Time to take a leaf out of plastic campaigners’ books and fight to change what’s wrong with our built environment

Let’s face it, the rise in prevalence and influence of social media environmental campaigns means there are more bandwagons to jump on than you can shake a stick it.

Many are here today, gone tomorrow flashes in the pan, but one which has really taken off, grown legs and is off and running is the campaign that plastic is not fantastic.

Whether it’s removing plastic drinking straws and (irritating) stirrers from cocktails, price reductions for BYO coffee cups or organising beach cleans, this is one theme that isn’t going away any time soon.

Thankfully.

It’s sustainable action to keep the issue of sustainability to the fore in people’s minds.

Great news, long overdue.

Now anyone who knows us, knows we’re not into bandwagon jumping – it’s just not our style. We’d rather carry on doing what we do because we know it’s the right thing, and anyone we can convince along our journey, so much the better.

But it is our hope that we can ride on the coat tails of the plastic revolution and help spread the sustainability message to an even wider audience about even more than plastic.

Most of us on this planet interact in some way or other with the built environment and the whole phenomenon has a huge bearing on what happens next in terms of tackling climate change, reducing emissions, the health of the population – sustainable living in all its forms.

How and where we construct buildings, how we heat and light them, how we get to them and use them, how we care for them – and their inhabitants, human or otherwise – all of this matters enormously to the well-being of our planet.

As a member of the UK Green Building Council, we are proud to belong to an organisation fighting to put the built environment on the social map.

‘The environment’ in terms of nature and all things ‘green’ is now an everyday expression, part of most people’s consciousness.

So it is our responsibility to put the ‘built environment’ up on the same pedestal. Just because bricks and mortar are involved shouldn’t matter. What we do with those construction basics has a knock-on impact on the ‘green’ part of the environment anyway

A recent report from the UKGBC, ‘Leading the way: Sustainability insights from leading built environment businesses’ showed how some of the key players in the sector are playing their part in leading by example – and what more needs to be done by them if they are to influence others.

Describing the UKGBC as ‘a charity with a clear and ambitious mission to radically improve the sustainability of the built environment,’ CEO Julie Hirigoyen, said: ‘The trend towards setting long-term science based targets, net positive commitments in relation to carbon and biodiversity, and ambitions to put the built environment at the heart of a circular economy all reflect a powerful collective vision.

‘At UKGBC, we want sustainable development to become second nature – the obvious and only option for mainstream property and construction activities. With this in mind we aim to influence change amongst professionals, businesses, places and the built environment sector as a whole.’

The research involved a survey of 52 Gold Leaf members – some of the sector’s leading businesses – last summer.

Findings included:

 

  • 79% have set a public carbon reduction commitment
  • 42% have a commitment for climate change risk assessments to be undertaken on all projects
  • 35% procure 100% green energy
  • 100% are undertaking some activities aligned to the circular economy model
  • 92% specify some form of reuse and recycled content of materials on a project
  • 48% have a zero waste to landfill commitment
  • (only) 8% have commitments to apply off-site construction techniques
  • 54% have a biodiversity strategy in place
  • 61% have a specific health and wellbeing strategy in place

I totally endorse what Julie Said in her report conclusions: ‘Many are setting bold commitments relating to sustainability, but there remains a long way to go if the sector is to address the scale of the challenges captured by UKGBC’s State of Sustainability in the UK Built Environment project. The step change required will involve much more mainstream adoption of challenging commitments identified in this research including:

  • Set a commitment and adopt science base targets
  • Aim for zero carbon or ideally zero energy or net positive developments
  • Measure and reduce embodied carbon – Scope 3
  • Procure renewable energy or ideally produce onsite renewable energy
  • Aim for zero waste and set bold ambitions around Circular Economy
  • Aim for no net loss biodiversity in developments, ideally net positive
  • Set a health and wellbeing strategy for developments and organisations
  • Measure and track health and wellbeing of occupants
  • Set the organisational vision and values to have an ethical and social purpose
  • Link the organisational strategy to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Have you noticed, everyone’s talking about the effects of plastic on our environment at the moment. But think about it – when was the last time anyone questioned our use of buildings? Yes, there’s a mountain of plastic littering our planet unnecessarily, but buildings…they’re everywhere.

At the end of the day, this isn’t just another bandwagon we’re asking you to jump on. It’s more than that – it’s a real cause, vital to all humanity, and we need to buckle up and embark on this long, and doubtless sometimes bumpy, journey – together – right now.