Soft Landings – An Untapped Resource in Achieving Net Zero?

Soft Landings – An Untapped Resource in Achieving Net Zero?

Soft Landings – An Untapped Resource in Achieving Net Zero? 570 570 Greengage Environmental
  • Soft Landings could be key to delivering Net Zero in the built environment. It brings the client, design, construction, and operational teams together early on to agree targets and metrics which are then monitored throughout the project.

    It aligns to the RIBA plan of works and ensures that the agreed metrics are part of all the gateway agreements. It provides the opportunity to review and address issues as they happen. It allows for open communication and discussion to resolve problems and find solutions that strive for fit for purpose delivery and operation. Although not addressing sustainability or Net Zero directly. These concepts can be built into the Soft Landings approach and adoption.

    How does Soft Landings help?  Using the phases set out in BSRIA Guide BG54/2018 Soft Landings Framework 2018, Soft Landings provides the opportunity for the client and project delivery team to bring to the forefront key criteria that the project must deliver on to ensure better performance and a fit for purpose building. This is where Net Zero can be prioritised and aligned to the project deliverables.

    Utilising the six phases of Soft Landings and bringing in Net Zero objectives and priorities can create a bespoke way to implement and embed them into a project. Combining these with the standard Soft Landings criteria and focus points will bring a practicable way to align them providing the attention and priority required to evolve the approach to developments and refurbishment works in order to deliver on Net Zero ambitions.

    A breakdown of considerations for each Soft Landings Phase is outlined below:

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    By bringing the framework in right at the start at inception stage enables the consideration of the key deliverables, the application of Net Zero targets and objectives can be given KPI’s and metrics to be adopted for performance measurables and success criteria. Bringing these together with understanding the client’s requirements will define the sustainability requirements and key themes for the development.

    Defining roles and responsibilities at this stage is critical to ensure the Soft Landings deliverables are managed and achieved throughout the project. Deploying a Soft Landings champion to own the process throughout the project and into operation will provide consistency along with establishing Soft Landing Gateways to ensure that Net Zero criteria is being addressed and signed off at each stage.

    Past experience is highly important at this stage. Learning from previous projects successes and more importantly failures can help to prevent repeating mistakes and the delivery of another building that not only does not perform and deliver as intended, it fails to meet the Net Zero requirements as well. Reviewing similar buildings and projects to understand how and where to improve infrastructure, fabric and previous performance issues to drive energy efficiency and sustainability going forwards, is going to help understand how Net Zero can be achieved. Even conducting a Post Occupancy Evaluation of a similar building to learn how people are interacting with the space and how the environment impacts their working day will provide critical insight to help ensure occupant wellbeing in the project. This also must be brought into balance with meeting climate related obligations.

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    During the design stage the agreed Net Zero metrics and measures should be tracked with responsibilities assigned. The Soft Landings Champion can then co-ordinate the appropriate tasks and programmes in order to deliver Net Zero project requirements.

    Using information gathered from previous experience and Post Occupancy Evaluation (if carried out) can be valuable information to the design team as they work through concepts and innovations to deliver ensure the focus of the project ensures fit for purpose delivery that is aligned to the sustainability requirements.

    Considerations to new approaches and technologies need to be factored in here to drive operational improvements and efficiencies. At the same time there needs to be a consideration of the embodied energy/carbon at this stage to reduce the construction related emissions of the building.

    Using design reviews and ‘reality checking’ workshops provides the ideal opportunity to bring all the stakeholders together to discuss and review sustainability options being considered. Sharing information and collaborating to find viable solutions will bring a joined-up approach that delivers against the Soft Landings and Net Zero criteria. This can also influence tender documentation to ensure contractors and consultants brought in adhere to the core principles of the project including those of Net Zero and sustainability.

    Although still in the design stage, there needs to be proactive discussions and reviews of the operational life of the building including service delivery, maintenance, and management. All of which impact operational carbon and the whole life impact of the building. Bringing these elements into the fold now provide the ideal opportunity to align design concepts with operational application. Addressing this now can begin to bridge the gap from project delivery and operational performance with regard to Net Zero requirements. Forging key relationships, communication, and collaboration from construction into handover and beyond by providing knowledge sharing and a team approach to solutions and design ideas.

