STSD - Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development STSD - Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development d

South Somerset Sustainable Construction Project

This page relates to the South Somerset Sustainable Construction project, which has been running formally since February 2000.

The page contains the following:

Background:,The Context for the Project

Sustainable Construction Project: Tabulated Outputs

General Conclusions and Recommendations For the Project As A Whole

Appendix: Relevant Additional Items of Information

It is intended that you can down-load information from these pages for development and adaptation of a sustainable construction project in your own district or county

Details of Progress and Conclusions and Recommendations for the Six Sub-Projects are included on the following separate pages - click on these to see the details of each sub-project, what and how progress has been achieved, and the conlcusions and recommendations arising from the work undertaken so far.

Social Housing
Seminars and Conference
Council and Public Buildings
The Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development
Village Halls and Community Buildings

Background: The Context for the Project

South Somerset DC and Somerset CC, via the South Somerset Partnership Committee, have lead the council’s support for sustainable construction - this has initiated a genuinely pioneering project for local government. A first Sustainable Construction Conference held in 1999 was a great success, and was repeated in 2000, with an exhibition element added, and an event title and theme of ‘Sustainable Construction: Making it happen’ in order to give the event a practical focus, and to keep the agenda moving forward.

The project was developed significantly from early in 2000 when a consultant (Steve Charter of Somerset Sustainable Housing, and now working with the Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development) was taken on to co-ordinate and develop the strategy.

The aim has been for the overall project outputs to fit well in a strategic, as well as tactical, sense. The positive and opportunity oriented attitudes of certain council officers has contributed to good progress on certain sub-projects. It should be noted that the approach of the most progressive officers has been to automatically recognise Sustainable Construction as a missing part of their existing agenda, responsibilities and work programme - to see it as integral to best value and good practise in local government in the 21st century. Such an attitudinal shift across any authority will make the biggest difference of all in achieving sustainability objectives, and many other objectives.

Logically sustainable development cannot be achieved without sustainable construction. Sustainable Construction has the potential to be the big driver for achieving local sustainable development because the construction represents around 10% of economic activity, 10% of employment, 50% of energy use and 50% of landfill waste - and it has a direct influence on many other sectors; a powerful chain of effects. But, whilst sustainable construction could lead the push towards sustainability, it cannot achieve this as a single policy or project strand.

Sustainable Construction and The Corporate Approach to Sustainability

If a local authority is commited to achieving sustainable development, then sustainable construction, sustainable energy, sustainable food, sustainable transport and sustainable waste management will all be central, fundamental and essential, core elements in achieving sustainable development, alongside education for sustainability. Strategies to address these issues will work together, with the whole effect being greater than the sum of the parts.

Council’s can and should be more dynamic, progressive and opportunity oriented in seeking to change their own activities, impacts and inter-actions in these areas. Whilst responding to central Government initiatives is vital, there appears to be an imbalance (perhaps a ‘hang-over’ from the dismantling of local government powers) that is not recognising opportunities to be more dynamic, progressive and opportunistic than has been realised.

Council’s will need to seek innovation in thinking to move forward in the 21st century from being unsustainable to being sustainable. This is the Diversionary Principle: diverting impacts from unsustainable to sustainable.

  • diverting conventional construction to sustainable construction;
  • diverting conventional energy demand and supply systems to sustainable energy systems;
  • diverting conventional food and agriculture to sustainable food and agriculture systems;
  • diverting conventional travel and transport systems and behaviour to sustainable travel and transport systems
  • diverting conventional waste systems to highly efficient sustainable resource management systems;
  • and diverting conventional education systems to become systems that deliver genuine education for sustainability.
Sustainable construction has to be part of a much wider, integrated, intellectually coherent, and more comprehensive strategy to achieve sustainable development. There are indications that this recognition of the need for change is emerging within councils. However, this is often held up by a widespread lack of awareness of the opportunities and efficiencies that sustainability offers, as well as by generally resistance to change.

There are two stands to a good strategy on sustainability:

  • Addressing internal activities, responsibilities and impacts - ‘getting your own house in order’, those activities and impacts it has a high or complete control over (e.g. council buildings, preparing the Local Plan, etc.).
  • Addressing its external activities and impacts - those activities in the district with which the Council is involved or in which it has influence rather than control (e.g. schools, partnership projects, etc.)

If a Council develops a strategic approach to sustainability it will do well to recognise that this internal-external approach creates two distinct, inter-related and complementary yet independent strands of the strategy. Cross-cutting themes, such as sustainable construction or energy, will be addressed both internally and externally, with cross-overs, but with distinct actions and responsibilities. Externally it needs to be much more partnership based, and project oriented; internally it needs to be oriented towards corporate objectives and management systems.

