Mel Starrs: sustainability champion, maven and friend

I was deeply saddened to hear early yesterday morning of the tragic passing away of Mel Starrs, a brilliant and inspiring friend across social media, at real life events and tweetups.

The built environment has lost an important sustainability champion, maven and friend. We have lost an anchor.

Mel was an associate director at PRP and a staunch support of be2camp since our first event back in 2008.

It was a good number of years before that when I started reading Mel’s Elemental blog.  It was at that time a brilliant travelog of her world tour, mixed with excellent views on construction, building codes, the built environment and sustainability. Mel refered to herself a self proclaimed ‘maven’, and shared so much not only on built environment matters, but literature, music and food.

Although I had been blogging for a while it was Mel’s blog and her passion that inspired and converted me to a committed and avid blogger.

Thank you Mel

Mel will be a huge loss to the green built environment and sorely missed. We talked only a week or so ago, at the Green Vision CSR event in Leeds, of plans and excitement on raising awareness of the deep green Living Building Challenge into the UK as a real alternative to BREEAM and other award schemes.

Although it wasnt on her blog, her recent Living Building comment to Building magazine sums up Mel’s brilliance in writing and her approach to deep thinking and research. I could simply include a link to that post but its behind a pay/registration wall and needs wider communication and reading by all who are promoting a green built enviromnent, so have reproduced below.

My thoughts are with Mark and Mel’s family.  Mark has written a truly heartfelt post to Mel’s blog:

In memory of Mel Starrs – 6 September 1973 to 14 July 2012

Mel’s Post to Building:

mel Starrs

Last week I attended Green Vision Building CSR event in Leeds organised by the Centre for Knowledge Exchange. One of the sessions I was most looking forward to was the live webcast from Eden Brukman, a highly infectious advocate of the Living Building Challenge.

For those who might not have come across the Living Building Challenge yet, it is a deep, deep green target based certification scheme. The ‘challenge’ is described as ‘the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions’. The International Living Future Institute, who operate the scheme, have approached green building certification from the opposite end than say BREEAM or LEED. Rather than starting with where we are today and adding incremental improvements, they have ‘backcasted’ from their ideal end point.

This idea of ‘backcasting’ is not unique to LBC, and can be found in the thinking behind the ‘Natural Step’, brainchild of Swede Dr Karl-Hendrik Robert. Backcasting can be defined as: “envisioning the end result they want and then mapping out a path to getting there, rather than focusing on making current practices a little less harmful”.

It’s a refreshing change in approach and the scarcity of projects actually certified are testament to the uncompromising nature of the scheme. Even once taking into account the fact the scheme is in its infancy, there is a very low reach. There are only a tiny handful of projects fully certified to date and none even registered in the UK.

Seven ‘petals’ are assessed: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Most of these are instantly familiar to anyone with experience of LEED or BREEAM, until you get to the end of the list. Beauty has more resonance with the architectural notions of ‘delight’ than the rather more engineer-led, process and target framed LEED and BREEAM.

Don’t let this ‘softer’ side fool you though – despite all the talk of petals, equity and beauty, the targets within site (NO greenfield AT ALL), water (net zero), energy (net zero) and materials (the red list overlap with say the BRE’s Green Guide is fairly minimal) are the highest conceivable. The Living Building Challenge requires that every project meet each of its 20 strict requirements to achieve the certification. This ‘ceiling’ is where far fewer than 1% of building assessed under BREEAM would fall and in excess of ‘Outstanding’ rating.

So how useful is such a tool? I’m a fan of stretch targets and believe more can be gained from trying but failing to meet a just out of reach target, than everyone being mandated to say meet a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating through the planning process. Mandating green building certification dilutes the value of the scheme in question, and can fail to adequately reward those projects which are true pioneers (possibly one reason why BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating was introduced – similar to GCSE A*).

The Living Building Challenge is an opportunity to grab back that top end of the market and demonstrate deep green, uncompromising credentials.

Having a vibrant deep green scheme such as Living Building Challenge established in the UK would be a fitting tribute to Mel’s passion and expertise in Building Code, BREEAM and LEED.

5 thoughts on “Mel Starrs: sustainability champion, maven and friend

  1. Simon Owen (@CalibreSimon)

    Martin, what an outstanding and fitting piece to mark Mel’s passing. Like you, I was inspired and learnt a Iot from Mel, from when I first met her about 12 years ago (I helped her find her role with Halcrow) and more recently through her blog and work on social media. I had to look up the definition of Maven and like most of Mel’s words it is very apt and well chosen.

    Like you, I hope the Living Building Challenge does get established in the UK – like Mel it is looking forward, pushing harder and seeking truly joined up thinking by all.


  2. Pingback: Introducing the Living Building Challenge in the UK | fairsnape isite

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  4. Pingback: Twitter brings the Living Building Challenge to the UK

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