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    Using Soft Landings during construction provides the opportunity to mobilise new joiners to the project providing the appropriate briefing around the key sustainability deliverables and principles, bringing in Net Zero priorities so that all participants in the construction are aware of how their work aligns and what their responsibilities are.

    At the same time, preparing for commissioning now for immediately before and after handover puts the project delivery at greater advantage with regards to operational energy and carbon and provides foresight on potential issues and establishes an in-operation mindset that is key to whole life performance and carbon impact.

    Soft Landings can provide the opportunity for review of key design elements and value engineering approaches. Ensuring these are in line with the Net Zero obligations and sustainability commitments and not being removed to save money at the expense of quality and performance.

    Having regular reviews and interventions can provide valuable collaboration and discussion on any real time issues that come up impacting specific sustainable design vs construction elements. Enabling the right solution to be identified that achieves the desired operational requirements. This can save, time, resources and money impacting not only operational but embodied and construction related carbon.

    Encourage a ‘get on site’ ethos to understand what is going on, to see how complex and uncommon systems are being installed and how they will work within the building parameters. This will also provide the opportunity to identify potential problems or witness a positive change in approach to deliver the desired outcome in a better way. Utilising tours with stakeholders and operational teams will provide valuable insight for when the building is in use and addressing energy efficiency factors. Sharing successes will be beneficial in post completion reviews and lessons learned. It will also generate a culture of innovation and collaboration to achieve Net Zero performance.

    Agreeing a sign off programme for key elements that could impact the operation of the building and require additional attention during construction also provides another layer of control of the whole life carbon impact of the building. Allowing key stakeholders of these systems to be involved and informed of the programme to ensure correct installation is carried out that aligns with overall objectives and deliverables.

    The construction phase is an ideal time to bring in the Facilities Management (FM) team to review the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) plant and infrastructure services. This provides the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap between delivery and operation. This also can provide valuable insight on accessibility to HVAC and systems to ensure a sustainable approach to maintenance. This is going to be important for the FM team and project team to review so that the long-term sustainability performance of the building and how it impacts the users as well as the environment can be considered. If the building cannot be maintained properly, it will fail on every success criteria and poor performance and satisfaction will be evident.

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    Right at the start of pre-handover before commissioning starts, Soft Landings stakeholders should review and agree the building data to be captured to ensure measurement against performance targets can be delivered. Capturing detailed data on energy and water should be included along with wellbeing and building user related data such air quality, temperatures, and occupancy. Means to capture operational waste volume data should also be established. How this data is to be logged stored and made available should also be agreed. Capturing this data is going to be key in monitoring performance and tracking operational Net Zero target requirements.

    Preparing a programme of building readiness ahead of commissioning can work towards making sure the operational energy of the building can be optimised as well as ensuring that occupant wellbeing and satisfaction is not compromised. Finding this balance is going to be a challenge but critical in delivering buildings that people want to use while not negating climate resilience and impact.  Putting in place a commissioning plan, reviewing records, establishing training and ensuring meters and data provision infrastructure will all contribute towards a successful handover. In addition, there should be a post-completion commissioning programme and any fine-tuning requirements that will be required once in operation.

    A key element to address is the maintenance contract, it needs to ensure that it covers all the systems installed and comes into effect as soon as handover is completed. Having Net Zero and sustainability criteria within the contract will work towards the ensuring the FM service provider brings addresses them as part of their day-to-day operational activities.

    The FM team will play a critical role in delivering operational energy and environmental performance. They will be at the forefront of ensuring occupant wellbeing and satisfaction as well. Ensuring the maintenance service is at the required standard to ensure Net Zero is embedded into this delivery is incredibly important. Failure could see the building slip into poor energy management.

    Any training requirements should be addressed for building operators and the facilities team. This will enhance operational performance and embed the facilities management approach and requirements into practical application. As part of this process, developing appropriate building user guides and technical information is going to help the operational performance of the building. These guides should be focussed on their audience. Providing this information generates informed building users, who are an important part in the operational life of any building and bringing them on the journey to sustainability and Net Zero has never been more important.

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    This is where the aftercare team needs to be identified and made visible on site and should consist of members from the design and construction team. The aftercare team, in addition to the operational elements of the scope of the delivery can utilise the agreed Net Zero and sustainability success criteria to monitor and manage the early phase of operation.

