Building for the Future; AT AN INTERNATIONAL TRADE FAIR IN CANNES, SIBYLLE CLUCAS DISCOVERS HOW SUSTAINABILITY IS STILL AT THE TOP OF THE PROPERTY INDUSTRY'S AGENDA - DESPITE THE RECESSION

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Byline: SIBYLLE CLUCAS

If anyone still had a doubt about the importance of sustainability in the world of commercial property, MIPIM 2009 would dispel those doubts.

Five minutes at the annual international property trade fair held in Cannes this spring would have proved to anyone that sustainability is still very much at the forefront of the debate within the commercial propertyS world. Indeed, the credit crunch has slowed development down, so professionals and developers have time to consider this topic without the need to rush.

The MIPIM 2009 conference programme was filled with sessions on sustainability.

Walking around the exhibition, words such as sustainable, green, growth, progress, efficiency, responsibility, BREEAM and LEED were omnipresent - from panels to brochures, and leaflets to people's discussions. Despite, or even because of, the dramatic worsening of the global economy, the property industry is under more pressure to deliver. And the challenge to respond has become universal.

Sustainability must be affordable. It is no longer regarded as an add-on but rather as an integral part of a building. One speaker likened it to ABS in cars - 10 years ago it was an optional extra, now it is provided on all cars. Ignoring energy efficiency is no longer possible because most governments, governing bodies and trades associations have adopted it as part of their corporate responsibility.

In new buildings, energy efficiency does not need to come at an additional cost, especially if it is introduced at the planning stage. Last minute eco-changes or later eco-additions tend to be ineffective, costly and often not very aesthetic. 'Eco bling' has had its day.

With less money around and a slowing down of new build, the emphasis has changed from new buildings to upgrading existing stock. This will prove to be far more expensive and much less easy to plan and implement. Tax incentives would encourage the housing and office sectors to implement sustainable solutions, while legislation needs to be tightened..

The major challenge the property sector clearly faces is the lack of one cohesive and global set of rules and certification.

There is an increasing mass of laws but they are still only in their infancy. While legal requirements apply, it is questionable whether they really help to achieve very much. They are very bureaucratic and tend to come across as more of a burden.

So far sustainability legislation is described as very narrow, resulting in a compliance and tick box culture.

The problem is that one can tick all the required boxes and still not have a truly sustainable building.

It is important to build or refurbish in a way that works both for the environment and for the people that will use it.

To date, most sustainably-aware countries have their own energy performance certificate: BREEAM (in the UK, including Wales), DGNB (in Germany), HQE (in France), LEED (in the USA), BEAM (in Hong Kong), CASBEE (in Japan). There is a consensus that there is a need for one global platform to work from. Introducing an internationally recognised set of rules is a concept that will really have to be worked on, bearing in mind that buildings need to respond to local climatic conditions. Could the same legal requirement really be applied to both Sydney and Cardiff? All speakers at MIPIM agreed, however, that legislation alone cannot achieve all the targets. A change of culture is needed that engenders a greater awareness and respect for the environment. Buildings and cities must be intelligently managed for the environment and the people. Sustainability was described by one of the speakers as being about 'pushing and staying ahead, continuous improvement, achievable regulations'.

Some countries are going much further than even unified regulations might require.

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