Grenfell Tower and the precautionary principle.

Many have written, blogged and commented on the avoidable tragedy at Grenfell Tower. I have been in two minds whether to add my voice, but then as a colleague pointed out, I have been blogging on themes pertinent to the tragedy since 2007. Theses themes (on risk, collaborative working, health sustainability, standards, strategies,  and construction improvement) have featured in this and other blogs, in numerous articles across many journals and of course brought together within the recently published FutuREstorative.

No doubt, in boardrooms across the world of built environment organisations, questions are being asked: have we designed, specified or installed similar materials and systems in similar situations. Do we really know? Do we know the materials, chemicals and the impacts of insulation we have installed? Where are the inspection and audit results, where are the material test certificates and evidence of compliance with specifications.

We do not know the exact cause and failures at Grenfell, but what has become clear is that this a systematic failure, a cocktail of failures and certainly not just a single cause.

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Back in my biz improvement / safety advisory role in the 90’s, we used the swiss cheese model for a systematic thinking approach to risk. In the swiss cheese model each slice of cheese is seen as a system activity or aspect layer, holes in individual layer may be problematic but other layers act as a defence to prevent more significant failure.

But when too many holes line up we see a catastrophic system collapse event.  As sadly we have seen at Grenfell Tower.

 

London fire: Screaming people trapped as blaze engulfs 27-storey Grenfell Tower in Notting Hill

Grenfell Tower will undoubtedly have a profound and highly significant impact on design, construction and building management worldwide, but we do not need to wait for an inquiry when we know the problems, the holes in the myriad of swiss cheese layers, and we know what needs to be fixed.

BUILT ENVIRONMENT HOLES IN THE SWISS CHEESE

deregulation and desire to have a legislation bonfire
slow response by government to head lessons learnt
lobbyist pressure to affect change
a fashion for ignoring experts
partial privatisation of the building inspection regime
fragmented supply chain
inappropriate materials or systems
lack of system thinking
a lowest cost mentality that still persists
passive fire strategies
material testing in isolation, not as a system
lack of transparency and impact knowledge of materials we specific, approve, install
ignorance of precautionary principle thinking
lack of collaborative working
failure to question – the “we can only do what the client, architect, contractor specifies’ culture
lack of understanding of building technology (cf uncompleted fire stopping)
inspections (see the Edinburgh Schools Report)
and so many more …

Grenfell should be seen as a warning for the deregulation many would like to see following Brexit. The great repeal bill is set to repeal many of the health and environment EU regulations (those that that ‘hamper uk business’ but will prevent other Grenfells).

Amongst the many causes, it has been suggested the fire may well have started from a faulty appliance. How sadly ironic that it was the perceived EU over-regulations on safe & efficient kettles and vacuums that became a cause-celeb in last years Brexit referendum. (Who are the EU to tell us how safe our kettles and vacuum cleaners should be ….?) See George Monbiot Too often safety has been sacrificed to an agenda of deregulation backed by lobbyists 

6442Moving in from the green fringe of the built environment sector, we have robust standards emerging containing material schedules built on the precautionary principle. (Here we can list the Living Building Challenge, WELL standards along with the Red List, Pharos, Declare and other lists.) Organisations and clients have their own schedules, for example Google’s Portico, British Lands Material Schedule. If such standards and red lists were adopted by the public sector, embedded into building regulations, then the cladding insulation at Grenfell would in all probability not have been permitted.

‘The precautionary principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk’

The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking that action. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result. (Wiki)

Lloyd Alter blogging in Treehugger illustrates the impact of the material used in Grenfell. What is sad is that this, to most, has come as a surprise.

What appears to have happened is that the Reynobond’s polyethylene core caught fire and the stack effect in the two-inch gap made it spread almost instantly. Apparently it got hot enough that the supposedly flame-retardant polyiso charred as well, putting out tons of smoke, possibly contributing cyanide and other toxic gases. The vinyl framed windows also melted, letting the toxic fumes into the suites very quickly.

