07 - 09 March 2023 | ExCeL, London

07 - 09 March 2023
ExCeL, London

Opinion piece

Our time to Shine - the role of building services engineers in a decade of reckoning

An opinion piece by Ruth Carter, CEO, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE)

The 2020s have been termed ‘the Decisive Decade’ for mitigating the effects of climate, biodiversity and equity crises. In working with some of the most brilliant minds in building services engineering, I get to witness first hand their ingenuity and determination towards solving these imperative challenges. If this is the decade of reckoning, I firmly believe that it is our time to shine.
It is clear to me that the expertise and the role that building services engineers play in shaping the world around us is essential to delivering on the climate action plan and net zero targets. But they cannot do it alone. The solution is a team sport and not a solo race.

In facing these challenges, the need for interdisciplinary collaboration has never been more apparent. This crucial meeting of minds is what must inform our ability to look beyond our specialisms, in search of new solutions, as we transition to net zero.

This is evidenced in the development and industry use of resources such as the embodied carbon calculation methodology and tools (TM65), developed by CIBSE, as part of ongoing research in collaboration with Elementa Consulting. In understanding the need for constant review and adaptation during uncertainty, seeing the real-world impact of such tools is truly impressive. This collaboration demonstrates the effectiveness of combining expertise in delivering workable solutions.
In identifying key knowledge and research priorities, CIBSE continues to build strategic partnerships with other institutions and organisations.

Current research projects include the revision of weather files in collaboration with the University of Exeter and Innovate UK. Since 2002, CIBSE has been supplying the industry with weather data for building performance analysis. The aim of this research is to better represent our current climate and weather patterns and in doing so, enable more accurate projections to assist professionals in the design and future proofing of buildings.

In response to the urgent need for further guidance, CIBSE has worked closely with its members to provide free and accessible guidance on ventilation and the reoccupation of buildings as people return to their work-based premises. We are also engaged in ongoing work on the impact of COVID-19 on occupant behaviour, indoor air quality and energy use in association with University College London.
The CIBSE Exchange, a new online panel discussion, is designed to bring together the best minds in engineering to share their experiences and ideas. In delivering the first session, I was inspired to hear each of the panellists talk about the ability to see the real-life impact of their work, citing this as a source of professional and personal motivation and pride. Rather than seeing the challenges we are faced with as insurmountable, CIBSE members and the building services engineering community are taking decisive action.

The CIBSE Young Engineers Awards and the CIBSE Apprentice of the Year not only provide opportunities for us to celebrate the achievements of those at the early stages of a career, but to showcase talented individuals who are at the forefront of innovation and problem solving. Building services engineering encompasses so many career paths, providing varied opportunities to contribute to a safer, more sustainable future.

In her winning presentation, Lucy Sherburn, CIBSE AHRAE Graduate of the Year 2021 and one of the panellists from the first CIBSE Exchange, positioned inertia as one of the primary challenges that we must seek to overcome. As Lucy so eloquently highlighted, societal and regulatory inertia are a luxury we can no longer afford. Avoiding the tendency to resist transformation, we must support people in understanding the change that is needed.

Last year, CIBSE and the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) published a set of proposed definitions relating to net zero, with input from UKGBC, the Whole Life Carbon Network and support from RIBA. This led to a collaborative, industry-led project to develop a series of FAQs aiming to facilitate common understanding of terms relating to net zero. The aim is to support an ongoing dialogue between professionals from different disciplines, clients, investors, and occupants, ensuring that they are aligned in language and understanding of net zero targets and achievements.
This was further highlighted during Dame Jo da Silva’s call to action at the CIBSE’s Building Performance Awards in February, where she said:
“There are limits to what each of us as individuals can achieve, and to find truly creative solutions to increasingly complex problems requires developers, designers and data-analysts to work together with manufacturers, behavioural psychologists and facilities managers.”

As a Professional Engineering Institution, I believe that CIBSE has a pivotal role to play in supporting and facilitating this collaboration. Along with providing up-to-date guidance, particularly in light of ongoing regulatory reform, we have a responsibility to support engineers at every stage of their career and help address the skills gap. Alongside increased collaboration, we know that more diverse groups engender increased creativity, faster problem solving and better decision making. As a world, we are late to that party but we must push hard to improve inclusivity and representation.
The Building Safety Reform programme will impact every aspect of the design and construction of buildings, presenting significant changes in the requirements for competence in the built environment sector.

CIBSE is committed to working with all interested parties to deliver a system of building legislation that delivers safe and sustainable buildings. In doing so, we need to seek to bring together the related requirements to reduce carbon emissions from the existing building stock and address the need for improved indoor environmental quality, in particular air quality, in our buildings in future.

With over 75% of existing buildings still expected to be in use by 2050, the net zero carbon strategy is only achievable by making significant changes to our building stock. It is vital that the lessons from both the Grenfell tragedy and the Pandemic about fire safety and ventilation of buildings are learnt and inform the response to the net zero carbon strategy.
It is clear that more must be done to support and encourage people into careers within building services engineering, but there has also never been a more exciting time to work within this sector. Without fresh thinking, innovation will slow at a time when it is most needed and therefore we must work tirelessly to encourage and nurture those entering the profession.

Similarly, as we work to improve inclusivity and diversity both within the CIBSE membership and the industry at large, we will have access to more representative and diverse perspectives. By recognising and providing a platform to hear a variety of experiences, we will be better equipped to consider the broadest possible range of solutions.
Traditionally, building service engineering has not been a profession focused on broadcasting its own achievements but, the demand and need is there for us to be centre stage. I truly believe that this is our time to shine as an industry.

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