    Ultimately, this is the time where the focus is on the end-users, how they are interacting with the building and how the building is performing to support them. Providing information and acting as a means to communicate with the end users will help to identify operational issues and any required performance issues that need addressing. There will often be the requirement to navigate occupant wellbeing with energy efficiency. These issues should be recorded as part of the lessons learned and operational requirements of the building.

    Supporting the FM team is going to be important in ensuring the new systems are operating as required as well as providing advice where any maintenance or system issues require resolving or amending. There is always going to be a bedding in phase for the building over its first 12-18 months of operation. Providing advice and support to the operational teams is pivotal in success. Two-way communication with building users is also critical so that resolution to operational issues are visible along with the sustainability agenda and performance requirements of the building.

    Conducing informal building walkabouts will provide the opportunity to witness in operation and spot emerging issues. These can then be investigated and resolved. It is also worth using this opportunity to talk with end-users to gain their perspective. This feedback into operational performance can be priceless when making adjustments in sustainable operation.

    All issues and corrective actions should be logged and discussed as part of the ‘Lessons learned’ element of the project. This should include stakeholders from the different stages of development. Performance against success criteria should also be reviewed.

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    Extended aftercare should be agreed with the duration being between one and three years. With regards to Net Zero, this can bring to the forefront the key operation themes and focus issues to maintain the trajectory to improved energy efficiency and low carbon emissions.

    During extended aftercare, review meetings should be held with various building stakeholders, from FM to end-users to gauge how the building is performing. Providing information on delivery against Net Zero and wellbeing targets with contextual information will also be useful.

    Logging performance data is critical to tracking and measuring the performance of the building. This data is used as part of nearly all reviews and discussions around performance, providing quantitative evidence as to what is happening and when. This will be key to ongoing Net Zero and broader sustainability performance monitoring. In addition to the data, contextual information as to why performance is happening the way it is as well as for when modifications have been made and resulting outcomes. This should be used for annual reporting against success criteria and Net Zero targets. Any fine tuning and alterations made should be recorded. Building walkabouts and ongoing communication with the end-users should also continue.

    Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is a very useful tool that is used to capture how a building is performing. Allowing time for the building to settle, POE should be carried out after about one year to gain insight on technical operational elements as well as from building users regarding performance and satisfaction. This should then be carried out again on a regular basis after as a means to continually capture POE data. This is then used by the aftercare and operational teams to continue to adjust services and systems to deliver a sustainable, better performing building that is continually working towards Net Zero targets.

    A recurring problem when it comes to committing to POE is many clients and developers will commit to it as part of BREEAM to achieve credits (MAN 05) at design and construction phase but when it comes round to deliver, it is cut to save money. Thus, negating the benefits that POE can bring to improve building performance and sustainability. This is a bad habit that needs to stop if we are to truly understand how buildings are performing as well as how they impact people. This short sightedness could lead to wasted money in building operation and performance that could be optimised. The information found here will be a valuable tool in delivering operational improvements that can identify solutions and initiatives to achieve Net Zero Carbon.

  • Soft Landings, could be the answer construction and building operations is looking for to help succeed with Net Zero. It brings together a ‘common sense’ approach, promotes communication and prioritising key elements of the clients need and design brief throughout development and operation. Soft Landings can be the structure we need to deliver Net Zero buildings. Existing approaches need to change as do mindsets, we need to break from the norm to tackle climate change, especially in this decade of action, which is now nearly 9 years of action. Utilising Soft Landings can help do this.

    However, it must be applied properly, committed to and owned throughout the project delivery. For Soft Landings to be a success and achieve far reaching adoption and integration, project delivery teams need to rethink their approach and factor in a phased handover and transition to operation. Facilities teams need to get involved earlier and given the opportunity to do so. These false barriers are damaging buildings be them newly developed or refurbishments. Making a difference in tackling climate change as well as improving delivery standards are now critical. Net Zero can only be achieved through collaborative efforts.  This will also help ensure better buildings are delivered. Not only will they be pleasing for occupants, but operational teams and the client will be proud of their building and its capabilities. The knock on environmental and sustainability improvements are clear, it is up to us to make it happen. Are you up for the challenge?


For more information, please contact Richard Hillyard

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