Author Archives: martin brown

Microbiome inspired green infrastructure: rewilding the city, one human body at a time.

person holding photo of roots

Green roofs, living walls, urban green landscape could prove to provide more benefits than first thought. In addition to the obvious nature, biodiversity benefits and the biophilic wellbeing and air benefits, connection to nature can also rewild the microbiome ecosystems within our bodies leading to better health. (Microbiomes are the billions of microbes that live on and within our bodies and regulate our health)

With the first law of ecology, (and that oft quoted John Muir sound bite) that everything is connected, it is not so surprising that the microbiome in our bodies is connected to the wider natural eco-system. A topic I touched on with Specifi building engineers in Leeds recently!

In FutuREstorative I talk of rewilding nature, buildings and people. Rewilding is not just about reintroducing big predators such as the wolf, or reintroducing missing parts of any natural ecosystem chain, but about ‘creating conditions that allow the emergence of natural responsiveness and development’. This is regenerative, not restricting what we allow nature to do, but seeing the the way we design, construct and maintain the built environment as a part of nature, not apart from nature

Yet, the next frontier in rewilding and indeed, in the evolving sustainability nexus of buildings and wellbeing could well be within the human body itself. Researchers are exploring ways to ‘rewild’ the microbiome of urban dwellers whose microbiome state maybe below par (due to urban environments and lack of nature) back a more natural and healthier state.

Challenges 09 00040 g002
A vision for the future: microbiome-inspired green infrastructure (MIGI) and multi-sensorial, multiculturally inclusive, and foraging-friendly green spaces (created by the paper author).

A paper published in the journal Challenges, explores the human body as a holobiont—that is a ‘host along with billions of microbial organisms working symbiotically to form a functioning ecological unit’— that has the potential to enhance both human and planetary health. And the way we design cities can be a vital contribution. In the paper, Jake Robinson of University of Sheffield UK and Jacob Mills and Martin Breed of the University of Adelaide in Australia propose that urban planners focus on creating microbiome-inspired green infrastructure to “innovative living urban features that could potentially enhance public health via health-inducing microbial interactions.”

The paper notes that ‘connecting with nature, both physically and psychologically, has been shown to enhance our health and wellbeing, and adds to other recent calls for the inclusion of the environment-microbiome-health axis in nature–human health research’

A call for microbiome inspired green infrastructure – “innovative living urban features that could potentially enhance public health via health-inducing microbial interactions.” – would certainly widen the project design team to include biologists and microbiome professionals.

Robinson, J.M.; Mills, J.G.; Breed, M.F. “Walking Ecosystems in Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure: An Ecological Perspective on Enhancing Personal and Planetary Health.” Challenges. 2018, 9, 40.

Source (and borrowed inspiration for the title) for this blog post appeared in Anthropocene Magazine in November 2018

Header Image: Jenny Hill, Swinsty Reservoir, United Kingdom, Unsplash

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Thoughts on FutureBuild 2019 – 2030

Eco Build had been renamed as Future Build to focus on built environment innovation for the future, whilst retaining an eco, sustainability theme. From a brief attendance on the first day here are a few comments, the good the bad and the ugly.

Garden by the Bay, Singapore
Garden by the Bay, Singapore

Giving nature a home

More than one stand promoted their product or solution as ‘giving nature a home in construction, in buildings, in the built environment – the place for the home we are giving is interchangeable. We have to flip this – and quickly if we are to arrest the loss in biodiversity. Nature has a home, and without the built environment would be doing very nicely thank you. We need to see products and solutions that respect, and live within the space that nature can give us as a home … for construction, buildings, the built environment

Its not magic dust

Not knowing what the ingredients are in products – especially glues and binders in composite materials is not that surprising, but why does a manufacture send a sales representative to a green build show who isn’t clued up on what must be a common question. One representative I talked with described the binder in plastic ‘nurdles’ as magic dust

Will it hurt me or make me healthy

A similar question, given the increase in awareness of toxicity of materials through Well Build, BREEAM and a lesser degree LBC, that manufacture and suppliers should to be able to respond to is how the product will either hurt me or make me healthy. It’s an issue we often make as discerning shoppers when buying food – why not when buying construction products? (A point I made on my Building Hub presentation – that every product being promoted at FutureBuild had the potential to affect our health, for good or for worst, and that all too often we don’t know)

And you know what? – if this is not a common question then that raises a whole raft of other issues – not only do we not know what is in the products we promote, we don’t care enough to ask!

forest trees marked with question marks

Back to the future

It is increasingly recognised that our ancestors and indigenous people had, and in a few cases still have, the thinking and approaches that we know need tin this anthroprecene age to address climate change, biodiversity loss, skill loss. It was good there for to see rammed earth and clay blocks on display and in workshops. Although one can’t help wondering why this seemed to be hidden away behind timber panelling.

