Category Archives: ecological

For Peats Sake …

Notes and thoughts from attending the informative XR For Peats Sake hosted by XR Morecambe Bay via Zoom yesterday evening, leading the event, Si Thomas, Peatland Restoration Officer, Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Key and important ‘peat’ messages from Si Thomas included

  • Over 40% of our green house gas emissions come from degraded peat
  • Restoring our peatland habitat would give 37% of the mitigation need to meet Paris Agreement by 2030

There were a number of Key Actions discussed, but the most important, in my opinion, was that of Education in respect of peat free compost, but perhaps more importantly awareness on peatlands negative and positive contribution to the carbon emergency we face.

When we think of carbon reduction (and we have to make some 10% reduction per annum to meet Paris Agreement) we think of using less fossil fuel, taking less plane based holidays, driving less, using less heating and offsetting through tree planting. We rarely think about improving the carbon capture of peatlands. This has to change.

Peatland plants and insects are as beautiful and important as the trees and biodiversity we find in forests and rewilded areas. And can be as vital to our own health and wellbeing, with the increasing biophilic recognition of the importance of fractals and natures patterns, even in miniature. (Ref Terrapin Bright Green forthcoming Biophilic Design & Complexity: A Toolkit for Working with Fractals)

During the writing FutuREstorative, I spent time walking and bothying in the Rannoch / Corrour Moor area in central Scotland, giving me time to appreciate both the beautiful and awesome landscapes of a healthy peat land area and the wonderful intricate detail of its biodiversity.

FutuREstorative extracts:

We will see protecting areas of wilderness and Habitat Exchange become part of the overall restorative sustainable development package, and a key element in our corporate social responsibilities. We now recognise and accept the significant and negative impact the built environment has placed on the natural environment over many decades; not only should we be addressing immediate impacts on a project by project basis, but we should also take positive action to protect other habitats in recognition of past damage and helping to heal the future. If we are serious about restorative sustainability, then habitat exchange – either physically, or through effective advocacy and/or offset programmes – should be seen as part of the cost of construction

As a recent Cambridge University shows, rewilding and restoration of land would create carbon sinks to sequester carbon – through, for example, an increase in forestry to 30% (closer to that of France and Germany) and restoration of 700,000 hectares of peatland – and in doing so make a significant contribution to the UK’s target of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

Unfortunately UK peatlands are in a bad state of health, but they can be restored relatively cheaply and easily. Once the dominant vegetation, sphagnum moss, is returned, peatlands quickly begin absorbing carbon once again. A healthy bog also functions as an excellent water filter – an important aspect of sustainable water programmes, since 75% of our water catchment is in peatland areas. Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s natural carbon capture scheme provides opportunity for offsetting built environment carbon while making a positive contribution to Peatlands habitat restoration.

And for the beauty of peatlands and amazing characteristics of Spagnum Moss listen to A Pocket of Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart & Pippa Murphy

Links and videos shared during the For Peats Sake

For Peats sake XR Film

Repairing Peat Hags

Visualisation of carbon sequestration in temperate peatlands

Let Nature Help (Wildlife Trusts) Nature Based Solutions: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/2020-06/Let%20Nature%20Help.pdf

Flow Country: https://www.theflowcountry.org.uk

The Carbon Farmer: https://www.thetopofthetree.uk/the-carbon-farmer

4 Laws of Ecology: Revisited

Four Lawas of Ecology

I undertook the task earlier this week of reviewing references for our upcoming RESTORE working group publication {Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative}. One of those references was to Barry Commoner’s popular quote and definition on ecology, that the first law of ecology is that everything is connected.

This lead me to pick up a copy and re-read deeper into Commoner’s 1971 The Closing Circle and revisit the Four Laws of Ecology.  The Closing Circle describes the ecosphere, how it has been damaged, and the economic, social, and political systems which have created our environmental crises. It gives us a clear and concise understanding of what ecology means that is evermore relevant today.

