Whilst writing a technical built environment blog post on emerging from the crisis of lockdown, I tuned into a wonderful book group session on Zoom with Robin Wall Kimmerer and Robert Macfarlane, with Robin reading from her book Braiding Sweetgrass, an exploration of our sense of place, our sense of reciprocity with nature.
Discussions between Robert, Robin and in the chat grounded on ‘reciprocity’ with nature, with place and with community, citing our 8pm UK hand clapping for key workers ” a beating of pots and pans with gratitude and reciprocity” Illustrating the power of the softer, arguably more urgent and important aspects of connectivity with nature and each other as we exit from lockdown and isolation.
One of the participants on the discussion was write David Abram, who by chance popped up in a tweet mention from Daniel Wahl this morning, quoting from Abram’s article in Emergence Magazine, (who hosted the book event, the nature writing course I am taking and other upcoming book reading groups as part of their community outreach)
Abrams writing“In the Ground of our Unknowing’ is insightful ‘finding beauty in the midst of shuddering terror, and isolated, we can turn to nature to empower our empathy for each other …. “
Right now, the earthly community of life—the more-than-human collective—is getting a chance to catch its breath without the weight of our incessant industry on its chest.
Much that influences the future shape of our societies will ride on how we emerge from this crisis—assuming we do emerge—how we transition out of the strangely suspended dreamscape in which we suddenly find ourselves adrift.
Governments and their administrative agencies will play their roles as best they can, each trying to claw or engineer its way back into the daylit realm. But the textures and tastes that eventually come to predominate, the rhythms of community in our bioregion, the generosity and convivial ethos of the larger body politic—or the robotic and bureaucratic rigidity of that body politic—will to a large extent be determined by the choices each of us makes in this cocoon-like, shape-shifting moment.
The future will be sculpted, that is, by the elemental friendships and alliances that we choose to sustain us, by our full-bodied capacity for earthly compassion and dark wonder, by our ability to listen, attentive and at ease, within the forest of our unknowing.
Connecting with nature should be easy. It surrounds us, and we are ourselves part of nature. From early TQM and worship facilitation days, I used getting out of the classroom, hotel or business conference room for a walk as means of introducing more energy and creativity into the sessions. Indeed my approach to connecting, although not called that in the 1990’s (I referred to this as finding your site spot to think) was to
Find a nice spot
Today we may add do not share the experience through social media, its yours – something inconceivable back in those 1990’s business or university construction improvement modules.
Yet, as we spend 90%+ of our time indoors, getting out into green space to find that nice spot is not easy for all. We are greening our buildings and spaces with biophilic design, more green landscaping, and great initiatives:
The 10 minute initiative is a USA mayoral programme to ensure everyone in their cities has high-quality park or green space within 10-minute walk of their home or office. Whilst this sounds a great, just try walking in a city for 10, even 5 minutes, through our typical built environments, it is quite a stretch.
We have wonderful green community spaces emerging within our inner cities. I visited the Phoenix Community Garden in London recently as research for a possible community garden in our local Lancashire town. We need more of this.
London contractor Modus, encouraging project staff and operatives to eat lunch in green space through maps showing where they can find green space close to the project.
But connecting with nature is not just about health …
In FutuREstorative I referred to biophilia as the Secret Sauce for Sustainability. The more biophilic connectivity with nature we have within our built environment, the better the access to real nature connectivity, then the better our sustainability behaviour, and importantly the better our creativity and imagination for regenerative climate crisis solutions.
Although over recent years in the built environment, ‘on our watch’, we have been discussing and to varying degree implementing biodiversity net gain, biodiversity units, action plans, habitat exchange, ecology of place, connectivity with nature and biophilic design. Yet today’s State of Nature report paints a dire picture of decline and loss of so many species and habitats. And, worryingly, reports no significant improvement since the 2016 State of Nature report, that labelled the UK as “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.
Causes of the losses are reported as intensification of farming, pollution, plastic, urbanisation – destruction of habitats for houses and development, hydrological change, the climate crisis and invasive alien species.
Over recent months many architects, civil, structural & service engineers and landscape architects have signed a biodiversity emergency declaration, in recognition that an emergency exists, to tell the truth and take regenerative, net positive actions to address. Now then is the time to act – and to consider every decision of design, construction and operation of buildings as being part of nature, rather than apart from nature.
Realigning how people understand and relate to the natural environment that sustains us. … The intent of the Living Building Challenge Place Petal
Jackie Morris in the latest episode of the excellent FolkonFoot podcast series mentioned that children in schools she had visited didn’t know what a wren or bluebell or dandelion was. This ‘revelation’ that led to the creation of The Lost Words with Robert Macfarlane and reinforced the importance of words, and reminded me, why in FutuREstorative, I referenced a passage from Robert Macfarlane.
In a recent revision to the Oxford Junior Dictionary, a number of entries no longer deemed appropriate to were deleted and replaced by more modern entries. As nature writer Robert Macfarlane noted: ‘The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.’ These were replaced by block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As Macfarlane said: ‘For “blackberry”, read “Blackberry’’’. This emphasises the need to re-wild our language as a precursor to understanding the importance of connectivity.”
