“Greenwashing Is A Marketing Fallacy That Has Not Been Well Thought Out,” Says Ioannis Spanos, Director, KEO Consultants
It is rightly said that adopting sustainable construction methods is not an overnight process. The clients’ attitudes can be a significant enabler or a paramount constraint. However, with impending concerns over climate change and the finite nature of available resources, there is pressure on developers and construction firms to minimize environmental impact.
It is on the sidelines of this broader discussion that we got in touch with Dr. Ioannis Spanos, Director of Sustainability at KEO International Consultants, a global multi-disciplinary construction consultancy, specializing in sustainability and environmental services, planning, design, engineering, and project and construction management.
Leading with a vision, Dr. Spanos talks to Thirty to Net Zero exclusively about contemporary ideas in the construction sector, from conceptualization – to realization, of planning for a sustainable tomorrow, including the remarkable changes he has witnessed in client understanding, the acceptance of green construction and the limitations that continue to persist.
Q: From an architectural perspective do you feel that sustainable design is the seed or the kernel for the journey of the sustainable journey of any assets?
A: Architectural design concepts are important and within the region, we see some great examples. A successful project, however, is a real estate asset that has the highest occupancy, high returns for the developer, and will be there considering climate change and other aspects that are regarded as socio-environmental perspectives. Minimum building regulations make sure that there are sufficient safeguards for real estate, health, safety, and building operations. But sustainability integration has gone beyond that. It takes into consideration the best international guidelines for the whole lifecycle of the project. And of course, this must be defined throughout a project. For me sustainability must be integrated within the brief, then the design and construction, and of course, soft landings for the occupants and long-term operations with a sustainable asset mindset.
Q: Where were you born? And where did you grow up?
A: I was born on a beautiful Aegean Island in Greece, where I spend most of my annual leave every year. I have lived in five different countries, but most of my life I have lived and worked in the United Kingdom. I have been here in the Middle East for almost 10 years now.
Q: What experiences or which people led you to the passion that you hold today for sustainability?
A: I've always been interested in improving the efficiency of systems and operations. That's a passion for me. Sustainability is an enabler for better design solutions efficiency for now and the future. It supports the optimization of improving the environment, and how to improve our lives.
One of the main experiences I had that significantly broadened my understanding of sustainability was almost fifteen years ago when, for business, I travelled from the UK to Nigeria, Ireland, and New York. And it was revealing as I could see through the settings of the urban fabric how the cities have been built up and operated, that sustainability aspects play a key role in the growth of the cities, the quality of life of individuals, and their prosperity.
Now, regarding people that have influenced me, I'll talk of Edward Lawrence. He has done a lot of climate science analysis and he has proved that the small variation of parameters may have a large impact on the future which is called the butterfly effect.
One of the books I would recommend to many people is called Collapse by Jared Diamond. I believe it was issued back in 2004. It's a very interesting book because it talks about how great civilizations collapsed due to the underestimation of their capabilities of expanding their resources and how they failed to understand the critical risks and opportunities of the surrounding environment.
Q: Your company believes in investing or building those assets which are low energy, but I'm sure that your clients would have different philosophies toward their energy strategy, which is based on their budget or their goal. When you are building your assets, do you proactively have to convince them to go for low-energy strategies
A: It's a proven fact that if something is not done correctly in the design during operations, it will cost significantly more to be achieved. And as consultants, project managers, and engineers, the work we are doing for clients always has been to support them with something better that needs to be materialized.
Usually, what we do is, first of all, we try to understand what the overall vision is, what the main operations under each building are, and of course, most importantly, how the building will be used by the occupants.
Now the question is, how can we achieve the same ‘work’ with less energy? This is the key point because there is always a way of achieving the maximum output of a product, or a process, with less energy input. That's my whole philosophy about energy efficiency. Of course, some technologies provide a paradigm shift. The development of electric vehicles is something that I believe will have a big impact on energy efficiency in the cities, providing services, beyond just transportation, with better efficiencies. At the same time, you can power them with 100% renewable energy.
