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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 19, 2008
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Buildings' Environmental Standards
November 19, 2008   
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The environmental impact of buildings is well recognised. Buildings contribute to nearly half of total carbon emissions. They are also a substantial source of other types of pollution (water, waste, noise, light, and so on). The environmental performance of buildings is assessed by several internationally recognised methods. Where possible they try to quantify the impact, so that environmental performance can be measurable and comparable with other properties.

The most recognisable methods worldwide are the British BREEAM and American LEED environmental certificates. All of the certificates aim to improve the internal conditions for occupants and reduce a building's impact on the environment. They slightly differ on categories used and the weight of each criterion. BREEAM, for example, assesses a building in the following categories: management (monitoring, training of all occupants, and so on), energy, water, ecology and land use (for example, use of brownfields), health and well-being of the occupants, proximity of public transport, building materials, waste, and pollution. The environmental certificates consider all areas of "sustainability", that is, environmental, economic (cost efficiency), and social (health and well-being). Both BREEAM and LEED are designed to assess all types of buildings-from individual houses to office and retail buildings.

In Britain it is obligatory for some public buildings to achieve appropriate BREEAM standards. This method is also used by some local authorities to deliver their sustainable development objectives through a local planning strategy. The Welsh Assembly, for example, considers funding only building projects that will achieve the best scores (excellent or outstanding) under the BREEAM assessment.

This assessment tool is also popular among building investors and developers. Some corporate companies, for example, will not move to a new office building that will not demonstrate a high BREEAM score. Therefore the demand is actually fuelled by building owners, occupiers and the regulators. The environmental and social benefits of such buildings are indisputable. More controversial are the cost benefits, especially for developers, who do not have to bear monthly utility bills. It is clear that-at least in Poland-the capital cost of a BREEAM excellent- or outstanding-rated building will be higher than in equivalent, non-sustainable properties. The general assumption is that a green office building requires 3-6 percent higher capital expenditure. Whereas in Britain at least some of the costs are refundable through a local government, there is practically no help from the Polish regulators.

One should emphasise, however, that generally market prices and the demand for green buildings are higher, so it is worthwhile preparing a thorough business plan before designing or constructing a new commercial building. Already, BREEAM or LEED methodology is used by many international real estate advisors as a guide to estimate a value of a property. In the economic slowdown facing the Polish construction industry, green buildings may therefore be a viable alternative and a market differentiator for business development.

Environmental standards for buildings are already successfully implemented in Poland by many corporate companies. Among them the most noteworthy are Tesco, UBS, and the Orco Property Group. But from our perspective, the demand among occupants and investors in Poland is much higher than supply-occupants aim to fulfil their environmental policy, and the investors are eager to allocate their funds in socially responsible investments.

WSP Enviro, part of WSP environment & Energy, a British-based global environmental consultancy, works closely with both investors and tenants to improve and assess buildings' environmental and energy standards. From our experience the time for considering those issues is crucial. The best performance-to-cost ratio is achieved at the planning stage. When carefully designed, it is possible to substantially improve a building's environmental performance without incurring any excess capital spending. That is why green buildings are becoming increasingly popular in Poland. After all, everyone should have the right to live and work in a healthier environment, and nowadays there are clearly defined and readily available tools as well as economic drives to render it possible.

Magda Stretton, Country Manager, WSP Enviro Sp. z o.o.
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