Imagine if those children, oblivious to what a bluebell was, move on to a career role in construction, or design or planning. Being unaware of the ecological importance and cultural history, would they be less likely to protect, and more likely to sanction development?
The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issue of our time. Buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.
Such a lack of knowledge reinforces the need for ecology, and or climate emergency however you wish to define it, be a taught not only in schools but also as an ecology 101 for all design, construction trade and management training programmes. As we move more and more towards natural solutions for our buildings and building services, understanding how natural ecological systems function is vital. Without such knowledge, we will not indeed be able to design buildings that function as trees, living buildings such as the Bullitt Center, still the greenest building in the world
(Buildings and Cities) behave so much like living organisms that it is time to begin thinking of them as such. They consume oxygen, water, fuel and other natural resources, and burp out the waste. They have circulatory systems and neural pathways and at least a reptilian sort of brain to provide governing impulses.
A Module Programme for students and professionals, based on FutuREstorative, takes participants from an understanding of culture and challenges, ecological and human health, through a new thinking to regenerative building standards and digital futures. For more information, just ask.
“The world faces two existential crises, developing with terrifying speed: climate breakdown and ecological breakdown. Neither is being addressed with the urgency needed to prevent our life-support systems from spiralling into collapse”.
So starts an open letter, initiated by George Monbiot and signed by a raft of influential climate, ecology and sustainability thinkers.
Natural Climate Solutions is a new initiative (website) calling on governments to back natural climate solution measures and “to create a better world for wildlife and a better world for people”. It should also be a call to us all in built environment sectors.
“We are championing a thrilling but neglected approach to averting climate chaos while defending the living world: natural climate solutions. Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same.”
Signatures to the letter and the Natural Climate Solutions include: – school strikes activist Greta Thunberg, – climate scientist Prof Michael Mann, – writers Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein and Philip Pullman – campaigners Bill McKibben, David Suzuki and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. – former archbishop of Canterbury, former president of the Maldives, musician Brian Eno – advocacy group directors John Sauven, Greenpeace UK, Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth,Ruth Davis, RSPB, Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain
Recent research indicates that about a third of the greenhouse gas reductions needed by 2030 can be provided by the restoration of natural habitats, but such solutions have attracted just 2.5% of the funding for tackling emissions.
This is a huge issue for the built environment sector, where costing of approaches for technical carbon reduction solutions far outweigh costing of drawdown of carbon through living systems associated with our buildings and cities. If natural living systems are even considered as carbon solutions that is, to meet our Construction Vision target of carbon reduction by 50% by 2025.
We still see carbon as the enemy, through our too often one sided approach of reduce, reduce, reduce … So, given that, according to the IPCC, we have 12 years to avoid irreversible climate breakdown here are four actions we should embrace today:
Ecologists and Landscape Architects now, urgently need to become project leads.(1)
Locked in carbon should be the reported key carbon performance indicator and driver, not just the (scope1 and 2) carbon footprint
Lets start talking about upfront carbon and not embodied carbon. What matters is the carbon that is being emitted today, and the carbon that is being locked away today .(2)
Zero carbon is not enough, we can do better and go beyond zero, we don’t have time just to reduce carbon to zero.
How this aligns with my thinking, keynotes, advocacy and support for built environment client, design, contstruction, fm and academic organisations …
Rethinking Carbon – our need to focus on durable and living systems, not just fugitive carbon (3)
We need to move from the Eco phase we are currently locked into – to a Seva mindset, where we see buildings as part of nature, the natural ecosystem, not apart from it. (4)
Natural Climate Solutions … a small group of people working voluntarily to raise awareness of natural climate solutions and champion the work of organisations working in this field. who encourage you to support local projects, campaigns and initiatives near you and help ensure that this crucial and exciting answer our global crises receives the attention it deserves.
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 twitter, linkedin, 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:
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!
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Header Image: Mist Rolls Down, Roland Batke-Mutschler, Unsplash
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.
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
Business as Usual Sustainability may well prove to be our barrier in addressing the climate change issues we face. To only ‘sustain’ is no longer enough, we now have a real urgency to embrace regenerative sustainability, to thrive … and to enable thriving.
The last three decades have given us many opportunities to embrace sustainability, but have only done so reluctantly and given the worsening CO2, air quality and health issues associated with our buildings, inadequately. So now the options available to us are increasingly radical and of necessity transformative.
The recent 2018 IPCC report has given us 12 years to avoid a painful climate breakdown and the risk of irreversibly destabilising the Earth’s climate. If we are to meet the targets in front of us, related to the 2015 Paris Agreement, the SDG’s and here at home in the UK Built Environment with our CO2 reduction by 2025 targets, we need to move way beyond Business as Usual Sustainability …
The report confirmed that we must take widespread changes to design, construction, maintenance and re-use of buildings. It reinforces buildings account for 40% of CO2 emissions with building materials such as cement and concrete accounting for some 8% of the global figure. In essence this would require no construction, building, industry, plant or vehicles using gas, oil, coal or fossil fuels; a building products sector converted to green natural products and / or non-toxic chemistry; and heavy industries like cement, steel and aluminum production either using carbon-free energy sources or not used in buildings.
