Greener Heritage Projects

Ben Stubbs
Heritage buildings make up a significant proportion of the UK’s built environment and will therefore have an important role to play in our transition to a low carbon economy.

In England alone there are currently 374,081 listed building entries. However such buildings can present unique challenges when it comes to energy efficiency and wider sustainability improvements.

Our sustainability and carbon management team, together with our heritage experts, are keen to demonstrate that heritage and sustainability often go hand-in-hand and we aim to help our clients find sympathetic solutions in this area. We have extensive experience in the consideration and application of sustainability principles on heritage projects.

Most recently, we've been working closely with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) on the implementation of their 'green heritage' guidance - Reducing Environmental Impacts – Good Practice Guidance (PDF, 479KB). The HLF has a commitment to ensuring that the projects it supports are environmentally sustainable and the guidance sets out what is expected from grantees in this area. 

Our findings show that the majority of HLF grantees have considered at least some sustainability initiatives, particularly in areas such as renewable energy technologies...

Faithful+Gould was commissioned to assess awareness of this guidance amongst HLF-funded organisations; to investigate the extent to which it is being followed; to examine how relevant measures are being employed; and to provide recommendations for further opportunities and improvements in this area.

Our findings show that the majority of HLF grantees have considered at least some sustainability initiatives, particularly in areas such as renewable energy technologies, water efficiency and environmental impacts of materials, with a number of cost-effective measures almost seen as standard practice. Many aim to be exemplars.

Materials specifications, for example, represent one of the more obvious areas where heritage and sustainability are often complementary. Reusing existing materials is more likely to be appropriate particularly on older, more sensitive buildings, and is also a preferred option according to the'waste hierarchy'. Meanwhile, the selection of more durable and/or locally sourced materials helps to minimise life cycle maintenance and repair implications. When it comes to timber, responsible sourcing, using schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or equivalent, is increasingly seen as standard practice.

...the selection of more durable and/or locally sourced materials helps to minimise life cycle maintenance and repair implications.

Even where the aesthetic appearance of a building is protected, simple measures can be implemented to improve energy efficiency. At a basic level, this might just involve measuring and monitoring energy use to identify where savings can be made. However, with proper planning, there will also be opportunities to improve the performance of even the most sensitive building fabric by improving levels of insulation and reducing air leakage – although, care must be taken to avoid turning a cold, dry building into a warm, damp one. And where work involves the replacement of systems for heating, ventilation or lighting, a range of sympathetic, more energy-efficient options can often be used.

The HLF also encourages consideration of appropriate renewable energy technologies subject to proper feasibility work. However, it’s important to strike the balance between positioning equipment to ensure efficient operation (e.g. wind turbines or photovoltaic panels) - and minimising any visual intrusion.

"...there is much for architects of future buildings to learn from the energy efficiency of many historic buildings which were, after all, built at a time when energy costs were relatively much higher."

Reducing Environmental Impacts, HLF (2012)

Where applicable, the majority of HLF grantees are addressing water efficiency with a number of low cost and straightforward measures to reduce potable water demand. Water-efficient sanitary equipment is increasingly seen as 'standard practice' and doesn’t necessarily involve significant extra costs. Even simple flow-reducing valves and fittings (e.g. tap insets) can have a noticeable impact on consumption. Rainwater harvesting for toilet flushing and landscaping is also increasingly common.

Finally, it is no surprise that measures to protect or enhance biodiversity are being implemented on almost all the projects we analysed confirming that ecology and heritage considerations are highly complementary. However, it would be interesting to further explore the balance between aesthetic and strictly ecological considerations in this area given the type of buildings involved.