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Integrating Sustainable Design into Client Briefs


This week, Associate Russell Whitby discusses the continuing need to develop technology, if we are to successfully integrate sustainable design into project briefs.

While most contractors and clients have changed their thoughts towards sustainable design, some haven’t.

It’s still often seen as a hurdle in a project to overcome, and not fully integrated into design thinking all the time. Mine and HLM’s design ethos is to try to integrate sustainable design measures with the physical space, in addition to the necessity of providing a low-energy building. In London, for example, we have to reach a 35% betterment over building regulations – in this instance, it comes from planning down. We have to hit a target, so sustainability is integrated – but it is often seen as an obstruction, rather than embraced as a natural way of thinking.

We need to help direct people into an earlier adoption of sustainability as a guiding principle to design – we need to integrate it from day one. At HLM, it is always at the forefront of our design, and not a bolt-on.

Getting sustainability into design briefs: a brief, usually prepared by clients for their designers, is the all-encompassing blueprint for a successful design outcome. Is sustainability coherently reflected or written into this?

Currently, in order to combat the hurdle, there are two main aspects to our approach. Firstly, a discussion of how we can reduce the carbon footprint of buildings or – shock horror – through good design, actually reduce the physical footprint of the building has to take place, and illustrate to clients how we can implement this easily.

Following this, we have to make this relevant to them, by explaining the benefits that they will recognise. A key aspect of this is demonstrating that while cost may be greater upfront, the return on investment will greatly outweigh this. Technology is instrumental – we have the ability to prove the ROI through cost analysis, which demonstrates worth over time.

Getting sustainability into design and innovation processes: most clients and designers have a structured design process. Where and how does sustainability fit into this?

First and foremost, every project is unique, and every client has their own vision as to what they want to achieve. What we consistently need to prove is that a sustainable building can also be an aesthetic building – the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

You can do a lot of work to ‘hide’ sustainability if required; even the most integrated sustainability strategies and design elements are not obvious in the finished product. However, some clients want to see it, and what we have to do as designers is to find the balance between showing green credentials, and having it inherent in the building.

Reaching the point where sustainable buildings are the norm would be the greatest celebration

I think accessibility to tools that encourage and guide people through the process essential. Our digital tool, ‘HLM Insight’, for example, allows everyone to access and contribute performance calculations, promoting collaboration and a unified design process. Further development of technology is paramount to being successful in the wider adoption of a sustainable approach. We need to simplify the process, and enable adaptation of the elements and design through allowing people to access platforms from every angle, and at every point of the construction process.

Clients must get better at writing designers into their sustainable business work, and we as a design community must help them

Generally, clients must get better at writing designers into their sustainable business work, and we as a design community must help them. Key to this will be engaging designers earlier around sustainability issues, specifically into strategy development and target setting.

Ideally, we need sustainable design to be normalised – and this will bring the design to the forefront and be celebrated.

Pursuing sustainability is making it part of the conversation and inherently part of the design, thus creating better buildings for the future – in more ways than one.

It’s about creating buildings that benefit everyone and everything as much as possible.

Business News Wales