Why Waste?

I enjoyed the waste zone’s innovative and interactive approach. I only wish we could start calling it a material ‘conservation’ zone. Language is important, and whilst we continue to call materials waste, we will continue to see only their final destination as landfill or incineration.

SDG’s – the four year old with a bright future we are just getting know

It was extremely encouraging to hear Sustainable Development Goals and Circular Economy given a main stage platform for discussion. If Future Build is the show case for sustainability, innovation and future-proofing – then the SDG’s, now 4 years old, along with circular economy for that matter, are a vital ingredients. Yet in 2019 the SDG’s should be common place, not new.

Its worse, far worse …

Where then is the innovation, the next new sustainability? A few I talked with during the day, and a theme of our building hub session (What can international standards teach us?) is that sustainability is dead, it has been our engineering solution to resources, energy, climate change, carbon for 30 years (since the 1987 Brundtland definition) but the situation is now worse than then.

The climate change book of 2019 so far (Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells) starts with what must be one of the most brilliant and worryingly sentences for a while – It is worse, far worse that you think”

Image result for 2030
The 2030 Agenda: Our responsibility.

Regeneration and Regenerative are better describers for the sustainability we need. And given we only have another 11 FutureBuilds before we reach the IPCC impassion of irreversible climate breakdown, we have to move fast.

Recent Reading : Edition 2

This is the second edition in a 2019 series covering pieces I have been reading online and in print that I think are worthy of further sharing. Followers on twitterlinkedin,  and to a lesser degree on Instagram will be aware that I regularly share items relating to sustainability, the built environment and our relationship with the outdoors and nature. However posts there can be flitting and often difficult to track down and return to. They will hopefully have a longer life here …

Articles, papers and images that catch my eye, or as a result of a search I move into my ever growing Instapaper (and occasionally Evernote) Library. This enables me to read offline, and importantly to keep and or return to for reference: here are a few recents:

Sustainability

It is worse, much worse, than you think. The opening line from David Wallace-Wells’s Uninhabitable Earth continues: The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life un-deformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not circumscribed and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.– there is a free chapter to read here, if you haven’t read it as yet!

Climate Change and Consciousness. Alan Watson Featherstone’s blog thoughts  ahead of Findhorn Foundation’s international conference ‘Climate Change & Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth.

DeepMind Wind Predictions: 4 Ways A.I. Is Saving the Environment How A.I. can be harnessed to reduce the mounting affects of climate change 1. Protecting Scarce Supplies of Water in Arid Regions2. Real-Time Crop Data Will Inform Future Farmers 3. Climate Modeling Offers Extremely Long-Term Forecasts 4. The Big Data of Weather Forecasts Make Solar Panels More Lucrative


Built Environment

Guardian Concrete Week . A series of hard hitting articles: Guardian Cities celebrates the aesthetic and social achievements of concrete, while investigating its innumerable harms, to learn what we can all do today to bring about a less grey world

What Would a “Green New Deal” Look Like for Architecture? – Ocasio-Cortez’s plan,in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent warning that the world has about a decade to get climate change under control, would see buildings as mini power plants that can not only produce enough energy to supply their own needs, but also fuel vehicles and send excess energy back to the grid. (Something explored in FutuREstorative)

The Nature of Air the latest publication from Terrapin Bright Green sheds light on the financial burden of poor air quality as well as the atmospheric mechanisms by which earth is able to addresses air pollution in an energy efficient and circular manner

AI, Machine Learning, construction and bots A great overview from colleague Paul Wilkinson: Construction is waking up to the opportunities posed by artificial intelligence and machine learning to mine rich data and deliver powerful business insights and predictions.

Using public health data to inform building practice  Angela Loder & Regina Vaicekonyte on how the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) uses public health data and how projects can use this data to inform their project health goals.

Bringing wellbeing to construction with Red List compliant, biophilic net-zero site accommodation. Blog on Chicago-based Pepper Construction who unveiled its Net Zero Jobsite Trailer in November at Greenbuild show at the end of last year.