Attitudinal and Issues of Management Philosophy

In both district and county councils - and generally in local government, and in society in Britain - sustainability issues are still primarily seen as a ‘threat’ and / or a ‘problem’ (e.g. to existing expertise, and to the way we are used to doing things). Sustainability issues are not yet truly recognised as an opportunity to improve quality of life and environment; an opportunity to improve service and resource efficiency (e.g. energy and water), reduce waste, reduce congestion, improve food quality and move into 21st century patterns of thinking.

In management thinking, a lot can be learnt from the businesses that are addressing such issues as a matter of course; a matter of management systems rather than as an environmental issue: Total Quality Environmental Management, Eco-Design Management, Sustainable Product Design, etc. (e.g. Philips, Electrolux). Such companies demonstrate that when management attitudes to sustainability change, from negative to positive, from ‘problem’ to opportunity, it is no longer a struggle, either corporately or individually, to make genuine progress.

The Sustainable Construction Project provides an excellent example of how senior and supporting officers, politicians and many external partners have seen sustainability as an opportunity for positive and constructive change.

As part of district and county reviews of corporate responsibilities and responses to the sustainability agenda and national Agenda 21 targets, any Sustainable Construction Project needs to become part of an integrated and comprehensive, opportunity and innovation oriented 10 year sustainable development strategy, rather than being seen as a discrete project.

Sustainable Construction Project

A more strategic approach to local sustainability will identify major development impacts and activities, taking an approach that involves initiating new exemplar projects in all areas. It will seek to turn the ‘chain of effects’ of such activities from being unsustainable and having negative social, economic and / or environmental impacts overall, to being sustainable and having positive social, economic and / or environmental impacts overall. In this way sustainable construction can become part of a number of parallel strategies, all of which would be working together to move towards sustainable development.

General Conclusions and Recommendations For the South Somerset Sustainable Construction Project As A Whole

  • Overall the project is innovative, both regionally and on a national level, is proving a success in instigating positive, sustainable changes at the local level.
  • The concept of the ‘chain of advice’ is very valuable in identifying and targeting those links in the chain that will be most effective to introduce changes in thinking and in working practices.
  • For the Councils the concept of the ‘chain of effects’ - which considers where the Council has greatest impacts and influence - has identified that different building types or types of development have to be targeted if the sustainable construction project is to be significant rather than superficial:
    • Village Halls and community buildings;
    • Schools, public buildings and any and every Council building project;
    • and in particular:
      • the Key Sites for housing development and
      • Social Housing
  • Promoting sustainable housing and construction, and advancing sustainable development issues in a significant, practical and coherent way is partly a technical issue, but it is primarily a management and ‘people’ issue. It depends on:
    • understanding the needs of key players;
    • good communication that translates the subject into appropriate language for different players;
    • being well informed, with a positive and opportunity oriented attitude;
    • and it depends on presenting the issues in a positive constructive way. In particular it depends on management structures that enable and encourage innovation, creativity, best practice and an integrated approach.

    Overall, the Sustainable Construction project as a whole is very positive and innovative - however, it has also raised some very serious issues that cannot be ignored:

    • There are some weaknesses in that management thinking is still not well enough versed in sustainability issues to recognise that addressing sustainability in a significant (not superficial) way, as a matter of standard procedure, is just a matter of good management - efficiency, good practise, best value, etc. Local government is still well behind some of the leaders in the private sector in this aspect of management thinking and management systems (e.g. Philips, Sony, Ecover, etc.). EMAS is not sufficient to address this as EMAS does nothing to change management attitudes from seeing sustainability as a ‘problem’ to seeing sustainability as an ‘opportunity’. Because of its bureaucratic nature, EMAS can even add to the burdens of an already strained management system, thus ensuring that sustainability will continue to be seen as a ‘problem’ or ‘hassle’, instead of an opportunity.
    • A further major conclusion is that there is a general attitude of responding to and being driven by the central government agenda, particularly amongst senior officers. If an issue or project does not come directly from a central government directive it will meet resistance or be addressed with some scepticism by senior officers who often tend to see the central government agenda as the only agenda that really counts. This situation is perfectly understandable, and on many issues will be effective. However, it has to be recognised that when it comes to sustainability issues it is very clear that central government is not taking the lead, is not making things happen and is not addressing the issues in the matter-of-fact, just-good-management way that many other northern European countries are.
    • This leaves the door open for local government to take on the role of innovator - if it has the desire and the will to do so. This in turn means that the management question issue to address is: where it is appropriate to do so (e.g. sustainable construction and local energy strategies), how can we bring a much more innovating and entrepreneurial attitude and way of thinking into a local government system that is primarily and understandably risk averse in its ways of working? Lessons can be learnt from other innovating authorities e.g. Woking BC on local energy strategies.
    • Budget and staff restrictions will be raised as reasons not to take more action; these are considerations, but they are not good justifications for not being more innovative. It is the political, management and staff attitudes and patterns of thinking - problem solving, creative, opportunity oriented and action lead - that are really far more important in both the short and long term, than budgets and staff, because budgets and staff levels are relatively constant restrictions on what can be done, whereas attitudes and patterns of thinking have the potential for great flexibility and creativeness.
    • This then implies that sustainable construction, other sustainability issues and many other key areas of Council activity need to address staff training and development and member training, as well as looking at information systems to ensure that staff and members are fully informed of innovative policies and projects elsewhere. Transforming the internal is the best route to transforming the external.