Significant energy reduction can happen in buildings if we incorporate more energy-efficient solutions and utilize innovative thinking to find these optimum operations solutions. We always like to work with an understanding of the vision and the optimum solution to provide services that are currently provided with less energy.
Q: When it comes to sustainable construction, where do you see the biggest success stories happening? whether that's clients’ success stories or government mindset?
A: During the last two years after the COVID situation, I'm glad to see some large-scale developers benefit from added value services that have been asked for and construction program delivery requirements that indicate environmental, social, and governance perspectives. There is also some push by governments with strategic frameworks that go beyond the minimum building regulations and the requirements associated with construction.
There are many different drivers. Most of them are associated with long-term technical and financial opportunities and risk mitigation drivers linked with both operations and climate change. I'm focusing on two of these drivers, first, digitalization, and the other alternative materials or more sustainable materials because these are linked with carbon neutrality and, potentially, will improve the cost and operation of construction in the long term.
I hope these efforts for innovative solutions will be continued because they can provide a good foundation for further improvements in the global construction industry, not just for climate sensitivity.
Q: What is better - recycled material or natural alternative materials when it comes to sustainable construction?
A: If there are opportunities, it is better to replace natural materials with appropriate alternatives. Waste is not a good thing. But for material produced with recycled content, there must be a balance between the material choice and their quality and their performance.
Before we think about sustainable materials, we'll have to consider why we are using the materials. We want to comply with performance specifications for a specific duration of time. Now, some recycled materials have already achieved and fulfilled this requirement and have exceeded the performance of natural materials. Some recycled material suppliers try through industrial research to provide alternative materials for an expanded range of building components. And there are going to be some good outcomes in the coming years along with some great new materials.
Q: They say that green buildings cost more than regular buildings. Do you think this is a Myth or Reality?
A: In the past, there have been some cases where the budget of the overall project was increased because sustainability came as an add-on, and that was the main point. This is not the case anymore. There are many projects, where clients have told us, that they have provided the project budget and in the final design, they would like their full vision of the project, and full high-end sustainability solutions installed and incorporated within the final building within the budget, at no additional cost. And we had a few of such developments, and we delivered.
The construction of a building is just the beginning of the long lifespan of the building which lasts 50-60 years. We found out that if actual sustainability standards are implemented correctly from the first moment of the brief, then you may go with good sustainability specifications and sustainable building at no additional cost. Advantages include increased occupancy productivity, and lower operational costs for the maintenance of the highest operational standards. If there are any additional costs associated with the highest applicable sustainability standards, the payback is within a few years when all the operational aspects are considered.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the role of, or the growing role of AI and digital infrastructure in the energy efficiency side of construction, and the life of an asset.
A: AI is a very popular term these days and artificial intelligence has been progressing significantly in specific areas of development like imaging. But for now, for the building and infrastructure sectors, it's more a Computational Intelligence. And that is not a bad thing. It is better to have the most optimum solution by examining 100s of scenarios rather than a handful of potential solutions. When artificial intelligence becomes more cognitive, that will have an impact on the construction industry similarly to all other industries. It is not expected to happen soon though.
Q: We say that we are still in this era of greenwashing, how do you convince your clients to opt for genuinely sustainable assets?
A: I believe clients are well educated and they understand that history has proven that those who are making false statements are the ones who will be forgotten sooner rather than later. And for me, greenwashing is a marketing fallacy that has not been well thought out.
A green asset is an asset that will be able to be sustainable during its operations for the next 50 - 60 years; we are utilizing sustainability to support the development of real estate assets that are as good, comfortable, and environmental-social friendly today as they will be in the future.
My latest thoughts on green assets and developments that I convey to my clients are that green assets need to be sustainable and assessed. Sustainability in buildings does not deviate from a good design that needs to prove its quality and provide a better answer to how sustainability feels.