Mary Heaney, top sustainability bod for Manchester Metropolitan University, isn’t playing the game fair. At the end of an interesting and thought-provoking breakfast meeting at the CUBE, she was asked “who owns the aviation emissions of overseas students attending Manchester Metropolitan University?” Speaking for MMU she said simply “we do.” She was supposed to wiffle-waffle about off-sets this or the lack of a settled system for apportioning international aviation emissions that. Then MCFly could write a sneery snarky squib and MCFly reader(s) could be confirmed in his/her/their world-views. That’s the game, or it was until this morning.
image courtesy Adrian Pope
Ms Heaney, the game-changer, was the speaker at a well-attended panel discussion on Sustainability in the Built Environment, organised by Insider Media (a source for some of MCFly’s local/regional news snippets). She gave a coherent powerpoint presentation entitled by“A vision for transformation, regeneration and sustainability” about the (controversial to some) plans for expansion of MMU onto Birley Fields in Hulme.
The plans, approved last year by the City Council’s Executive, are part of an overall strategy to consolidate MMU’s seven campuses down to two. This will improve MMUs building usage and overall operational efficiency.
Ms Heaney alluded to previous masterplans for Hulme (the Crescents, anyone?) and admitted that residents could be justifiably cautious/suspicious. Her presentation made use of various (positive) comments that emerged from the consultation done last year. She spoke of 430 full-time equivalent jobs (with about 340 being local jobs), and an aspiration to dramatically increase local attendance.
She moved on to talk about the aspiration for “zero water, zero waste and zero carbon.” Water would be sourced from a bore, with 100% rainwater capture for flushing toilets etc. Waste would be tackled by minimisation first and aggressive recycling. MCFly may have misheard, but the phrase “48% reduction by 2020 for carbon emissions” seemed to be mooted.”The buildings would be all BREEAM ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’, and a low carbon energy centre looking at biomass and a power/heating approach. There is also a biodiversity plan looking at green roofs/habitat linkage.
Critics of this plan (whom MCFly will invite to comment on this blog post) will doubtless point to the loss of green space and the building of a car park.
The final point Ms Heaney made was very sound indeed- buildings can be ‘green’ but the outcomes ‘brown’ because of the way they are used. Behaviour change (education, incentives, social norms engineering) are all essential. It’s almost as if folks need “Green Nudges”.
Hopefully MMU will put the powerpoint presentation online, and we can link to it.
The first was on on which of economic, environmental and social sustainability was being paid the most attention.
Prof Thomas said definitely economic, because the building profession is dominated by engineers and quantity surveyors, and that economic sustainability can be easily measured.
Felicity Goodey chipped in agreeing with this and adding that evidence showed that social sustainability could also be measured and shown to have an economic impact. Her example was that having trees around reduced stress levels and therefore staff sickness decreased. In terms of being able to retrofit 1960s buildings, she pointed to the example of Wythenshawe Hospital, first hospital to win a Carbon Trust award, as well as dramatically reducing its heating and cooling bill.
Ms Heaney added that as well as being driven by government fiat, there were also expectations from students that the institutions they attended would behave responsibly.
As befits these events, there was a question about retrofitting. Given that 80% of the buildings we have in 2050 are already built, this is where the real savings will have to come from.
Felicity Goodey agreed, saying that to win arguments you need to have case studies to show how much money could be saved how quickly. She advocated that there should be an expectation that any publicly owned building (hospitals, police HQs etc) should be replacing windows during routine maintenance with double-glazing and thermal maintenance. She lamented that this doesn’t happening. She cited the current VAT regime as a perverse incentive for knocking down buildings and replacing them with things that had the same carbon footprint, calling it “absolutely barking mad.”
Prof Thomas chipped in with the observation that who pays and who benefits is a key question. Landlords are (sometimes) paying up front, with tenants getting lower fuel bills. He advocated “pay as you save” schemes, and pointed out the challenges will only get bigger as time goes on.
Mary Heaney, who now sits on the Environment Commission, advocated looking to the Registered Social Landlord sector as ‘low hanging fruit’, and mentioned cladding work done on 60s buildings at MMU.
The next questioner took the retrofitting theme further. Was it possible to retrofit to zero carbon by 2050? Prof Thomas was reluctant to prophesise. From the floor (Roger Burton of JMarchitects) came the observation that doing energy generation on a per-building basis was not going to work, it would have to be done at a community level, with heat mains, recovered waste etc. He said that the city has to lead.”
Felicity Goodey added that zero carbon also involved procurement of, for example, food. She gave the example of food being brought in from South Wales by contractors when it could be sourced more locally. She also wondered aloud if too much emphasis was being put on recycling and the waste minimisation (and consumption reduction generally, if MCFly doesn’t misrepresent) was where the action was at.
Alex Sol of Sheppard Robson said, while everything MMU was doing was good, wasn’t it maybe fiddling around the edges, with legislation needed to force things to happen.
Prof Thomas proclaimed himself a great believer in sticks as well as carrots, but was worried the early adopters would lose their competitive advantage if everyone was having to perform at the same high level. MCFly reckons this is wrong on two levels- one the goal is to preserve a habitable biosphere, not (necessarily) current market models and two the ‘early adopters’ will simply push on to even more ambitious technologies/techniques.
Felicity Goodey was also not keen on legislation (though the reason she gave – globalised economy- wouldn’t hold carbon if the disclaimer (see below) wasn’t in play; States can – and do- impose conditions on capital flows/capitalist behaviour. Thus the spatial/sustainability fix. She advocated using audit tools, since the UK is “audit mad.”
Mary Heaney cited MMU’s use of Display Energy Certificates on all its buildings, big and small, as a way of driving behaviour change (with informal competition between faculties) and speculated that if DECs were put on private buildings, this would create reputational risk/opportunity.
And the final question? MCFly’s attempt to bring the love-fest down to earth, exposing the contradiction between all the good stuff aimed at making Manchester ‘greener’ but within the context of ‘Manchester as a “world city”’ and the attendant aviation emissions. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids… Now, if we can just get Manchester Airport to adopt MMU’s logic…
The event was hosted by the Centre for Construction Innovation and sponsored by AECOM and Sheppard Robson. The coffee, pastries and networking were all good. MCFly will highlight future events of interest to its reader(s).
Disclaimer- Ms Goodey is MCFly’s boss in real life, so OF COURSE every single word she uttered was a pearl of wisdom!