And timely, Commoner’s second law – everything must go somewhere – resonates with a comment I gave to our local Lancashire Evening Post on plastic pollution. (We need to We need to be critically questioning single use plastics and acutely aware of plastics impact on health and the environment – and be aware of what happens when we throw plastic away – as really, there is no ‘away’)

The First Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

The Second Law of Ecology: Everything Must go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown. Any waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another. A core principle for the Circular Economy.

The Third Law of Ecology: Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but any human change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system” And in the context of chemicals of concern we are looking to eradicate from buildings (through eg the ILFI Red List) “The absence of a particular substance in nature, is often a sign that it is incompatible with the chemistry of life”

The Fourth Law of Ecology: There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Exploitation of nature, will always carry an ecological cost and will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless.

The four laws warn that every gain is won at some cost. Because our global ecosystem is a connected whole, any impact, anything extracted from nature by human effort must be replaced. There is no avoidance of this price and delay only creates the ecological disruption and biodiversity loss we are witnessing.

This reinforces statements I make so often in presentations (see Specifi Edinburgh and RESTORE Budapest for example) and within FutuREstorative, that sustainability is the point at which we start to give back more than we take, and that we no longer have the luxury to just reduce our impact but we have delayed too long to do more good to rebalance the ecosystem equilibrium.

 

 

Ecologically Rethinking Construction

Jonathan Dawson, head of economics at Schumacher College, writing on Guardian Sustainable Business asked “How do we redesign a new economic theory framed by ecological systems?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA question we need to ask and start addressing within the built environment.

We are seeing a new vocabulary emerging with concepts such as biomimicry, zero or net energy, water and environmental impact, Living Buildings, biophillia, circular economy … and more … As the interest and importance of these concepts influence in the way we design, build and use buildings, do we need a new paradigm?  Some 15 years after Egan, do we need to again rethink construction to address these emergent sustainability themes. approaches and skills that once again the sector is lacking, engaging the economists, surveyors and accountants? As Jonathan Dawson comments:

Ecology offers the insight that the economy is best understood as a complex adaptive system, more a garden to be lovingly observed and tended than a machine to be regulated by mathematically calculable formulae.

A comment that makes a nice resonance with the Living Building Challenge philosophy

And of course a key element in this new thinking is the internet, web 2.0 and the power of social media.

Enabled by the growing power of information technology, whole new ways of doing business and organising society are emerging, whose strength lies not in economies of scale but in economies of co-operation and symbiosis

Over the weekend , via twitter I caught a slide via Rachel Armstrong illustrating the difference and need to move from 20th century Cartesian or Newtonian thinking into 21st complexity, emergent thinking …

screenshot.32

Jonathan Dawson: “This moment of history calls on us to rewrite the dictionary and create new stories, much as the generations following on from Copernicus did to reflect the new world-view that emerged from his astronomical insights”

chicken in the blasket roof

From a non-conference on virtual worlds in Limerick – to the experience of reconnecting with nature, wildness and remoteness at the edge of Europe …

Last week I had the privilege of once again spending time on the Great Blasket Island, off the Dingle peninsular, Co Kerry Ireland.

This is always a highlight of our annual holiday in Ventry. The marine and bird life never ceases to amaze, this year ticking seals, basking sharks, minke whale, dolphin, gannets, puffins and much much more. The beach on the island is in my mind one of the best beaches in the world, and on a hot suny day the white bright sand can take you to the Caribbean. It really does feel like the end of the land out here, with the walk out over the highest point to the end of the island one of the most dramatic walks anywhere.

The island lies approximately 2 km from the mainland at Dunmore Head, and extends 6 km to the southwest, rising to 292 metres at its highest point (Croaghmore). Despite its close proximity to the mainland, visitors to the Dingle coast can often not see the island through the notorious sea mist.

