Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC)

  Dr Stewart Davies is a business leader with 20 years' experience in industry. Roles in the last seven years have included involvement in the construction supply chain as a member of the boards of the Steel Construction Centre, the Concrete Centre and the BRE Trust. Appointed to the Sustainable Development Commission in January 2006 as a Commissioner on a part-time basis, he has prioritised opportunities for helping the construction sector to work more effectively with Government to deliver national sustainable development goals and is currently providing input to the refreshing of the Government's Sustainable Construction Strategy. He is giving evidence on behalf of the Sustainable Development Commission, which is working on sustainable schools in the following areas:

    —  Capacity building within the DfES on sustainable development (including full time secondee to DfES).

    —  Report on opportunities for improved carbon savings from spend on education buildings—March 2006.

    —  Report on carbon footprint of the schools estate—April 2006.

    —  Co-sponsoring the Schools Design Forum, set up by the BRE Trust in June 2006.

    —  Input to DfES Vision on sustainable schools (ongoing).


  1.  Sustainable schools have the minimum environmental "footprint" and the maximum sustainability "mindprint". Sustainable schools are efficient schools that consume less energy, water and materials, and produce less waste—a win-win between efficiency and sustainability. They are also effective schools that recognise the power of sustainability issues to motivate pupils, engage them in learning, and boost their achievement, behaviour and well-being.

  2.  The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), along with other stakeholders including the construction industry design and supply chain and local authorities, is concerned that BSF is not currently designed to maximise its contribution to sustainable development. In particular, it is not working towards a vision of sustainable school buildings that those commissioning, designing and constructing can collectively own. One consequence is that we do not know how BSF will contribute as a whole to, for example, carbon emissions reduction, waste minimisation, water consumption and sustainable travel.

  3.  BSF could and should be working transparently towards Government aspirations in these areas and taking the agenda further, for example carbon neutral schools by 2015. To do this, there is urgent need for the vision (plus associated KPIs and guidance) for the schools estate at 2020, and how it will contribute to national sustainable development goals (on carbon, water, congestion, waste etc), to be developed in cooperation with industry and local authorities. We recommend that the DfES takes as a starting point the DfES Sustainable Schools strategy.

  4.  To achieve alignment with national sustainable development goals, a new framework of sustainability standards will be necessary to raise standards for school buildings further than BREEAM currently mandates. Standards for key resource efficiency criteria such as carbon emissions and water consumption are not fixed, but "tradable" within BREEAM, whereas we believe all projects should achieve a defined energy efficiency/carbon reduction standard above the regulatory minimum. The Code for Sustainable Homes is an example of where this weakness is being tackled and a new framework for sustainable schools should be developed in collaboration with the construction industry design and supply chain to be significantly more ambitious whilst also being fully deliverable.

  5.  The funding of sustainable design and construction standards needs to be addressed to allow assets to be procured on a whole-life value basis.

    —  PFI provides an opportunity to incorporate whole life costing in areas such as energy usage where responsibility for construction and maintenance/operation is held by one private sector organisation over a 25-30 year period. In practice, adjustments are needed to ensure that up-front decisions are consistently being made to minimise running costs and environmental impacts over that period. Imposition of a cost of carbon through the term of PFI contracts might be one such mechanism, which would, for example, incentivise distributed electricity generation on site.

    —  Non-PFI projects are not funded on the basis of minimising whole life costs. There is a great opportunity to reduce high carbon emissions through major and minor refurbishment with significant potential for ongoing cost savings direct to the school budgets. These opportunities are not being exploited. Capital funding should be released wherever a positive net present value can be shown for resource efficiency measures.

  6.  There is no encouragement in BSF to adopt sustainable design where there is no direct return to the investor, even if the wider health, environmental and social benefits are clear. For example, there is little incentive to practice responsible sourcing, minimise waste and traffic associated with school operations, or to develop grounds for food growing and biodiversity conservation, despite the fact that these measures will unlock savings for other parts of Government—eg DH, DfT, Defra, DCLG. A mechanism should be developed to ensure these benefits are valued and incentivised within the procurement system, eg through an improved sustainable design and construction standards framework.

  7.  The sheer scale and profile of the BSF programme make it a test case of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force's highly relevant findings. The SPTF report recommends that Government uses public buying-power to support social, economic and environmental aims, transform markets, and deliver real long-term efficiency and sustainability improvements. The SPTF identifies schools as a priority area and recommends that DfES and HM Treasury work together to ensure that BSF is meeting high sustainability standards and to learn lessons for other capital projects. Giving priority to the implementation of the insightful and pragmatic recommendations of the SPTF report would greatly enhance the likelihood of success of the BSF programme in delivering sustainable schools.

October 2006

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