Published: 15 October, 2010
The Government sets high targets for achieving low- and zero-carbon buildings, but how can construction professionals make the vision a reality?
No-one should doubt that achieving low-carbon and energy-efficient buildings is a big challenge. If an organisation wants to hit Government targets on carbon reduction, or has even higher ambitions, then everyone has to be involved – from chairman to cleaning staff.
Whitbread PLC is the UK’s largest hotel and restaurant company. Its brands include Premier Inn, Beefeater, Costa Coffee and others. The company has 33,000 employees, 2,000 outlets across the group and 10 million customers each year. Its Premier Inn hotels brand consists of 593 hotels with 42,000 rooms.
As a well-known brand, Whitbread has already made a public commitment to being more environmentally friendly through its Good Together scheme. As part of this commitment, the company has committed over £7 million in a carbon- and water-saving programme for its existing properties (see News).
But the business is going beyond the basics of better energy and water management; it is also committing itself to achieving the lowest-carbon hotel buildings in the UK. Its first working example was the Tamworth Premier Inn, but now the team is aiming to improve on that with a new Premier Inn and Beefeater restaurant project at Burgess Hill in West Sussex.
Simon Lancaster, senior project and programme manager and head of restaurant developments at Whitbread says: “I worked on a Government panel looking at climate change mitigation and carbon-neutral construction. The Government sets the targets, but how do we go about achieving them? It made me want to understand better how Whitbread could achieve these targets.”
Tamworth was the first step on the learning curve. “We wanted to build one property that would put the emphasis on environmental technologies. Tamworth was our first green property. We applied solar thermal technology, a ground source heat pump, low-energy LED lighting, PIR sensors and a greywater system.”
Chris George, head of energy and environment at Whitbread says: “Our aim for Tamworth was a hotel that used 80% less energy than our standard build. We achieved 81%. Team engagement was very important. We had point-of-sale information for customers on how they could help us save energy, and we produced green guides for all our staff and housekeeping teams.”
The construction team learned from the Tamworth project, and is now applying those lessons to the Burgess Hill site. The project consists of a three-storey hotel with a two-storey restaurant attached by a corridor. High-efficiency thermal insulation and heat recovery are used wherever possible. “Our aim is to create the heat with low-carbon technology, retain it in the building and then to reuse that heat wherever possible,” says Lancaster.
The main source of heating for hotel and restaurant is a ground-source heat pump. This is connected to underfloor heating in the restaurant area. Heating and cooling in rooms is provided via a four-pipe system in the room bulkhead. A heat exchanger pre-heats incoming air.
The air handling unit in the kitchen delivers heat recovery and applies that to the hot-water system for pre-heat. Heat recovery is also applied in shower systems. Sunpipes have been used to reduce the need for lighting.
George explains that it was decided not to use solar thermal technology after their experience at Tamworth. “We decided that heat recovery is a better investment for this building.” Finding the balance between saving energy and cost is an important point for the Whitbread team. Simon Lancaster says: “We have to go through everything and consider the costs versus the carbon savings. If we pursue an extra 1% in carbon savings, we must consider the cost of that. For example, the main doors on the hotel have a U-value of 0.8 W/m2K. They were half the cost of a door with a U-value of 0.7 W/m2K. But we paid far more for the AHU with heat recovery for the kitchen than for a standard AHU. We considered that a worthwhile investment.”
The Whitbread team also understands the importance of monitoring to achieve long-term energy efficiency. “At Tamworth, we measured water consumption by the hour. We found that the middle of the day was the point of highest consumption. That was due to the cleaners who were going into every room and in the process of cleaning were flushing toilets about five times. By educating them not to do this, we saved £1 million in our annual water bill,” says George.
In a Beefeater restaurant, the use of a gas-fired grill is part of the branding. “We had to retain the grill,” says Lancaster. “But we have removed other gas equipment and we are monitoring use of the grill very carefully to find the optimum use profile. We will then apply that to all our restaurants.”
This demonstrates the crucial point that a sustainable building has to be operated effectively to achieve real energy and carbon efficiencies. For hotel managers in the Premier Inn group, energy saving is one of their salary-related targets. The company has also had to change some of its policies: “We used to have all our restaurant doors open, to welcome customers. Now we keep them closed to retain the heat or cooling in the building,” says Lancaster.
Whitbread has already achieved the Carbon Trust Standard, and now faces the challenge of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. Although the company wants to be more environmentally friendly, there are sound economic reasons behind the work that is going on: “Our aim is to open 4,000 more rooms in 2011, adding 10 per cent. to our current offering. That has to be achieved through new-build or refurbishment. We need to grow the business without increasing our carbon footprint,” explains Chris George.
The level of commitment required to achieve this is something that not many organisations have grasped yet. “Tamworth cost a lot more than our standard build,” says Lancaster. “The Burgess Hill project is around 10% above our standard, but we are learning and reducing that so the next hotel will be around 5% above standard cost. There is no getting away from the fact that green equipment is more expensive.”
Lancaster believes that with companies like Whitbread sourcing low-carbon technologies, they will help drive down the price. “The boreholes for the Tamworth ground-source system were twice the price we have paid at Burgess Hill. Costs are coming down gradually.”
The key is to develop long-term thinking. As Lancaster says: “Whitbread as a company has been around for about 150 years, and we will own this building for at least 40 years. It makes sense to think long-term.”