Further, the construction and use of buildings will by necessity need to be positive, not passive, neutral or negative – sequestering and capturing more carbon than emitted, generating more energy than used, improving air quality rather than polluting and improving inhabitants wellbeing rather than contributing to health problems.
The best time to start radically reducing carbon was 30 years ago, the second best time is to start today.
Its time to step up.
We can do this.
The Paris 1.5 aspiration is still within our reach – just! Thankfully the 2018 IPCC report does contain at least one positive, and that is anthropogenic emissions up now are unlikely to cause further warming of more than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades or on a century time scale.
This means that, if we stop using fossil fuels today, the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have already been released into the atmosphere to date are not likely to warm the earth the additional 0.5°C, either by 2030, or 2050, or even by 2100.
No doubt you have read many end of 2018, start of 2019 sustainable lifestyle things we can do – from eating less meat, cycling not driving, avoiding fossil fuel energy – and these are all good, and things we should be doing. But we can do more, and in the built environment we can make significant and meaningful progress in, for example:
Educate and Advocate As individuals, as organisations and as a sector we must educate and advocate. Many of those entering the design and construction sector over the next twelve years are still in education (many at primary school and have a whole secondary and university education in front of them)They need to be inspired and motivated for a built environment that will be radically different to the one we have today.
Reverse the Performance Gap The performance gap between design and actual causes unnecessary co2 emissions. As with the Living Building Challenge, let’s make award of any sustainable standard only on achievement of or bettering of the agreed design intent. Perhaps planning should only be given, or priority given to buildings that positively make a contribution – on carbon, water, or air quality. A challenge for Building Regulations and Planning requirements to step up.
Grow from Thousands to Billions Trees: “Our planet’s future climate is inextricably tied to the future of its forests,” states the 2018 IPCC report, calling for billions of trees to be planted and protected. We have the skills, materials and mindsets to design, construct and maintain buildings that function as trees. Perhaps the flagship here is the Bullitt centre, but we have thousands of buildings around the world that have regenerative attributes. Building on the title of the 2018 World Green Building Council report we can ramp this up from Thousands to Billions – to all buildings.
In 2016, FutuREstorative sought to set out what a new sustainability could look like, moving thinking in the built environment from the ‘reducing harm’ sustainability business as usual approach to one that is restorative, regenerative with a connected worldview. working with natural systems, healing harm done in the past.
I must admit I shied away from using the word regenerative in the title of the 2016 edition. Within the UK regenerative has had an uncomfortable meaning, associated with ‘building schools for the future’ and other less successful programmes. As a Project Manager for a regeneration programme in East Lancashire, I saw first hand, just how uncomfortable the ‘regeneration’ label sat with local communities and the wider sustainability agendas.
I am delighted that FutuREstorative has been adopted by many practices (it has inspired at least two start-ups that I know of here in the UK), is being translated into Portuguese and has been adopted by academic organisations around the world. It has also provided the backbone for the EU COST RESTORE programme.
However, and thankfully, the world of sustainability has moved on a-pace, much has progressed from 2016, (Paris, SDG’s, IPCC and WWF reports) Increasingly we hear much more, and are seeing more examples of regenerative sustainability and ecologically principled design in relation to our buildings, And this includes regenerative buildings that are designed to heal people and planet. I see this as part of what Daniel Wahl refers to as ‘regeneration rising’ but are far from reaching a tipping point.
So, into 2019, my plans are to …
update FutuREstorative, reframing and possibly re-titling as FutuREgenerative to reflect current regenerative activities globally and pushing our thinking further. Over the coming weeks I will be collating regenerative stories and looking for blog style contributions from those at the sharp end of regenerative sustainability, within the built environment and beyond
further support and enable the communities of practice and discussion groups that have emerged and are growing around FutuREstorative
If you would like to get involved in sharing your stories and experience through FutuREstorative communities of practice then please do reach out.
The merits of walking, of connecting with nature, bringing nature into cities and city people into nature is one of the current sustainability and health zeitgeists. It is increasingly a prescribed remedy by GP’s.
Back in 1895 a famous Bulgarian writer, Aleko Konstantinov, persuaded 300 or so people to leave ‘dusty streets’ and ‘stuffy cafes’ of Sofia to take a refreshing walk from the city centre to the top of Vitosha mountain – Cherni Vrah (Black Peak) A mountain that has now become synomous with Sofia
In front of the National Theatre there’s a stone that marks the starting point of Aleko’s interesting journey.
National Theatre, Sofia
I took that journey at the end of a COST Restore working group meeting in the city. Time prevented walking the whole distance from the Theatre, but through a combination of the city’s Metro, buses and taxis, I managed to take in a circular walk starting and finishing at the Aleko huts (1800m).
Cherni Vrah (Black Peak) Summit
Vitosha Nature Park, the oldest park on the Balkans, established in 1934 and famous for its ‘stone rivers’ – rock landforms forming lengthy ribbons of huge round boulders that run down the mountainside arising from granite rock erosion.