of what's going on the sites. Bringing that learning back into design and specification is a unique opportunity. We do a lot of retail fit out and packaging waste from fixtures and fittings being delivered to sites is a major issue. Clearly off site fabrication is a big driver.
Biodiversity is increasingly being highlighted in projects, how do you get clients to engage with this and is there a clear business benefit?
Landscaping is always the last bit to get finished at the end of a projects so always the most vulnerable to cost cutting when things get tight commercially. It's only really BREEAM assessed schemes where planting diversity and habitat creation is taken seriously and even then only just enough to get the necessary credits. There needs to be some more research into the effect of scheme planting on productivity and sales. It a difficult job to take a customer through the impact on their business that lack of food and shelter for pollination insects might have in the longer term an why they need to take their part in the bigger picture. It's also difficult to keep speciality planting looking good over the longer term, so many procedures and budgets need to be put in place by building users that you can see why they might want to avoid the hassle. There is also a fear of the impact of protected species (such as bats) on a site for future repairs or expansion. We need to treat wildlife as one of the stakeholders of a project whenever we design or build. Creatures need to be able to feed, rest and pass through sites to maintain health populations. Any scheme which prevents those things from happening will ultimately have a measurable negative impact no matter how god their energy performance or recycling rates are.
Which is your favourite building?
Currently it's Cheshire Oaks of course, but there have been others... I love really old (ie Saxon) churches and any building in Venice.
What has been your biggest achievement in sustainability?
I'm still working on it......
If you hadn’t been an architect what would you be?
I'd like to have studied Meteorology but didn't get good enough grades in maths.
What/who is the most inspirational book/speaker you’ve read/heard recently?
I enjoy reading George Monbiot's opinions in the Guardian. It's good to have commentators who can speak freely and provocatively.