The island was inhabited until 1953, when the Irish government decided that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the remaining population. It was the home of three noted Irish writers: Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. Their works were all written in Irish, and have all been translated into English, as well as other languages. The homes of Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin are now in ruins but the house in which Sayers once lived has been restored, and used to form part of the hostel which previously functioned on the island.

Until 1953, the inhabitants of Great Blasket Island formed the most westerly settlement in Europe. The small fishing community (even at its peak the population was hardly more than 150) mostly lived in primitive cottages perched on the relatively sheltered north-east shore.

Over the ten years or so I have visited the island, the dispute on ownership and planning to restore and create tourist facilities has ebbed and flowed. Initially it seemed the vision was for a World Heritage listing which would mean no construction or restoration. Looking at planning minutes it seems the vision is now a somewhat less grand Irish National Historic Park which it would seem allow some facilities to be built.

This year though I was amazed to see, even upset to see, what was a poorly managed (ie untidy material storage) construction site to restore / extend self catering hostel. In stark comparison to the solid construction of existing buildings, made of solid and local stone, breeze blocks had been flown in, packs split and not restacked, timbers not stacked, (artificial?) slates from Northern Ireland awaited on pallets.

Earlier regulations would not allow any vehicles on to the island in an effort to preserve the pristine nature, now yellow diesel construction plant lay where it had been last used. Concrete and mortar spoils from the mixer hardened on the ground.

What a fantastic opportunity for alternative construction practices and designs – wasted. The creation of an alternative construction technology and education center here would have been a wonderful message, showing we can work within a sense of connectivity to nature and heritage. Instead we have taken the easy route and failed.

Read the account of Tomás Ó Criomhthain’s experiences

The roof of his home was made of a thatch of rushes or reeds and his sisters would climb up to collect eggs from under the hens nesting on top. One amusing episode in An tOileánach describes a neighbour’s family at supper when, to their bewilderment and consternation, young chickens began raining, one by one, onto the table and splashing into a mug of milk. “For God’s sake,” cried the woman of the house, “where are they coming from?” One of the children spied a hole scratched in the roof by a mother hen.

Ó Criomhthain lived in a cottage or stone cabin with a hearth at the kitchen end and sleeping quarters at the other. A feature of island life was the keeping of animals in kitchens at night, including cows, asses, sheep, dogs, cats and hens.

The Blasket Community was in its way sustainable and resilient until moved from the land by the Irish Government, reading the literature really strikes a note of resourcefulness, of reusing and of recycling:

The islanders’ sometimes meagre existence was often supplemented by gifts from the sea when shipwrecks occurred. Timber, copper and brass were salvaged, as well as cargoes of food such as meal and wheat, which helped them to survive lean years. At one time tea was unknown on the island and when a cargo of the stuff floated ashore from a wreck it was used by one woman to dye her flannel petticoats (normally dyed with woad). She also used it to feed pigs.

(facts on Blasket taken from wikipedia)

reconnect with nature: return to the outdoors

Connecting with nature is one of the underlying themes to this blog, (see the welcome panel on the left), but unfortunately that gets lost sometimes with the more day to day built environment stuff. I feel this is important – to experience the outdoors, whether by walking or cycling, camping in the backgarden, under a tarp or bivvy under the stars on a Scottish mountain top. We need that reminder of context and time to think.

I have mentioned Yvon Chouinard many times on this blog, as inspiration for environmental and business approaches. I must also admit to being a fan of the quality Chouinard Equipment, Black Diamond and Patagonia clothing for longer than I care to remember. But it is for environmentalism through the great outdoors and wildness (or should that be wilderness) that Chouinard is best associated. Oh and fly fishing …

I was delighted therefore to receive an email from Sara at Timex Expedition introducing Return to the Outdoors, a joint endeavor with the Conservation Alliance to inspire reconnection with nature and outdoor activity. Conservation Alliance have made a number of short online films, featuring outdoors icons, with hopes of motivating everyone to spend more time outdoors and raise awareness of the Conservation Alliance’s mission to protect outdoor spaces.