As may be expected from media such as the Daily Mail, the green, carbon reduction, climate change agenda has emerged as a blame. Alice Bell writing in the Guardian(Don’t blame green targets for Grenfell) soundly kicks this into touch

But we do have a problem with many seeing building sustainability as simply being energy & thermal performance. The key message of FutuREstorative was to address the necessary shift in sustainability thinking, away from a blinkered focus on energy to one that embraces human and planetary health within a socially just and ecologically sound sustainability.  And … perhaps we should not use the word sustainability until we do.

Today, it is difficult to attend sustainability events where health and wellbeing is not a key theme and message, it is sad that this message is not percolating down through the long tail of construction where lowest cost is still prevalent. Lowest cost even at the high price of social and human life. (A mineral based insulation with a Fire Rating would have cost £2 m2 more than the polyurethane based, more flammable insulation used on Grenfell. It will be interesting to see any records of the value engineering exercise to arrive at this material choice, if indeed there was a recorded VE, and how the decision met the Social Value Act.

Time then for all in the built environment sector, the government, lobbyist, clients, designers, contractors and building operators to adopt precautionary principle thinking, particularly when human health hazards have been flagged by coroners reports, data, research and lessons learnt .

This can be voluntarily done now, today.  To wait years for outcomes from an inquiry and the regulation changes that will surely follow, changes that will tell us what we already know, is simply irresponsible.

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New standard and guide for the circular economy: BS 8001:2017

Following consultant the BSI has launched a new standard for the circular economy, BS 8001:2017: Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organisations, the world’s first for implementing circular economy principles.

circular economy image

I have covered the circular economy within the built environment over recent years, eg within blog posts here, through numerous presentations and workshops and of course within FutuREstorative. It is good therefore to see that BS8001 standard for circular economy guidance is now available.

The new standard is designed to be applicable to businesses of all sizes as they seek to move to a more circular model.

BSI 8001 aims to aid the navigation of the tricky transition period for businesses towards a circular model, outlining what the circular economy is and providing guidelines for the implementation of more sustainable practices.

BS 8001 is built on six principles of the circular economy – innovation, stewardship, collaboration, value optimisations, transparency and ‘systems thinking’ – with the concept that components, products and materials should be kept at their highest utility and value at all times, placing emphasis on the importance of an economy that is restorative and regenerative.

Guidance included in the standard revolves around specific issues that may hamper the transition to the circular economy, such as measurements, liability and insurance, logistical concerns and materials, and also guides on associated business models such as leasing, the sharing economy, and remanufacturing.

The principles and guidelines within the standard are not meant to be prescriptive, but are intended to be used flexibly by businesses and organisations, no matter their size or stage of transition to the circular economy, to reduce costs and supply chain risks while contributing to a low-carbon and resource efficient economy

A free download short executive briefing document has also been produced which is aimed at senior level decision makers.

Related:

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Restorative Sustainability Research Visit Opportunities

RESTORE STSMs

Restore Logo

APPLY for a RESTORE Short Term Scientific Mission !

Interested in bringing Restorative Sustainability expertise to your country? Then apply for STSM within a Specific Areas of Interest.

Short Term Scientific Missions in RESTORE

STSMs are research visits to a host institution where the applicant will perform research activities that advance the objectives of RESTORE. STSMs must be between 5 and 90 days (although, they may exceed that duration in specific instances for Early Career Investigators). STSMs are financially supported by the Action with a fixed contribution of up to 2500 EUR.

  • Propose a related STSM area of interest related to the RESTORE Cost Action
  • Select a Host Institution that has the knowledge you seek to receive
  • Make your innovative proposal to study what you cannot in your country
  • Make your case, why is your study important, how will you use it to expand understanding in your country and abroad and GO!
    • Applications Open 01 June 2017
    • Applications Close 30th June 2017
    • STSM can begin in July 2017
    • STSM and reporting must be completed by February 28, 2018

** Download the Application Details and Form from here **

 

STSM Areas of Interest

You may apply for an STSM related to the following areas of interest, or alternatively for an STSM related to the working group descriptions and key themes.

