An Emergency Declaration

long exposure photography of white smoke

At the time of writing some 370 UK architect practices have signed up to Architects Declare, a declaration that acknowledges we are in a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency. Founded by 17 Stirling Prize winners, Architects Declare makes an unprecedented statement with pledges for action on the twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.

This diverse group make the point that buildings and construction account for approximately 40% of carbon dioxide emissions, with more action done to tackle the’ most pressing issue of our time’.

  • Raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action among our clients and supply chains.
  • Advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices and a higher Governmental funding priority to support this.
  • Establish climate and biodiversity mitigation principles as the key measure of our industry’s success: demonstrated through awards, prizes and listings.
  • Share knowledge and research to that end on an open-source basis.
  • Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach.
  • Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice.
  • Include life-cycle costing, whole-life carbon modelling and post-occupancy evaluation as part of our necessary scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use.
  • Adopt more regenerative design principles in our studios, to design architecture and urbanism that goes beyond the standard of net zero carbon in use.
  • Collaborate with engineers, contractors and clients to further reduce construction waste.
  • Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work.
  • Minimise wasteful use of resources in architecture and urban planning, both in quantum and in detail.

In May when the UK parliament declared a climate emergency, I was attending author and environmentalist Bill McKibben’s keynote at the ILFI conference in Seattle. Bill McKibben praised the action from the UK, to the applause and cheers of the 1500 or so delegates. Also on the stage, that evening was 17 year old Jamie Margolin from Zero Hour (an intersectional movement of youth fighting for a livable planet for all) who commenced her talk with the words, “I am here tonight because our lives depend on it” Such is the feeling and passion of today’s young generation

We no longer have the luxury of being less harmful. Over the last thirty years or so, in what we could call our eco era, with a focus on reducing impact and taking actions not to compromise tomorrows generation, we have seen increases in C02 and global warming. We have not moved the needle; instead, we have watched the needle move in the wrong direction

Now then is the time for these 370+, and other practices, to put these pledges into action. Attendees at my talks and presentations over the last few months would have heard me mention of Greta Thunberg, who asked us not only to be hopeful but to panic. And by panic, we are talking about moving out of our comfort zone to take action.

Materials that are safe for all species, through time

As an advocate for regenerative approaches through programmes such as the Living Building Challenge, the Living Product Challenge and the COST Restore network, I am convinced we have the built environment tools, methods and technologies to address the pledges, and the climate emergency. What we lack is the mindset to act and transition towards regenerative designs, buildings and economies.

One of the vital tools in addressing the health aspects of climate emergency and biodiversity loss, is the ILFI Declare Label, that we are launching in the UK on 13th June in London at Fosters and Partners. Created in 2012, Declare, rather like food ingredients labelling, provides architects, clients and specifiers with the necessary transparency to ensure we do not include toxic materials or chemicals of concern into our buildings.

Only with such material and product transparency can we fully address the Architects Declare pledges and the climate and biodiversity emergency that we face. And we have no time to loose, with the recent IPCC Report stating we have until 2030 to avoid an irreversible climate catastrophe.

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