Sustainability is an increasing priority and challenge for higher education institutions as the pressures of developing estates and buildings to deliver 21st-century learning environments are combined with that of reducing carbon emissions and other detrimental environmental impacts. The University of Manchester is meeting this challenge head on and aiming to embed environmental sustainability in all aspects of its education, research, and business operations.
In 2013 the university established a framework of specialist environmental sustainability advisors (ESA) to support the estates strategy and capital programme in meeting its ambitious sustainability objectives. The intention is to appoint an ESA on each major development project to act as the university’s ‘sustainability champion’ who will work closely with the design team and the university to maximise the sustainability performance of each project. Turley Associates Sustainability Service Group is part of this ESA framework.
At a strategic level, the university has developed a series of bespoke environmental sustainability targets. These incorporate a wide range of sustainability metrics as well as the more established sustainability assessment standards such as BREEAM. These targets are to be applied, where appropriate, to individual projects, but also to provide a flexible and adaptive framework for ‘designing-in’ project-specific sustainability measures that can contribute toward strategic goals. This provides the flexibility for an ESA to develop a sustainability strategy for individual projects that is challenging and, of course, achievable.
All major projects require the completion of the university’s bespoke environmental sustainability project tracker at key RIBA stages with a responsibility for the ESA to report to the university on the progress of these targets. This allows the university to monitor the progress toward strategic sustainability goals as they are progressed on an individual project level. For a ten-year estates strategy this process will also provide invaluable feedback on the effectiveness of targets and design measures when completed which help guide the application of targets for new projects.
One such project that Turley Associates has recently been instructed to support is the conservation works of the historic Quadrangle. It is difficult to apply conventional sustainability assessment metrics to such a project and so Turley Associates’ role is to integrate sustainability in decision-making and ensure that the project contributes positively to the university’s sustainability plan to 2015.
This calls for a new approach to sustainability by both designers and project managers. Many design teams have become used to sustainability being a ‘tick-box’ exercise, built around meeting a specific BREEAM or LEED standard for funding or planning permission reasons, particularly when project budgets and programmes are tight.
Head of sustainability at the University of Manchester Dr Emma Gardner said: “We are committed to minimising the impact of our activities on the environment; environmental sustainability was a key strategic issue when developing our new estates strategy. Working with our environmental sustainability advisors enables projects and project teams to drive sustainability from the outset right through to post-occupancy, fostering collaboration and sharing best practice.”
Establishing the ESA framework as an integral part of the university’s estates strategy and capital works programme ensures that sustainability is always high on the agenda and each project has its own sustainability leader with clear targets and lines of communication between the design team and client.
Richard Halsey, a senior sustainability consultant at planning consultancy Turley Associates, said: “Development of the ESA framework has required vision and commitment to adopting a new approach to sustainability that is better integrated within the design process and we are delighted to be playing our part.”