  1. Historical evolution and changing paradigms of “Sustainability” since 1987 / Brundtland (mapping and evaluating objectives, key themes and topics in WG1, see Appendix A)
  2. Challenges and Opportunities identified by a) existing and b) emerging built environment sustainability standards, and c) the Sustainable Development Goals
  3. Influencing factors & frameworks for Restorative Sustainability
  4. Outdoor Space Comfort Performances Design. New Processes and Emerging Tools to Adapt to Climate Change.
  5. Processes and Tools for Building Up-cycling Design and Circular Economy.

Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) committee lead:  

Michael Burnard: michael.burnard@iam.upr.si.

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What hurts, what helps, what heals: the Built Environment and mental health.

With respect to  Mental Health Awareness Week,  Erin Newton’s excellent article in UD/MH (Urban Design / Mental Health) caught my attention. Erin notes that the built environment can create and maintain risk factors for mental illness by stripping away protective factors for good mental health, for example through:

Reducing access to nature
Reducing opportunities for physical activity
Overloading the senses
Eroding privacy and quiet time
Interrupting sleep
Reducing safety (from crime to traffic to way finding)
Separating people from their social networks

buildings

The Built Environment can strip away protective factors for good mental health

As noted in my last blog post, this can lead to an increased state of distress, a solastalgia and yearning for natural environments we recall from the past, further impacting on mental health.

Yet, with  with biophilic design and salutogenic approaches, by focusing on what improves mental health, rather than only just reducing the negative impacts, Erin suggests that as built environment professionals designers, contractors and facilities managers we need to be knowledgeable about what hurts, what helps, what heals and to;

Recognise environment affects the mind, the body and perception.
Boost cognitive health by creating visually and aesthetically pleasing buildings & cities.
Advocate for buildings, spaces, cities and communities that have plenty of fresh air, good light and green spaces, while reducing noise and visual pollution through good design.
Create buildings and places for refuge, escape and outlet.
Design places that facilitate people talking to each other in positive, natural social interactions.
Improve mental health by creating safe, walkable communities.

And mental health issues are not only limited to building design and buildings in use, but also the construction process. . I am reminded of Anne Parkers astute contribution to FutuREstorative where she comments ‘I see your wonderful Sustainable buildings shining bright, then I look at your Project Managers and project team and I see the light not so bright and dimming’

Erin Newton is a UD/MH Fellow and part of NK Architects Healthcare Group in Morristown, New Jersey, USA

FutuREstorative is available in hard copy and electronic format from RIBA Bookshops

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They Paved Paradise: (How) Can Buildings Heal? … Regeneration Edition3

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The third edition of the Regeneration Design Competition concluded with its conference in the wonderful setting of the Riva Del Garda Museum.

“The biggest barrier to sustainable and living building is ourselves” Amanda Sturgeon 

Following presentations from the three Regeneration Teams, attendees from across the EU heard talks from Amanda Sturgeon (CEO International Living Futures Institute) Emanuelle Naboni (KADH, Copenhagen) Emmanuel Pauwels (Green Living, Spain) and myself.

It was a real delight to work with the three teams over the course of the design competition, sharing sustainability and experience of the Living Building Challenge. Congratulations to all the teams, and to the Yellow (Coltsfoot) Team for their winning presentation.

Based on the passion and integrity of the Regeneration students, the future of restorative design, construction and operation of buildings to the Living Building Challenge standard is in very good hands indeed.

‘They Paved Paradise: (How) Can Buildings Heal?’

