Collaborating for Sustainable Performance
Collaborating for Sustainable Performance
By Mat Lown, Partner, TFT
Sustainable buildings are often thought of in terms of material used in construction and energy efficiency in operation. Less emphasis is given to the significant contribution of building services, specifically how their performance can be optimised to prolong their life and better cater for future change in our climate and occupiers’ requirements.
Standard practice currently splits responsibility and organises maintenance in silos, resulting in a disconnection between the work of surveyors, engineers, facility and property managers. I head up TFT’s Sustainability Consultancy, which works with all manner of technical specialists to reveal where better efficiency and outcomes can be found across a building’s life.
When it comes to building performance, there are three ways that property managers and facilities managers can overcome siloed and unsustainable practices. The outcome should be a better use of specialists to deliver maintenance and ultimately better building performance in the long term.
Contracts and Incentives
As with many procedures in the building industry, contract content, structure and mobilisation is critical. Current procurement practices tend to favour the lowest bidder that often under-prices the maintenance element, seen as a loss leader while more profit is made from repairs and the replacement of equipment. In addition, historically maintenance contracts and monitoring of contractor performance has focused on statutory compliance.
It’s a short-term approach for a building which could be in use for decades, subject to a great deal of change in that period. It also does not reflect increasing market demands in relation to building performance, sustainability and user experience.
Instead, a closer and more consultative relationship with contractors can result in a better long-term strategy and the delivery of more sustainable and economical outcomes. To make this work, the building owner must be clear about specifying the right maintenance and performance measures at the outset, while also engaging with the contractors’ own expertise early on to assess overall viability.
With a better understanding of the condition of the plant and equipment, one can determine what repairs and maintenance are required to ensure optimal performance and a long service life. Then, it’s about independently verifying that the maintenance is being undertaken and checking with the occupiers that they feel they are receiving value for money. An understanding of system design and settings is essential and ensuring that these are optimised and the design performance is being achieved as part of the maintenance regime.
Bring Surveyors and Engineers Together
Surveyors’ and engineers’ roles don’t always overlap, but they should work in tandem. A more joined-up process could mitigate wastage in terms of equipment and time for access, but moreover could pre-empt potential problems and save money on future major repair or replacement works.
For instance, if an engineer is commissioned to replace equipment on the roof, allow a surveyor to access and inspect the entire roof area and recommend simultaneous works or identify developing issues.
Even if there are no additional works resulting, surveyors and engineers can be useful consultants for a building manager. While their language and viewpoints are different, surveyors’ understanding of service charges, leases and landlord obligations can put the engineers’ deep technical expertise into context and help owners prioritise and plan for more effective maintenance.
Understand and Communicate the Occupier Experience
There is a shift in how prospective occupants view building performance today – not simply in terms of energy badges and due diligence reports, but in terms of how well the space will function for the comfort and performance of the people within it. That functionality might change as occupiers spend time in a space and adapt it to their needs, so the role of maintenance becomes crucial to adapt and optimise performance of services rather than only to keep them functioning.
The property manager and facilities manager can both guide this process by providing insight to the experience of building occupiers and how the space is performing for their needs.
That requires regular and quality dialogue between those using the building and those maintaining and managing it. Surveys and measurement tools can provide metrics, while qualitative feedback by occupiers’ employees for instance can contextualise the experiences of individuals against what they use the space for, and how that might change.
At my session for CIBSE, I’ll be talking more about this view of the occupant, and how a general shift from the landlord-tenant dynamic towards customer experience will drive more sustainable and better-performing spaces.
If more specialists can work together with a shared long-term view, I believe there’s huge scope for greater efficiency to be made, saving money, time and resources in the process.
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