Alan Shingler on the importance of bridging the 'performance gap'

30th March 2015

Alan wrote the following piece for the Architects' Journal, published March 2015.

A recurring seven-year itch within government departments seems to determine environmental policy these days: first the Code for Sustainable Homes is abolished and now Display Energy Certificates (DECs), introduced in 2008, are under review.

For over 6 years, I have lobbied for mandatory DECs on behalf of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group and the British Property Federation. Instead of moving forward and finding ways to bridge the ‘performance gap’, government legislation is moving backwards.

Last month, the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) launched a consultation proposing to scrap the requirement for DECs in public buildings. This impacts more than 50,000 buildings, mostly town halls and schools, DCLG’s stated intent is to explore ‘options for reducing unnecessary costs to public bodies’.

The consultation purports to reduce “the burden of compliance” by streamlining the current system, but this focus on scaling back how we monitor our buildings is staggeringly short-sighted. Evidence shows that the Department of Energy & Climate Change has succeeded in reducing energy and costs in public buildings by an estimated £760,000 per annum, thanks to DECs. The review’s focus on short-term savings, rather than the long-term impact that DECs would have on the public sector’s spending and carbon emissions is a false economy.

For far too long the construction industry has considered its work done at Practical Completion, ignoring lessons learnt from buildings once they are occupied. There are notable exceptions to this rule – such as Bill Bordass - but without legislation in this area, the majority of designers remain in the dark and do not benefit from valuable data that can help us design better buildings. We applaud those who monitor and share post-occupancy data with their design team so future designs can be improved.

Sheppard Robson recently received the first year’s energy monitoring results from our Siemens Headquarters in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. The data shows that the building is hitting its efficiency targets, reducing energy consumption by 63 per cent and water by 52 per cent, when compared with a standard office building in the region.

Masdar and Siemens both understand the importance of educating the user to encourage behaviour change and ultimately reduce energy and carbon emissions. A building management system displays energy usage as a live stream, providing instant feedback on how the building is working. Smart meter dashboards in prominent places in the building’s public areas are a constant reminder to occupiers, visitors and the landlord. Spikes in energy consumption are highlighted and inform the way the building is managed, showing how greater transparency leads to greater efficiency.

Rather than scaling back, we should embrace sophisticated systems like this to strengthen and improve the effectiveness of the current DEC system. Scaling back on DECs due to administrative burden is damaging to the environment and will be more expensive in the long run.