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Sustainability - Building Our Future: Scotland's School Estate



1. Introduction

This document outlines the principles to consider and the process to follow, in order to achieve a sustainable school. It covers the issues that should be considered throughout the design and construction process so that the final building meets the expectations of clients and the design team. This is augmented by practical advice from expert experiences, case study examples and reference material. The presenters from a workshop in Glencoe in July 2004 have prepared a summary of their presentations and these are provided in Section 2. The document has been developed as part of the school estate strategy, and complements the strategy document Building Our Future: Scotland's School Estate1, and the subsequent suite of documents. A consistent theme of all documents developed under the strategy is sustainable development. 2

2. This guidance is in four sections:

Section 1 Introduction
Section 2 Glencoe Workshop
Section 3 Case Studies
Section 4 Further Information

3. The guidance is aimed at local authorities and other stakeholders with an interest in the design and delivery of well designed sustainable schools that meet the aspirations of pupils, staff, communities, design and construction teams, developers and financial professionals. The process of designing, procuring, delivering and managing high quality, sustainable schools requires the full participation of all involved at all stages of the project, from inception to post.

Why is sustainability important to the Scottish Executive and what is it doing on sustainability?

Our global responsibility

4. Globally, sustainable development was defined in Our Common Future in 1987 as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." 3

5. In Meeting the Needs... the Scottish Executive added to the well-known Brundtland definition of sustainable development by adding that "Sustainable development is about combining economic progress with social and environmental justice." 4

6. The fundamental aim of sustainable development is to secure the future. Developing sustainably means ensuring that our actions today do not limit our quality of life in the future.

7. The Scottish Executive has developed a vision on sustainable development which is based on the following principles:

  • to have regard for others who do not have access to the same level of resources;
  • to minimise the impact of our actions on future generations by reducing our use of resources and by minimising environmental impacts; and
  • to live within the capacity of the planet to sustain our activities and to replenish resources which we use.

Our national responsibility

8. Since the publication of Our Common Future in 1987, the Scottish Executive has developed a number of economic, social and environmental indicators to monitor sustainable development which span all areas of life.

9. In recent times, there has been progress on tightening building standards to improve energy efficiency in new buildings both in the domestic and non-domestic sectors including schools.

10. The Scottish Executive's architecture policy 5 promotes sustainable development in the built environment. The Executive supports the innovative Sust 6 campaign to promote sustainable design run by The Lighthouse, Scotland's National Centre for Architecture Design and the City.

Our legislative responsibility

11. There are legislative reasons why the Scottish Executive and local authorities are interested in sustainability.

12. The Building Scotland Act (2003) 7 made 'furthering sustainable development' a requirement, and this and the impending European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) 8 will influence future policy and legislation.

13. Under the Local Government in Scotland Act (2003) 9, the duty of Best Value requires that the local authority discharges its duties in a way which contributes to the achievement of sustainable development. Contribution to the achievement of sustainable development is an obligation for asset management under Best Value.

Our policy responsibility

14. The introduction in A Partnership for a Better Scotland (2003) 10 states that "we want a Scotland that delivers sustainable development; that puts environmental concerns at the heart of public policy and secures environmental justice for all of Scotland's communities. Our commitment to the environment is demonstrated in every section of this Partnership Agreement". On education, the Partnership Agreement states that "new schools should demonstrate commitment to the highest design and environmental standards." 11

15. A key objective of the school estate strategy is the achievement of a sustainable approach to the design and operation of schools and for schools to be at the heart of the community. Following on from this, sustainable development features in all of the work that the Executive has done on the school estate since the publication of the strategy 12, and it will continue to be a focus.

16. This guidance builds on the Glencoe workshop by offering key principles for sustainable design and highlighting examples of sustainability through case studies. We intend to build on this in the future through further seminars and guidance on issues which impact on sustainability.

17. This document has been written with the assistance of Lori McElroy under the Sust programme at the Lighthouse, and features contributions from the speakers at the Glencoe workshop, Howard Liddell, John Easton and Brian Hemming. We are grateful to them for participating in this project.


18. There are different procurement routes that authorities may consider in building or refurbishing schools. Whatever procurement route is selected, the process requires vigilance in keeping sustainability upfront to achieve a sustainable outcome. Advice on development of briefs for school buildings is available in the Scottish Executive's Output Specification guidance 13. This is also discussed in a little more detail in Section 2.