The latest in the series features environmentalist and author Yvon Chouinard, founder of Chouinard Equipment, Patagonia and One Percent for the Planet, fly fishing and discussing his love of nature at a secret lake in Argentina.


For inspiration and motivation to get back outdoors, take a look at the first film featuring mountaineer Conrad Anker discussing some of his earliest memories from Wyoming’s Teton Crest, or the second film featuring Steph Davis base-jumping in southern Utah’s canyonlands.

And I should plug here my business outdoor approach – benchmarkwalks – get out of the classroom, the hotel room or conference center and do the improvement stuff on a walk, on a camp or under that tarp.

… on what makes a building green

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and

implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Patagonia’s Mission Statement

I have mentioned Patagonia the outdoor clothing organisation a few times before on this blog, and recently searching for a model CSR policy or statement for a Masters course I am in part delivering, went back to their web site and Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing book.

More on Patagonia’s approach to building here and Patagonia’s environmental, CSR, approach here. And if you like environmentalism mixed with the great outdoors, mountains, clothing innovation and quality, along with a sprinkling of built environment comments – then check out the blog from staff, customers and friends at The Clean Line

zero carbon ‘floating’ development for Preston

Green, innovative and zero carbon project development on our doorstep in Preston, Lancs, !

The RIBA have recently awarded a zero carbon design as the visitor center at the new Brockholes Wetland and Woodland Nature Reserve in Preston, to regenerate a former quarry site into a major visitor attraction.

The project called “A Floating World”, consists of zero-carbon floating buildings (the name coming from the fact that the zero-carbon buildings will be built on an island of floating pontoons)

Adam Khan Architects, won the RIBA design competition to work on the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Britain’s largest eco-regeneration scheme. The project is zero-carbon in both use and production, with materials of low embodied energy – thatch, willow, timber, with off-site prefabrication and on-site energy generation and waste treatment.

Floating world will feature cafe, shops, gallery, education areas and meeting rooms and is part of the £59 million Newlands Scheme, a project that will turn 900 hectares to community woodland and green space.

On announcement of the winner, Peter White, Head of Infrastructure & Development at the Northwest Regional Development Agency said:

“This site has the potential to become an important visitor attraction for the region, building on its rich natural assets and impressive biodiversity. The Agency is supporting its development through Newlands, a wide reaching scheme that aims to reclaim brownfield land and transform it into thriving community open spaces, and has so far invested £800,000 in Brockholes. The chosen design will not only create an inspirational open space for the local community to enjoy but will also enhance a key gateway into Lancashire and attract further investment into the area. We look forward to working with our partners to progress these plans.”

More on this as the project develops …

ecological cities

Now the Eco City World Summit 2008 has concluded there is a rich source of live blog reports, reviews and videos over at the Eco City blog.   Go view and mine the collective source of global views on the future of cities

If you take away one thing from the summit : the ecological city message is summed up in the BBC Interview on the World service with Richard Register.

Other recommendations:

worldchanging ecocity highlights

Holly Pearson live blogged:  An incredible assemblage of the world’s brightest minds that are working to build greener cities and towns gathered for three and a half days of presentations, discussions, city tours, arts & culture, and celebration. As an urban planner for whom the sustainable cities movement is not only a passion but also a raison d’etre, professionally speaking, I found the conference to be nothing short of mind-blowing.

A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil

documentary focusing on innovations in transportation, recycling, social benefits including affordable housing, seasonal parks, and the processes that transformed Curitiba into one of the most livable cities in the world.

Brent Toderian – City of Vancouver’s Director of City Planning,  many projects related to the 2010 Winter Olympics, and visioning/CityPlans, including the new “EcoDensity” – the most livable city in the world, removing car facilities from the city, through a travel plan than favours walking.

Jaime Lerner Key Note

environmental literature top 5

Looking at the search topics entered to land at isite, the subject of environmental literature, movies, music and people features large. So starting a new mini series of environmental muses, I scanned my book shelf for what I would consider five of the more important environmental literature that has influenced my thinking over the years. Other topics will include music, environmental handbook or guidance texts, videos and people that have shaped my views.