My Riva Del Garda presentation introduced a number of themes, sharing insights from FutuREstorative and current research work on biophilia in relation to birth centers.

taking carbon out

Carbon reduction and its impact on health is now recognised as a major health imperative, and with the built environment responsible for 40% of carbon emissions measures to address zero carbon buildings and construction must be on all sustainability agendas

A green Built Environment supports the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDG’s are emerging as the vision for Built Environment sustainability, addressing the positive impact the sector can have, replacing the ‘doing nothing today’ Brundtland definition that hasn’t moved the sustainability needle fast enough.

solastalgia

Solastalgia – With the reduction of nature, access to nature, reduction of natural light within buildings and absence of dark skies we are starting to feel distress and nostalgic for the ‘natural’ environment we recall from our youth, or the innate relationship with nature that is part of our human psyche:

Biophilia, the secret sauce for sustainability

The rise of interest in biophilia and connectivity with nature is encouraging. Biophilia can offer so much more than just better healthier places to work and live. It is the secret sauce for sustainable behaviour, improving the way we respect and look after our environment, our buildings and our planet.

And a big thanks and congratulations to the students, teams, fellow tutors, organisers and trade presenters for a wonderfully inspiring Regeneration!

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Regeneration 2017 Ed3 … Students, Tutors and Organisers …

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M2020 – The Carbon Tipping Point

The ambitious but achievable carbon M2020 initiative, launched by Christiana Figueres in London this week, sets out carbon emission reduction ‘pathways’ to meet the temperature goals agreed in Paris back in 2015

Bending the curve of emissions by 2020 is the only way to limit global warming and ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals remain within our reach. It will also pave the way to delivering a just transition to net zero emissions by 2050.

The year 2020 is seen as a critical turning point in expediting the least expensive transition to a safer fossil-free economy by 2050.

M2020

M2020 sets out 6 milestones for 2020, to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and to be Net Zero by 2050. With regards to the built environment, Milestone 2 for Infrastructure is clear:

(By 2020) … Cities and states have established plans and are implementing policies and regulations with the aim to fully decarbonise infrastructure by 2050. 

Whilst this aligns with our UK Construction 2025 Vision for 50% lower emissions  by 2025, the other milestones (Energy, Transport, Industry, Land Use and Finance) would have profound impacts on the design, construction and operation of our buildings and cities:

 

M2020 2

With carbon reduction now being recognised as one of todays most important public health interventions, it is now an imperative for built environment organisations to include carbon reduction commitments and ‘pathways’ within their sustainability, responsibility and health strategies. Indeed, as John Elkington wrote in a recent article, carbon management and carbon ‘productivity’ must become, and is becoming the centre of our sustainability world, but that we don’t have the time to delay waiting for a carbon mindset shift.

And, as we have discussed in recent sustainability workshops – its time to collaboratively rethink the construction process .. planning for construction without fossil fuels. 

 

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A Green Built Environment supports the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)

This blog has referenced the Sustainable Development Goals on many occasions, indeed within FutuREstorative I make the case for the SDG’s to replace the Brundtland definition.

It is now three decades since the Brundtland Commission defined Sustainable Development as ‘doing nothing today that compromises future generations’. It was and remains the definitive ‘strapline’ that has been built into countless sustainability strategies definitions, statements and policies. We have chosen the ‘do nothing’ option, and are compromising future generations, and without radical, positive change we will continue to compromise the next generation.

Understanding and addressing the huge influence of the built environment is essential. This (influence and responsibility) must be included as an organisational governance issue to enable a culture of restorative approaches and delivery.   FutuREstorative

In 2015 the UN published its Sustainability Development Goals 2030. The SDGs define the intention to change the Brundtland definition of sustainability to a new purpose that is proactive and net-positive, and one that improves the social, environment and financial wellbeing of people and the planet by 2030. Just as we embraced the Brundtland definition, so we must now embrace the SDGs as a foundation for our sustainability visions and strategies.

The World Green Building Council recently released a handful of great infographics illustrating how the built environment can support SDG’s,

While many might look at a building and see only an inanimate structure, we look at buildings and see both the physicality and the process by which they are created – an opportunity to not only save energy, water and carbon emissions but to educate, create jobs, strengthen communities, improve health and wellbeing, and much, much more. Green building is a true catalyst for addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues. World Green Building Council 

The SDG’s give new purpose to  built environment Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):

Content pages cityscape SDGs new

Giving purpose to green facilities management, that can, through promotion of green offices, address several SDG’s:

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And how our homes can be the building blocks in support of the sustainability goals:

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