Outdoors / Nature

Why rewilding? – Rewild Everything! In our attempts to tame and control nature, to de-wild the natural world, we also tame, control and de-wild ourselves, and in the process lose fundamental parts of us that make being alive meaningful and enjoyable. We deny parts of ourselves that frighten and inconvenience us, ignore messages from our animal bodies as we stare at screens under artificial lights, inside concrete buildings kept at artificial temperatures to boost ‘productivity’.

Free Photo Book: NASA Celebrates Earth’s Incredible Natural Beauty Earth,  a free photo book from NASA features stunning imagery captured over the years by various NASA satellites. .

Free Solo Alex Honnold, now 33, has been a legend in the sport for a while, with a rack of insane firsts and nobody-will-evers hanging from his harness (except he doesn’t usually wear one of those). With a goofy grin and a bad haircut, he has been fighting a single-handed battle against gravity, and winning. When, on 3 June 2017, he free-soloed the freerider route on El Capitan, the New York Times described it as “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever”. Then the film about that climb – Free Solo – came out, and the world outside the climbing community sat up and took note. It is a brilliant, beautiful film – not just the story of an incredible physical performance, but a very human story of a remarkable, beguiling character.

Previous Reading Recently Edition 1

The Nature of Air

When imagining clean, rejuvenating air, one might conjure visions of high mountain-tops or misty waterfalls—in other words, pristine nature.

When imagining clean, rejuvenating air, one might conjure visions of high mountain-tops or misty waterfalls—in other words, pristine nature. In reality, plants, animals, and even underlying geology pose numerous challenges to air quality whether from airborne particulate matter, pollen, mold, bacteria or noxious gasses. Despite these many natural pollutants, Earth’s troposphere—the bottom layer of atmosphere—has remained clean, intact, and molecularly balanced over the hundreds of millions of years it has existed in this particular state of dynamic equilibrium. Utilizing only ambient energy and basic tenets of physics and chemistry, the mechanisms by which the atmosphere remains clean exemplify principles of circularity, synergy, and resource efficiency. Most of these cleaning mechanisms initiate from an interaction between the atmosphere and something else (plants, soils, oceans, rainfall), but arguably the most important atmospheric cleaning process is carried out by the atmosphere itself.

The Nature of Air

The Nature of Air: Economic and Bio-Inspired Perspectives on Indoor Air Quality Management,  the latest publication from Terrapin Bright Green sheds light on the financial burden of poor air quality as well as the atmospheric mechanisms by which earth is able to addresses air pollution in an energy efficient and circular manner. Sponsored by AtmosAir Solutions, the report explores how those same mechanisms can be brought indoors to support rethought indoor air quality management, and how one technology–bi-polar ionization –is doing just that.

This Terrapin Bright Green white paper represents another facet of the ever growing body of research into the human-nature connection. It outlays actionable information that companies can use to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, and the bottom line.

Poor indoor air quality has received greater attention as yet another deterrent of our mental and physical well-being. Despite a growing demand for healthy buildings, IAQ management has remained a design challenge as typical strategies, such as increased filtration, pit energy performance against air quality. Competing outcomes—in this case, energy-efficiency and well-being—can seem intractable, however nature provides a different perspective.

Terrapin Bright Green Blog

Abstract: Poor indoor air quality diminishes cognitive functioning. For employers, reduced work task performance translates into a lower return on their investment in employees. Indoor air quality management remains an industry challenge as efforts to improve air quality, and subsequent occupant wellness, often come at the expense of energy performance. Insights from atmospheric cleaning mechanisms have spurred the development of air purifying technology to realign air quality management with the fundamental processes found in nature. Doing so allows for better management of pollutants and helps to decouple air quality with the amount of air brought in from outside.

The Nature of Air

Header Image: Mist Rolls Down, Roland Batke-Mutschler, Unsplash

Free Photo Book: NASA Celebrates Earth’s Incredible Natural Beauty

We chose these images because they inspire. They tell a story of a 4.5-billion-year-old planet where there is always something new to see. They tell a story of land, wind, water, ice, and air as they can only be viewed from above. They show us that no matter what the human mind can imagine, no matter what the artist can conceive, there are few things more fantastic and inspiring than the world as it already is. The truth of our planet is just as compelling as any fiction.

