The recent UKSPA Summer Conference saw park managers, investors, developers, consultants, suppliers and construction contractors converge at York Science Park to share experiences and ideas on everything from sustainability best practise to campus collaborations, and support for growing companies.

I joined Phil Kelly (Ridge & Partners), Steve Aughton (Siemens), Liz Cashon (York Biotech Campus) on a panel discussing ‘Designing, Delivering & Operating Energy-efficient and Maintainable Spaces’, chaired by Philip Macdonald (Oberlanders Architects) and aided by questions from the audience. We brought out issues and approaches around sustainability from our different perspectives, but what we all agreed on is that we need to work together as an industry to reduce our impact. Here are my key takeaways from the session.

The general feeling in the room was that whilst we all know that we need to cut carbon, the question is how to best do this amongst a constantly changing landscape of regulations and standards and meeting the various requirements of different owners, managers and occupiers.

We need a retrofit revolution

Given that 70% of the UK’s non-domestic buildings will still be in use by 2050 (the year the UK plans to be ‘net zero’) we will need to retrofit a significant number of buildings, including lab spaces, to ensure they have the highest energy efficiency if we are the meet our carbon targets.  

For our own part Mace recently published ‘Transform & Renew’ which makes a number of recommendations about how industry and government can retrofit the over one million non-domestic buildings in the UK for a low carbon future.

While this retrofit challenge may seem overwhelming, getting started can be as easy as switching energy providers to those that use renewable energy, or installing smart metres to monitor usage and adjust accordingly.

Over the longer term, asset operators should also stick to a maintenance regime to ensure the efficient operation and longevity of their buildings and equipment. This may require a full building retrofit/repurposing and that is where contractors like Mace can help.

Ensuring sustainable outcomes that are fit for purpose
From a construction perspective, one of the biggest impacts we can have on carbon emissions is reducing the embodied carbon of the materials we use. The carbon footprint of materials is largely a known quantity for contractors, architects, and engineers who are in a position to advise clients on the sustainability ‘rankings’ of alternative materials, equipment and methodologies to deliver the outcomes needed. However, any alternative materials must be fit for purpose, and rigorously tested, taking into account specific requirements such as vibration constraints and air permeability for lab environments.

Balancing build and budget over the long-term
Perhaps the biggest blocker developers have to building energy efficient buildings is the higher upfront costs and pressure to hit budget which often will be at the expense of the greener option. More long-term thinking is needed here. Typically, the lifetime operational cost of a lab space will be 10 times the build cost. Building a highly efficient building may cost more initially, but asset owners will save significantly over the lifespan of a building. Stakeholders must balance short-term Capex with long-term Opex to see the bigger picture. Of course, a building must be fit for purpose when it opens but must also maintain this for 50-plus years over its lifetime so a higher carbon footprint now in the build may ensure the asset is fit for purpose longer.

Data driven decision making
Data lies at the heart of making buildings more energy efficient but as it stands the life sciences industry lacks comprehensive data on the operational carbon and efficiency of labs. We need to better harness building performance data of new buildings to see how their perform against models. Smart metering individual labs and controlled environments would enable tenants to access data and adapt their own behaviours and energy usage as appropriate. This data could then inform future tailored retrofit plans, new build designs and input to evidence based modelling and maintenance schedules.

Sharing data, case studies and use cases of occupier energy usage and successful sustainable solutions between science parks and across the supply chain will also greatly improve decision making to achieve greener outcomes.

Above all, we each need to change our mindset and behaviours, share information and collaborate, so we can design, build, repurpose and operate the most sustainable option.

Nick Abbey, Construction Director, Mace Group.