Green sky thinking

With the Green Infrastructure Challenge over for another year, member of the judging panel FM Group Vice Chair David Stevens takes a look at what made the competition's winner stand out, and what it might mean for the future of Facilities Management.

OpenCity’s Green Sky Thinking week (15-19 May) is designed to get people thinking about green issues in new ways. As the name implies, it’s an ‘anything goes’ opportunity to look at green principles and technology free of any baggage, and how they can be applied to make our lives more sustainable. CIBSE and the ARCC Network take part by, among other things, running the Green Infrastructure Challenge – a specific look at the way green technology can be applied to building services.

Green technology impacts just about every industry and profession connected to buildings, from the structure to the lighting and the drainage, but in my opinion it is facilities managers who got by far the most food for thought out of what we learned from the challenge. It’s clear that green infrastructure is now a serious consideration for FMs, not a gimmick.

The radical design supports a wide range of green technologies
The winning project, a waste management facility in Slough, has a laundry list of sustainability concerns – from overheating to poor air quality and flooding – perhaps to be expected from a 1980s block sandwiched between a motorway and a rubbish tip. As one of the judges on this challenge, I was blow away by what the winning team from Amey were able to achieve in their design. Just about every instance where you might expect a mechanical solution, it was augmented by a natural one: Green walls supplemented air conditioning, green roofs replaced solar shading, rain gardens replaced drainage pumps and even electricity was supplied from plants.

The real eye-opener from me was how seamlessly the design worked for the building, green elements and all. For a long time, green infrastructure has had a gimmicky reputation – a solitary green wall in a design, but the real heavy lifting is still to be done by mechanical services. But here, the approach is striking: Heating and cooling provided by green walls and roofs that reflect heat in summer and insulate it in winter. Solar panel outputs increased by 10% when paired with a green roof, which cools the panels and maintains their efficiency. Rain gardens used as living wind breaks that cut wind borne pollution and actively remove it from the atmosphere.

Green infrastructure produces greater gains when used
in concert with mechanical services
These are interesting developments for any built environment engineer, but for facilities managers they are a golden opportunity to upskill and corner a market. At the end of the day, after a project is finished and handed over it’s the FM who is going to be taking the plaudits and the flack from its performance for many years afterwards. With budgets stretched and targets ever-tighter, every little helps, and it’s exactly the sort of marginal gains provided by green infrastructure used in concert with mechanical infrastructure that will make the difference.

It’s not all about energy, either – Facilities Managers are also responsible for the day to day comfort and well being of a building’s occupants, and it’s here that green infrastructure’s strengths really start to show.

A lot of research is currently ongoing into the financial benefits of promoting well being in improving staff health, cutting absenteeism and increasing productivity, but the broad consensus is that an office full of staff with higher well being is better both financially and as a working environment than one which is less pleasant to work in.

It also benefits the workplace by increasing staff engagement with the process of sustainability. Sustainable policies work best when the building’s occupants comply, whether that’s through turning off lights, shutting down computers or closing doors. These rules can seem arbitrary when presented on their own, but green elements create a pleasant and very physical addition to an office environment that staff can interact with. Just being around plants can boost task performance by 15%, but by watering them, smelling them and interacting with them, staff can actually see the benefits of sustainable policies right in front of them.

Green infrastructure encourages interaction between occupants and services
By investigating the potential of green infrastructure in their own buildings, an FM can tackle several problems at once and add real value to their organization. Practically they can increase the effectiveness of their own building services by augmenting them with green infrastructure to lessen a rage of problems, from overheating to poor air quality. They can make a big impact on the company’s bottom line by boosting the well being of staff, and the can make their place of work a generally more pleasant place to be.

By being early adopters of this technology, FMs can corner the market as experts in green infrastructure – and stand to gain the most from its success.


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