Government buildings fail on sustainability

Government departments must address a "serious and widespread failure" to achieve targets on sustainable construction, a National Audit Office report said in April.1

Most departments are failing to meet sustainability targets in new buildings and major refurbishments worth £3 billion a year, the NAO says.

The NAO looked at public sector construction and refurbishment projects during 2005/06 and found poor compliance with the Office of Government Commerce’s procurement standards for the built environment. Overall, 80% of the 45 projects examined met the standards, with smaller projects generally the worse performers.

The standards include an existing requirement for departments to conduct an environmental assessment on projects using the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) or equivalent.

But the NAO found only 35% of new build and 18% of major refurbishments met this requirement.

The low compliance rate is partly due to departments applying a minimum financial threshold for carrying out BREEAM assessments and flexibility which allows them to decide whether or not they are appropriate, says the NAO.

Poor performance on smaller projects costing less than £1.5 million was largely blamed on consultancy fees for designing a building to meet high environmental standards and gain the appropriate BREEAM rating.

The NAO says the OGC standards are inadequate for achieving the tougher government targets on carbon emissions, energy and water consumption set in 2006. A sustainable procurement action plan was launched at the same time to help meet these targets (ENDS Report 386, pp 45 ).

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