Environmental Literature top 5:

Very much influenced by ecology, relationships with the great outdoors and connectivity with nature, these are not about climate change, about zero carbon or even sustainability, but fundamental to my understanding of how we approach environment and ecological issues.

Yvon Chouinard – Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman 

An autobiography that brings CSR firmly into business. Every time I have done the write thing for the environment I have made a profit write Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing organisation. Any organisation serious about Corporate Social Responsibility should read and learn from this one.Not surprisingly Anti Roddick recommended this book for every school teaching business.

Henry Thoreau – Walden: Or, Life in the Woods 

The classic, often quoted, I first read this in-situ in New England in the late 1970’s after visiting Walden Pond, and remains a book that I dip into again and again. The notion of living simply in a cabin in the woods has always been appealing – but for me it would now be on the Isle of Skye with Internet access!

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac: With other Essays on Conservation from `Round River’ (Galaxy Books)

Aldo Leopold was an American ecologist and environmentalist, For me this contains a classic passage that still haunts me when I read it – reminding us of the connection we need to find between everyday life and nature.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra: The Journal of a Soul on Fire 

A journey in which Muir makes connections with nature. In the UK The John Muir Trust is one of the country’s leading guardians of wild land and wildlife. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. His writings and philosophy strongly influenced the formation of the modern environmental movement.

Robert MacFarlane The Wild Places

A tour through McFarlane ‘s Wild Places in the UK serves as a reminder of why we need wild places, and what wildness means to us, even if we don’t get to see them, and only view them from maps, TV programmes and sat navs. It is also a book that laments about ecological damage. It is about experiencing the wild places, some to be found in very unexpected places. And in the case of McFarlane, experience means sleeping wild, including on frozen Lakeland tarns – and swimming in wild waters.

Limiting this list to 5 was hard and had to leave out Jim Perrin one of our best current essayists – from his 1970’s essay on the Centre for Alternative Technology (within Yes, to Dance: Essays from outside the Stockade) to his current piece in The Great Outdoors and Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

What would you add? What are your environmental literature muses?

profit from sustainability?

Is there profit to be made from sustainability is a question I am often asked at sustainability events, presentations and workshops. It has cropped up again today on publicity for the excellent Think 08 event next month.

In some ways the question misses the point on what sustainability is about – ie the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability – where profit is a key element of economic sustainablity.

Within our industry if we could really move from lowest price thinking (ie meaning competition is on profit levels), start moving to ringfenced profits, then we can start to focus on the other two ‘bottom lines” with more vigour. Allowing real profits through the supply chain would have the same affect. Energies applied to trying to make a project profitable can be applied to environmental and social sustainability issues, whilst the project players remain economically sustainable.

Really tackling the 30% or so waste within our sector, (waste in time, costs, materials and most importantly management energy), would more than pay for sustainability improvements whilst allowing a profitable, viable and economically sustainable industry.  For example, recent on-site studies have shown the true costs of skips to be £1300 or so.  One medium size contractor I was working with recently used on average 12 skips a week across 20 projects.  Do the math, as they say!

I often quote Yvon Chouinard – a mountaineering and eco hero of mine – founder of Patagonia clothing, who says that “every time I have done the right thing for the planet I have made a profit…even if the right thing cost twice as much”. Of course it needs the appropriately correct organisational ethos in place to achieve this. (see Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman for inspiration)

Take a look this review extract of Let my people go surfing:

Yvon Chouinard is one of the most important business leaders around today because he’s made a values-lead business highly profitable. Any aspring business leader (and, more importantly, those already running businesses) should be forced to read this. It’s the future.

So yes, there is profit in sustainability – currently, we cannot see it for the barriers and blinkers within the baggage we carry.  We cannot fix todays problems with the same thinking that created the problems.