    Could More Have Been Achieved?

    Generally it is seen that a great deal has been achieved by the sustainable construction project. However, the following indicates what factors influenced the effectiveness of the project and indicate areas of attention that would have enabled more to have been achieved during the consultant’s work period with SSDC:

    • A more coherent strategic approach to integrating sustainability issues into a) SSDC responsibilities and activities and b) other activities in south Somerset district should be in place. To achieve this a programme of both ‘internal’ (SSDC) and ‘external’ (south Somerset) strategies, projects and action plans is needed, drawing on work by SSDC to specifically identify good / best practise elsewhere, and then replicate it locally where appropriate. This approach simply translates the theory of sustainability into practise. It requires an integrated and strategic approach on these issues, which is not yet clearly evident in south Somerset. The sustainable construction project does represents a genuine attempt to address key sustainability issues; however the lack of coherent strategy in other key areas (e.g. local energy strategy) indicates that considerable work is still to be done.
    • Better and more widespread knowledge of best practise integrated into Council workings, with sustainability more widely and more automatically recognised and addressed merely as an aspect of best practise - the Council demonstrates this in theory and in policy, although it is still not widely evident in practise
    • Planning:
      • a lack of training and familiarity within planning staff of sustainability issues;
      • a lack of any significantly innovative or supportive Local Plan policies or supplementary guidance to encourage a more sustainable approach to development;
    • A more innovation and opportunity oriented mindset and pattern of thinking within managers and staff;


    • Significant staff and management training needs to be considered if the Council is to take staff out of the struggles of the late 20th century and into a more positive and creative phase for local government in the 21st century - this should seek to develop more positive, opportunity oriented attitudes. Such training needs a long term, strategic approach. Structures also need to be put in place whereby the organisation can more actively seek out opportunities and partners that can help make things happen locally. This might involve a Best Practise Projects Team or similar
    • Increase the involvement of Building Control and other technical services in the project.
    • So far the Sustainable Construction Project has not addressed issues on an Area Office basis. Therefore, in order to spread the effects across the four Areas, it is recommended that each Area Committee is charged with encouraging and enabling at least one significant local best practice example of sustainable construction of a Village Hall, Community Building or School Building to emerge during 2001. STSD will work with Area Offices to help in this process if needed.

    Recommended Additional Strands For A Coherent Long Term Sustainable Construction Strategy

    The existing sub-project detailed in this report were selected in order to take practical and achievable first steps in the short term. The following recommended strands are the major missing pieces of the sustainable construction jigsaw that are needed for a coherent long term strategy. It is emphasised that these initiatives would be integrated into constantly evolving work programmes and action plans, rather than being seen as 'add-ons'. It is recommended that appropriate SSDC officers should be identified to explore the appropriateness and feasibility of these new project strands with STSD, as well as to identify the practical first steps should it be agreed that these strands are necessary:

    Existing Housing / Building Stock

    Typically in any one year new build adds no more than 1% to 2% to the existing housing stock. Therefore addressing the existing housing / building stock is a major missing piece of the long term sustainable construction jigsaw puzzle. This project would significantly involve the Council's HECA work, as well as STSD and operate in partnership with partner Housing Associations. It would also be likely to seek the engagement of local builders, estate agents and other relevant partners. The potential for adopting this as a community economic development programme - similar to that of the well established Wise Group - should be explored.

    Greening the Building Supply Chain

    This would be lead by STSD, and take a County-wide perspective because of the primary need being to engage businesses (therefore localised political boundaries do not apply). The commitment of the Council(s) as very major purchasing organisation(s) would be essential. Involvement in the WWF / Soil Association Local Authority Project for accredited sustainable timber sourcing may be appropriate. Bradfords building suppliers have been initially contacted to explore the possibilities for them to take a role as a potentially ideal local private sector partner. There may be potential to link up with the Centre for Sustainable Design and / or Forum for the Future in order to access funding and specialist 'sustainable supply chain' expertise.

    Integrated Energy Strategy

    This is required on the basis that we cannot have genuinely sustainable buildings without sustainable energy supply systems. This would pull together and extend currently somewhat disjointed work on energy issues, that in particular is missing out proactive work to encourage local sustainable supply. It would have two main focuses:

    • Reducing energy demand in domestic, institutional and private sectors, and would be closely related to HECA work on the existing housing stock, as well as involving work with major energy users locally;
    • A strategy to shift local supply to renewable source: for example via local Energy Service Companies (ESCo’s), small and medium Combined Heat and Power schemes (CHP), etc



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