19. One of the key questions to address is 'Why are sustainable buildings not yet being delivered as a matter of course?'. The majority of schools projects are currently being delivered against design briefs that call for sustainability, but despite clients' best intentions, the number of fully sustainable schools constructed is relatively low. The reasons for this are many fold and range from:

  • lack of understanding of what a sustainable building is;
  • over simplification of the issues; and
  • failing to ensure that sustainable design intent is carried through and revisited at each stage of the process.

20. One key factor is that many people (from clients to funders to design teams to building users) regard sustainable buildings as an end product and not as a process. Even if a project is fully thought through, well managed and delivered, building users will then have to interact with the building in order for it to function as intended. Sustainable development is a partnership between the building and its stakeholders. It is about substituting every aspect of the way we operate that is unsustainable and replacing it with something sustainable.

It is intended that this publication should:

  • influence the development of a sustainable brief;
  • support the establishment of a knowledge base to keep the team on the right track;
  • help define a process that will support delivery; and
  • provide a checklist to keep the project on track.

Principles of good and sustainable design

21. As stated in the Scottish Executive's School Design guidance 14, good design should respond to social and business needs as well as aesthetic considerations.
As such, well-designed buildings should synthesise all aspects of how a building functions and fits within its environment - supporting the activities of its users. Inevitably, buildings will have social, economic and environmental impacts.

22. All those involved in the process of delivering sustainable schools need to
ensure (as far as is possible) that the social, economic and environmental outcomes are positive.

23. An integrated approach to design, quality and sustainability is key to the delivery of school buildings that meet the aspirations of the Scottish Executive, design and construction teams, developers, financial professionals, all users of the building and the community.

24. A commonly held view is that sustainable designs will result in aesthetic compromise. This is a misconception. The challenge is no different from that of designing any other building - to deliver well-designed schools with a projected lifetime appropriate to meet future needs and expectations and offer a positive, healthy environment that supports teaching and learning. Sustainability should be regarded as an inherent part of this process.

25. The design of both new and refurbished schools should take account of the building's current and potential future uses as well as potential developments in education and other services that might be delivered through schools at some time in the future. In addition, the impact on performance of wider issues such as new technologies, climate change, material choices, material life cycle and degradation, impacts on health and so on should be included in the equation.

26. Local authorities, providers, designers and end users all have a responsibility in ensuring that what is delivered meets long term community expectations and aspirations and maximises potential for positive environmental impact.

27. Sustainable buildings should be designed for a long life, serving their communities for many years. A key issue is therefore designing, not for the contract life, but beyond that. Research shows that well designed schools can add value to teaching and learning and improve pupil performance and staff morale. In order to ensure that we deliver good quality, well-designed schools, that meet sustainable development objectives, it is necessary to identify and focus on the issues that impact most upon overall performance.

28. The key to success is in major part related to all involved 'keeping an eye on the ball', in other words not losing sight of the objectives and 'future proofing'. For example if design changes are made to any aspect of the design such as building form, layout or materials, these should be considered in terms of overall impact on the building's performance, taking account of current use and flexibility for the future. In sustainable buildings, arbitrary design changes can undermine project aspirations - these changes can take place at any stage in the process, and often happen towards the end of a project, at the point when the risks may appear lower, but it is at this point that costs come more into focus and savings are often made that may adversely affect the performance of the final product.


29. Ideally, a sustainable school should provide comfortable conditions, a healthy environment, good lighting and fresh air without (necessarily) relying on mechanical systems. Getting the balance right for all of these features presents a number of challenges for the design team. If these are not fully thought through and revisited regularly, good intentions can be compromised. Hence a need for all involved to 'keep an eye on the ball'. The following list outlines some of the issues, but is by no means exhaustive:

  • Ventilation - In a naturally ventilated building, the building form and window design replace the traditional mechanical ventilation system. Therefore, modifications to the location of window openings, or a reduction in the number of opening windows, or a change to the form of the roof, could adversely affect the ventilation performance of the building;
  • Daylight - In a naturally ventilated and well day lit building, there is a need to introduce daylight while avoiding glare and overheating from sunlight in the summer. Use of daylight, useful winter solar gains and avoidance of summer overheating present design challenges. These issues can be addressed by external shading; high levels of insulation; high glazing specifications; and enhanced ventilation. However, design optimisation can also be achieved by early attention to detail and the use of performance prediction tools (see below).
  • Fabric - 'Heavyweight ' buildings such as those made of exposed or plastered stone, block or brick absorb heat during the day and reduce the immediate impact of heat gains from people, equipment and the sun during the day. However, it is necessary to 'dispose' of these gains overnight by naturally ventilating the building. This can be a security issue. Alternatively, 'lightweight' buildings respond quickly to internal and solar gains, as they have little capacity to absorb heat. This can lead to short term overheating, but these buildings do not retain heat to the same extent. There are 'pluses' and 'minuses' for both solution types, and these should be evaluated on a case by case basis.
  • Orientation - Care in locating classrooms can avoid overheating problems and the need for expensive shading. For example - do not locate ICT rooms on south west corners on ground or mid floors. These rooms have high internal gains and would benefit from the shading afforded by a northerly exposure and the potential for higher ceilings/access to the roof void for heat extraction from equipment/computers. (Similar advice applies to Home Economics classrooms, whereas Biology/Botany classrooms or low occupancy rooms might benefit from solar gains).
  • Occupancy level - Sustainable buildings that do not rely on mechanical systems are more sensitive to occupancy levels than, say, air conditioned buildings in that additional cooling is not available to compensate for the additional gains associated with increasing the building's occupancy level. Fluctuating population should be taken into account when determining classroom size/capacity.
  • Health - Well day lit, naturally ventilated buildings, furnished with natural (low toxicity/non-volatile) materials (such as natural wood, linoleum and low odour paints, etc.), promote a healthy indoor environment where people feel comfortable. Avoidance of the use of plastic-based finishes allows the building to breathe, and reduces the risk of surface condensation and mould growth - thus reducing maintenance. All of these taken together reduce absenteeism.
  • Risk avoidance - In all cases design to avoid problems later. Timber windows may appear at first glance to require more maintenance than UPVC. But UPVC also degrades with the sun and will need replacement before well-maintained timber. Solar shading in the form of overhangs and brise soleil can be 'value engineered' out, so make use of building form, fabric and orientation to avoid the problem in the first place.
  • Benchmarking and performance prediction - It is important to be clear about what you are trying to achieve. Identifying a good benchmark building can be helpful. You can measure your building against it (at all stages of the process and especially if 'value engineering'). Using appropriate tools can assist with predicting the impact of design decisions and changes on the integrated performance of the building at all stages. Users will need to be trained, performance will need to be monitored and the team ought to maintain an interest in the project at least until it is satisfied that the building is living up to expectations.


  • Involving the whole team: Sustainable design issues are relatively easy to identify, and there is a great deal of supporting guidance and material available. 15 However delivering against such a vision is often not straightforward. Not only should pupils, staff, communities, design and construction teams, developers and financial professionals be involved in the process, there must be commitment from the client, attention to detail at all stages from the design team and understanding of the aims and objectives from the end-users.
  • Briefing: In order to achieve a successful outcome, the client must be in a position to ask the design and construction team to deliver against a robust brief.
  • Cost issues and value engineering: Consideration of sustainable design issues has to be built into the procurement and development process. Good, sustainable design should not be regarded as an optional extra and need not cost more. If considered from the outset, this can be realised competitively both in capital and running cost terms. In addition, sustainable buildings can be achieved without compromising overall design quality.
  • Other considerations: Sustainable designs can meet sustainability and environmental objectives, and they can also contribute to meeting the aspirations in the Architecture Policy for the quality of Scotland's publicly funded buildings. This may also generate efficiency gains in terms of reduced maintenance requirements; extended building life; energy and resource efficiency; reduced operating costs; and improved flexibility.
  • Achieving 'good design' that is sustainable: The above criteria can be equally applied in the case of 'good sustainable designs'. However, what might be regarded as a 'good design' is not necessarily sustainable. For example, a well day lit, naturally ventilated, appropriately orientated, energy efficient building, might be regarded as an example of 'good design', but might be made of unsustainable materials; or built for an inappropriate life cycle; or be inflexible with regard to future use; or be in the 'wrong' place. Although benchmarks can be set, it is critical that the design is measured and re-measured against these throughout the design process. A number of indicators, assessment methods and modelling tools exist against which design quality and sustainability can be measured. Some of these are recognised as design 'standards' and are often included by local authorities in design briefs.