Earth,  a free photo book from NASA features stunning imagery captured over the years by various NASA satellites. There is a hardcover version for sale, but you can also download a free pdf, or e-version 

But, better than the free book is the online version that also offers interactive elements and image of the day for the four categories: atmosphere, water, land, and ice and snow.

Moose River, Ontario

Sixty years ago, with the launch of Explorer 1, NASA made its first observations of Earth from space. Fifty years ago, astronauts left Earth orbit for the first time and looked back at our “blue marble.” All of these years later, as we send spacecraft and point our telescopes past the outer edges of the solar system, as we study our planetary neighbors and our Sun in exquisite detail, there remains much to see and explore at home.

Every one of the images in this book is publicly available through the Internet, truly making science accessible to every citizen

Source: Digital Trends

Bringing wellbeing to construction with Red List compliant, biophilic net-zero site accommodation.

pexels-photo-985287

… making sure our employees in the field have the same wellbeing …

Readers of this blog, attendees at my presentations, and those I consult and audit with, will recognise my advocacy for implementing wellbeing aspects (that we increasingly build into our projects), for those who are constructing the projects – and into the site accommodation.

It is extremely encouraging to catch up with news from Chicago-based Pepper Construction who unveiled its Net Zero Jobsite Trailer in November at Greenbuild show at the end of last year.

The Net Zero Jobsite Traile is a 12×60-foot structure ‘designed to focus on the human experience, productivity, and quality from every aspect to make sure employees in the field have the same wellness features as those in a traditional office setting.

“Most people spend about 90% of their time indoors, and that environment has a significant impact on our health,” says Susan Heinking, AIA, LEED Fellow, Pepper’s VP of High Performance and Sustainable Construction, who led the project. “That philosophy also applies to the men and women working on our jobsites. We want our trailer to match our values.”

The ‘trailer’ is fitted out with RedList compliant furniture and materials, with recycled felt over the conference room providing sound absorption incorporating biophilic patterns through organic patterns.

Read more here.

If we in the construction sector are serious in delivering healthy buildings, then surely this approach must become commonplace on all projects – certainly those delivering to Well Build Standard, The Living Building Challenge or platinum LEED or BREEAM projects?  And of course should form a part of these standards itself, as a socially just approach.

I will be visiting Future Build in London in March, and look forward to seeing similar innovative approaches from construction organisations  (and by the way I am talking on the 5th)

What can international standards teach us? FutureBuild

Delighted to be joining a Buildings Hub session at FutureBuild in March, along with Living Building colleagues and Elementa Consulting discussing international building standards and sharing insights from Cuerden Valley.

Buildings Hub, FutureBuild
5th March, London Excel.
13.30-14.40

This session with will draw on approaches taken from international standards, such as RELI, SITEs, Ecodistricts, EDGE, Powerhouse and, above all,  the Living Building Challenge. It will examine the framework tools used and discuss their relevance to the UK. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) describes itself as the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings. It is a framework to create spaces that, like a flower, give more than they take. Through its seven petals or performance areas – water, energy, materials, place, equity, beauty, health and happiness – the LBC tackles this ambitious goal: what if every single act of design and construction could make the world a better place? LBC focuses on regenerative design to restore our environment and rethinking buildings as biological organisms integrated into our ecosystem.

EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) provides a quantitative, achievable and affordable standard with a path to net zero carbon. An innovation of IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, EDGE makes it faster, easier and more affordable than ever before to build and brand green in 144 countries.  Through the free online EDGE App, builders, owners, and financiers can identify the systems and solutions that work best in the local climate and context, and can calculate the return on investment from energy and water savings.

Chair: Nathan Millar, Associate Principal Sustainability, Elementa Consulting

Overview of international standards
Nathan Millar, Associate Principal Sustainability,Elementa Consulting

The Cuerden Valley Park Visitor Centre – the first building in the UK pursuing Living Building Challenge certification
Martin Brown, Sustainability Provocateur, Fairsnape, Living Building Ambassador, Strategic Advisor, Living Future Europe

Living Buildings exemplars from Seattle
Louise Hamot, Living Building Ambassador
Alkyoni Papasifaki, Living Building Ambassadors

EDGE Showcase: Case studies from around the world
Tom Saunders, EDGE Program Director, thinkstep-SGS

The conference and seminar programmes are now live on the FutureBuild website (https://www.futurebuild.co.uk/).