Contractors must take control

The large number of unqualified people looking to take advantage of the demand for sustainable technologies is a real source of concern. Growing demand for solutions like geothermal heat pumps and solar water heating is creating a buoyant market for the services of firms able to design and install them. However, these emerging solutions will only deliver energy savings and reduced carbon emissions if they are properly integrated with existing conventional services.
Building services specialists are the best qualified people to deliver holistic designs and ensure integration takes place. However, people from outside the industry are trying to dominate and if they succeed it will be to the detriment of our sector, our clients and the environment.

We have all read about solar panels becoming the new double glazing with a number of charlatans threatening to scupper our best efforts to develop a successful market for low carbon solutions. It is absolutely essential that we protect this market and the only way to do that is to ensure that qualified installation companies seize back control.

There is a strong sustainability groundswell driven by major developers and landlords and if we are not able to respond other people will. The trouble is that many traditional installers still think that sustainability is something they leave to others. They wish to carry on planning and implementing projects in the same way they have always done, but they must quickly get out of this mindset. Our engineers have an enormous amount of technical expertise to bring to this party and, if we do not, clients will soon be looking for others who can.

The HVCA has been analysing the opportunities – and potential threats – posed by increased climate change related regulation. It commissioned consulting engineering firm FaberMaunsell to produce a report outlining the key sustainability market drivers and likely impacts on contractors.

It was a really valuable exercise as it served to focus us on where we can make a difference and take a lead. It revealed, as we suspected, that there is widespread lack of knowledge at all levels in our sector about the opportunities available to contractors.

This is key. Contractors must be suitably motivated by the business opportunities to make the investment in skills and resources that will allow our sector to service the growing demand for sustainable building services solutions. If we do not have the capacity to fully service the market that will leave gaps for others to fill.

A natural link

The FaberMaunsell research identified a natural link between European and UK regulation and the work of building services contractors. No one is better placed to deliver the low energy and sustainability targets placed on clients by the European Performance of Buildings Directive and our own Building Regulations than specialist engineering firms.

The Sustainability Issues Group, a partnership between the HVCA and its sister trade body the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), is now driving a sustainability ‘Agenda for Action’ for the whole M&E sector, which includes looking at ways of setting professional standards to ensure only firms with the right skills operate in this market. These standards will also be used to evaluate and measure actual and potential sustainable solutions.

However, the first step has to be a widespread campaign to raise awareness of the opportunities offered by sustainability. This will be followed by a definition of the additional skills contractors need to meet the technical challenges along with the necessary vocational training and workforce development.

The association has just completed a guide to sustainability terms: ‘Sustainability A-Z for H+V’ to help contractors make sense of the welter of information on this subject and select the aspects that are relevant to them as well as being able to explain the subject and some of the solutions to clients.

The association is also in the process of creating a series of single-sheet information leaflets on aspects of sustainability, to be available free of charge to members via the encrypted area on the HVCA website and in hard copy.

These will be supported by a series of seminars, workshops and debates spreading the sustainability message. There will also be opportunities, during the rest of this year, to present and promote the key elements of sustainability, and the importance of contractors’ role in its delivery, to MPs, Ministers, civil servants and other opinion formers, including client bodies and professional institutions.

We will also publish a series of green guides to good practice and/or specifications for sustainable systems and equipment including geothermal heat pumps, combined heat and power, solar thermal technologies and biomass boilers.

The HVCA will review, on an annual basis, the environmental aspects of its independent member inspection and assessment regime – and the standards upon which they are based – to ensure compliance with current best practice. We will also encourage members to adopt the principles enshrined in the ISO 14001 international standard for environmental management of their businesses.

Promoting experts

With all this in place, we are in a strong position to promote HVCA members as experts in integrated energy systems; able to take a holistic approach to the growing building services engineering needs of customers and clients.

The principle of a sustainable lifestyle applies to social and economic factors as well as the more easily grasped technical elements of energy saving and recycling of waste products. Sustainability encompasses our efficient generation and use of energy, the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels and the minimisation of waste in all its manifestations. It requires us all to plan our developments in socially sensitive ways and to look at the impact on local economies of our work. Ultimately it also means that we should be much more efficiently managed to be less wasteful and far less expensive.

We have to strike a balance between the commercial and the residential, between public and private forms of transport to service our projects, and look at how new developments will impact on the public that live in and around the local area for generations to come.

These issues might seem rather far above the heads of ‘mere’ building services contractors, but they are not – in fact, these values are going to be central to the way we do our work in the future. They also have huge implications for our future economic prospects.

The HVCA has set ambitious and urgent targets, but we have little choice if we are to keep pace with the rapid rate of change and rising client expectations. Our industry has a responsibility to the country and the environment to get this right, but we also have a huge opportunity to build more profitable businesses on the back of this burgeoning market.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making a profit from sustainability. We want contractors to see this as a business opportunity because if they do not others most certainly will and they may not be the right people to deliver the solutions that are in our society’s best interests.

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