Leading Voices in Global Sustainability
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Sustainability Director - Perkins & Will UK
10 Questions to Change The World
How do you think climate change and the global sustainability agenda will
impact your industry over the next 3-5 years?
The construction industry is a major contributor of GHG emissions (around 40%) and this remains the most pressing issue. We are now on a trajectory to minimise energy consumption and achieve these through renewable means. The other major factor is human centric, to make sure that these buildings are built to last and do not become obsolete- there will be nothing worse than buildings (like happened in the 1960s) that are demolished or uneconomic to retrofit before the end of their design life. Within the next 5 years I can see a universal protocol for the whole life carbon that addresses both GHG and quantification of social factors to ensure that they are fit for purpose until the end of their design life.
What is one ‘sustainability hack’ you’d recommend to an organisation wanting
to transform into a more sustainable operation?
It is simple - obtain a robust methodology and measure. In this way you can compare yourself to your sector and see where you can improve. The biggest failings to carbon impacts are ambitious roadmaps and commitments. Like training for a running event, you need to know the distance before setting up a realistic training schedule to make sure that you are ready for race day.
The biggest failings to carbon impacts are ambitious roadmaps and commitments. Like training for a running event, you need to know the distance before setting up a realistic training schedule to make sure that you are ready for race day.
Why have you embraced sustainability in your professional career?
I have always felt that the building industry has not been in its zeitgeist (most buildings are built with the same insight as the Victorian era), this has always been referred to in the industry as a stylistic issue but I know it needs to be more than that. We need beyond sustainability (others have referred to it as regenerative architecture however this is not quite right either) to create a built environment that truly reflects its time and the issues we face beyond additive technological sticking plasters.
What are some of the wins you have achieved in your career to date?
The understanding that a bunch of variables are required for assessment and the best solution to be found is a key skill.
I have always been involved in finding environmental gaps within my career. This started with product fixes such as a heat recovery unit that does not require electricity or a cooling system that uses salts and solar thermal energy.
This moved on to more systematic fixes such as providing alternate design schemes for net zero carbon energy or maximising circular economy processes within a design scheme. They all follow a simple research based approach of identifying problems and then proposing a methodology that would help overcome current industry barriers. Some of the technological ones have not been adopted by the wider industry (as yet) while the systematic ones are now becoming commonplace within other design practices.
What do you want to have achieved before you retire?
Redundancy, when I joined Perkins&Will I identified success as making my job obsolete I am still to get there as I have underestimated the barriers to cultural adoption. I hope to solve some of the skills based obstacles with my current work with the City of London corporation.
What advice would you give for organisations looking to start or advance on their sustainability journey?
Understand the issues and the quantities that are being talked about in the industry. I have seen too many people who fail in two parts, one being a reliance on software and computerised systems to give them an answer- it is more often than not a wrong input that gives a wrong answer but being able to identify a wrong answer is key to fault finding. The second is negative feedback loops which occurs when single aspect optimisations take place. This usually means that buildings do not perform the way that they are meant to because the users find it a wrong fit on a range of aspects. The understanding that a bunch of variables are required for assessment and the best (not optimal) solution to be found is a key skill.
Who do you go to for inspiration in this space?
Nature, this is the field of biomimicry now this does not mean a simple stylistic Art Nouveau copying of natural features but understanding a range of different processes from the large ears of a desert rat catching moisture to the self-cleaning properties of a lily flower growing in the mud in a pond.
We all have spheres of influence in which we can make different choices to minimise our GHG impact rather than resorting to modern day 'indulgences'.
How do you offset your own footprint?
I do not. I find the world of offsetting murky at best and for the most part fraudulent. I would rather people generally concentrated on the minimisation of carbon rather than dealing with it as a guilt tax to be paid. We all have spheres of influence in which we can make different choices to minimise our GHG impact rather than resorting to modern day 'indulgences'.
What is your one ‘guilty / non-eco’ pleasure? (that you can’t live without)
I will probably have to say travel. I cannot live without experiencing things first hand whether it is buildings or culture to truly understand what I am dealing with professionally or through interest in looking at a historic building. I will give you the example of the hybrid meeting in which the people on a screen are always disadvantaged compared to those in the room.
If you had to choose one person, organisation or community to lead the world in sustainability, who would it be and why?
This cannot and will not be done alone. There are figureheads whether it is Greta Thunberg or David Attenborough but I am sure they will admit that they cannot lead the world on this. If anything we need a better more inclusive and blameless forum for collaboration akin to Creative Commons in which we can all provide the jigsaw pieces to fix the most wicked problem that the human race has faced to date.
"If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours you could - and should - see a wonderful recovery.”
- Sir David Attenborough