These include:

Quality indicators in the Design of Schools (QIDS)16, developed by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), assists the setting of objectives relating to design quality, with the objective that this can be used to help formulate the brief.

The Design Quality Indicator (DQI)17, developed by the Construction Industry Council (CIC), is a questionnaire that helps establish the relative weighting of different aspects of the design.

School Environmental Assessment Method (SEAM)18, assists with environmental impact assessment of school buildings and is based on the Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). It is currently being updated (and re-branded as BREEAM for Schools). It provides buildings with an energy and environmental label and environmental certificate.

This is complemented by a number of BRE publications, including: The Green Guide to Specification: a desktop guide to materials and specification 19; ENVEST220: a software tool that allows both environmental and financial tradeoffs to be made explicit in the design; and BRE's Service Life Assessment Method (SLAM).21

Energy modelling tools enable a fully integrated prediction of a building's energy and environmental performance at all stages of the design from concept through detailed design to completion. These tools allow an integrated assessment of the combined energy flows in a building, enabling prediction of the impact on energy requirements, daylight quality and environmental impact of changing say, the window design or the orientation of the building. Such tools are now regarded as standard in achieving design optimisation and can provide invaluable feedback quickly and economically once constructed. Most design teams now have access to this type of assessment method. The Scottish Energy Systems Group (SESG) provides free and independent advice on the use of modelling within the design process. 22

Finally, energy and environmental assessment is fully expected to become part of future Building Regulations, with the introduction of new European legislation such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). 23


Summarised below is a list of key issues that are crucial to the delivery of a good and sustainable building. These points are elaborated in Section 2 within the texts presented at the Glencoe workshop:

A clear strategy for design, delivery and operation has to be devised and implemented:

  • key decision makers need to share a clear vision of what sustainable development is;
  • design for the future - for example if appropriate, design for flexibility - flexible spaces and flexible curriculum;
  • the building(s) should not consume a disproportionate amount of resources, including land during construction, use or disposal;
  • high emphasis on indoor environmental quality, health and well-being - delivered through vibrant internal environments with excellent air quality; natural ventilation, daylight and high quality external environments that facilitate outdoor activities;
  • design to minimise environmental impact and energy in use.
  • In addition to 'keeping an eye on the ball', consider:
    • relationship with site and surroundings;
    • orientation and climatic effects;
    • building form and organisation of spaces;
    • natural or enhanced natural ventilation;
    • design for daylight;
    • consider solar gain and solar control if required;
    • fabric selection should minimise energy use while considering:
      • embodied energy in production and transportation;
      • locally available materials;
      • selection to promote a healthy indoor environment;
      • use of materials that are environmentally benign in manufacture, use and disposal;
      • materials that do not endanger the health of occupants or other parties through exposure to pollutants or harmful organisms.
      • energy systems should be affordable to run and simple to manage and maintain;
      • use renewable, recycled and recyclable resources wherever possible.
  • devise a green travel plan from inception;
  • engagement - emphasis on team working and involving the stakeholders - involve the whole team including the users and the community in order to develop a sense of society, community and values;
  • high emphasis on interaction with the community through consideration of shared and communal facilities and mixed use development;
  • there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that 'it' is actually delivered;
  • take care that procurement method does not adversely affect sustainability agenda - keep your 'eye on the ball';
  • check that design changes do not have unexpected knock-on effects that affect the performance of the design - revisit aims and objectives regularly, especially during value engineering and between stages of the design process; e.g. paint colour is important - but not as important as healthy paint;
  • costing has to be undertaken on a whole life basis: aim for a building life of (at least) 60 years (even in PPP schools with a 30 year contract term);
  • learning is an adventure - for pupils, teachers, designers, builders and funders. Recognise that people are the most important assets to the school.

A Client's Guide to Sustainable Schools, Draft for Development, GAIA Research 2004 www.gaiagroup.org