At a recent round table discussion with representatives from leading building accreditation schemes, the panelists discussed the difference between efficient and effective buildings, and how they and the industry more broadly can collaborate around a common cause to help make buildings better. Justin Kirby, market engagement specialist, and Owen Kell, senior analyst at smart building research analysts Memoori, report some key takeaways from the day.

We are collaborating on a research project that is looking at best practice in commercial smart building retrofit given the perfect storm driving that need and opportunity, i.e. the rise in interest rates, sustainability and the post-pandemic Work From Home revolution.

The insights and strategies we explore will be shaping the ‘Why is Retrofit Not Taken More Seriously in the Climate Change Conversation? ’ panel we have put together for the Smart Building Show on October 18th. One key stakeholder group we are engaging are some of the relevant building accreditation bodies and we recently ran a roundtable kindly hosted by WiredScore with representatives from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and BRE (who run BREEAM ).

The round table involved a two hour discussion that went from exploring a perfect storm of factors that are driving demand for smart retrofit, through to looking ahead at future research and collaboration opportunities. What we have tried to do here is capture some interesting talking points to give you a flavour of what was discussed and offer a teaser for some of what we will be discussing further at the Smart Building Show next month.

Building efficiency vs effectiveness

Building users and facilities staff remain frustrated by the lack of influence and input they have over smart specifications defined during the design and planning phases, by stakeholders that will walk away at practical completion, even though they ultimately run the building. A proxy for that tension was captured by Giovanna Jagger, global market development director at the IWBI who raised the distinction between ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ buildings. Her point being that technology and materials can be specified and deployed to make buildings more efficient (e.g. for energy consumption), but if they are not occupied they are not effective and therefore not sustainable.

Sustainability goals vs initiatives

It was the common goal of sustainability that prompted the convening of this round table and not least because there’s an opportunity in the build environment for collaboration to make a tangible difference. Martin Kemp, Sustainability Product Manager at BRE explained it’s an area where a range of standards and definitions currently exist and more consistency and integration is being called for. BRE is involved with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) builds group and Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) at a global level, and the UK Net Zero Carbon Building Standard and the Built Environment Carbon Database nationally. These standards are increasingly aligned, so BREEAM has recognized CRREM and SBTI, allowing users alignment towards three standards in one. 

His colleague Dan Asquith added to this, as part of a conversation distinguishing between the sustainability ‘goal’ and an ‘initiative’ like net zero, by mentioning the value of thinking about resilience rather than short term solutions,. Sanjaya Ranasinghe, Global Director of R&D at WiredScore mentioned how they have added the R of Resilience to ESG in their SmartScore certification. And that including both climate and cybersecurity as they are investment considerations and increasingly an insurance one with cybersecurity.

Occupier experience: the heart of effective buildings?

The distinction between efficiency vs effectiveness mention by Giovanna is also linked to the need for more integrated thinking that Martin covered.

We see this linked to how Tenant Experience is now being reframed as Occupier Experience by some we have spoken to as part of our research, possibly as virtue of necessity, as the mixed use of buildings become part of retrofit, refurbishment or regeneration strategies. Or whatever term ends up being used to describe the repurposing of existing property assets. 

When it comes to getting employees back in the office, this can also be seen as part of making buildings more effective rather than just efficient, and includes not only addressing their sustainability concerns, but also the health and well-being considerations. On top of this, there’s also factors of hybrid working and future of work/workplace to consider. That is going to require a better understanding of who does what for whom work-wise, as well as where, why, how and when now. Or maybe even a rethinking of workplace design for the next generation of the workforce. The answers to those questions are unlikely to be found from sensor data alone and points to ways in which accreditation schemes may help. All of this cross-cutting, between different themes and priorities is what makes retrofit so interesting, and why we so often hear from those we have been engaging with, that no one person has all the answers. 

Making buildings better?

What we have also often heard whilst engaging with the growing range of retrofit stakeholders, is that there is no one size fits all approach to retrofitting given the variety of building types, strategic priorities, financing considerations, and so on. That's true of new builds too, but there’s added complexity with retrofitting that makes it harder for the kind of technology templating that often happens in new-build scenarios.

For accreditations too, there is no one size that fits all. As Sanjaya at Wiresdscore pointed out, despite some overlap they are complementary and share a common aim to make buildings better in many of the different ways that can be defined, e.g. more connected, efficient, healthy, sustainable and with better user functionality/experience. When it comes to retrofitting this is interesting because if you flip the frameworks from what is accredited, they also offer a way of thinking through the what and why of doing so. And that can help with strategic priorities and road maps for achieving these.

Next steps:

As part of our forthcoming research we will be adding to the ‘how’, exploring not just the various accreditations as frameworks and the crosswalks between them, but also how they might be mapped in a more modular-like way onto the retrofits planning and prioritisation process i.e. in stages that tackle the different priorities that help make buildings both more efficient and effective.

Part of this involves connecting the dots between those we engage, which often includes facilitating conversations between different stakeholders in round tables, panels and also directly. For example, how those with large libraries of User Cases from projects might get mapped to not just the various accreditation frameworks but how the likes of AI could be used to interrogate them as part of helping develop strategies and plans. What we are hoping to achieve by facilitating those discussions is to be a catalyst for the industry to collaborate more in order to innovate and transform. 

We plan to be discussing this and more on October 18th between 13:45 to 14:30 in the Energy Management Theatre at the Smart Building Show at London ExCel exhibition centre. Hope you can join us.