Have you ever followed your recycling to see what happens to it? Many of us blissfully assume our plastic and paper are taken off to be turned into useful goods and put back into circulation.
Last year, the UK National Audit Office found that more than half the packaging reported as being recycled is actually sent abroad to be processed, who knows in what way.
I was first forced to challenge this naïve assumption about recycling when reading Michael Moore’s 2001 book Stupid White Men, his rant against America best known for unpicking the George W Bush v Al Gore election farce, remember the “pregnant chads” in Florida?
Moore brings in recycling as an example about the lemming nature of people being satisfied to deposit their recycling and then go back to their lives detached from the issue for another seven days.
The point remains today that green policies and behaviour are fine to an extent but only if they are properly monitored and policed throughout the process.
Allegations that one in four energy performance certificates in the UK, that’s 2.5 million, are wrong similarly raised concerns about the carbon agenda from a property perspective.
As the climate crisis starts to dawn on real estate, are we certain that carbon-reducing objectives can survive the fragmented nature of project delivery and building management? Go-betweens and consultants come and go during the procurement process for large, tendered construction jobs. Often they have different drivers, one stage is about capital costs and the next might be about operational savings.
Who will check meters are properly calibrated? Certain sensors for heating and ventilation require specialist installation and strict controls such as not trimming the length of a cable or else the reading won’t be right.
The special thermally superior glazing the developer insisted on promises impressive energy gains but only if fitted properly by trained workers experienced with that product. Will the contractor ensure that is the case when they have site control?
Good luck getting even the slightly more expensive product sold into a design-and-build team motivated by value engineering against a fixed cost, and not by the vastly cheaper running costs after the keys have been handed over and the premises opened, by the time it has passed into someone else’s budget.
All this might sound depressing and cynical but anyone who has spoken to a member of a project team in private knows shortcomings and cut corners are a reality in the messy built world.
Whilst championing the green agenda, must we cross our fingers and hope there will 100% perfect finishing in an industry where snagging and arguments over defects are part of daily life?
The investment model for creating and selling projects once they are completed does not help encourage optimism. What is the importance of the sustainability credentials being accurate if the momentum is all towards flipping the asset as soon as possible, or a five-year hold?
If the inaccuracies come to light years later the chances are the developer will be long gone and the complex job of unravelling liabilities for installing and maintaining experimental equipment left in the hands of lawyers.
What is needed is an open approach to measurement and reporting. Things like fast, accurate and transparent meter reading on an app do exist but traction for new products is slow.
The cost consultants and main contractors are used to a formulaic way of delivering projects and are reluctant to bring new ideas into the design process at the outset, which would make adoption smoother and more reliable.
The planet is screaming at us to act. We have to find the voice as an industry to admit the weaknesses and move together, parking our old-fashioned processes for the collective purpose. Nature doesn’t care for our excuses.