Category Archives: post carbon

time for built environment transition?

We may now have a handbook for sustainability change in our sector.

When facilitating sessions on sustainability in the built environment, I often get delegates to ‘stand in the future’, 2030 is always a good date, imagine what buildings and our use of them would be like, and try to identify what messages they would send back to today. Often they talk of well insulated, 100% sealed construction, 100% renewable energy (which often drives the car), bright, vibrant, natural light and ventilated environments, and more in touch with the natural environemnt. They talk of more team work, long established supply chains from the local area and more use of natural material.

Interesting they very rarely describe the current approaches of today – ie Eco-Home, Code 6 or Passiv House, BREEAM or whatever. (Maybe through current lack of real understanding what these concepts are). What they describe, unwittingly perhaps is a post oil built environment, even a post carbon (ie post carbon being a driver or worry)

Rob Hopkins, architect of the Transition Movement, in his excellent book The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience takes a similar approach, also using 2030 – but sees the Passiv Haus as being the home of the future, (for our sector he predicts; in 2014 the Passiv Haus model became the standard for all new domsestic construction across the UK, 80% of materials are locally sourced, an explosion of local industry for clay and cob blocks and in 2017 the government initiated the Great Reskilling of construction workers) . In this, the central chapter, A Vision for 2030, looking back over the transition, Rob paints a picture of construction, of energy (UK nearly self reliant, based on the 2010 crash programme of 50% reduction in use and a 50% renewable scale up), of transport, education and the economy.

Central to the book are the themes of post oil and reslience (resilience being the ability of a system to continue functioning in the face of any change or shocks from outside). Littered with well placed quotations, tools for community engagement and learning, templates to use and a history of transition, it is in essence the guide to tranistion movement, but far more than that. I can see this aspirational book one I will read more than once, to dip into and to learn a lot from. Divided into the head (for the ideas) the heart (for passion) and the hands – (for action), it could be seen to be the activists handbook for community based societies and enterprises.

There is a sense of the tipping point concept running throughout the book – given enough direction and empowerment, communities and people will tip the swing towards sustainable environments. Here perhaps is one key to the future – one of communialism rather than the approach of accommadationism we are taking tat the moment.

If any feeling of ‘concern’ exists on reading the book, it is in the tools. Focused at social and communtiy enterprise thinking people they work exceedingly well. To engage main stream built environment companies into the post oil and tranistion concept, a new set of tools maybe required – sharper and aimed at business survial and resilience

The closing chapter is aspirational – Closing Thoughts – “Something about the profoundly cahllenging times we live in strikes me as being tremondously exciting” Rob writes. and closes with a quote from Camus, In the depth of winter I finally realised there was in me an invincible summer

A quick scan of reviews for this book indicate its potential importance: for example:

The newly published ‘Transition Handbook’ is so important that I am tempted just to confine this review to five simple words ‘You must read this book!’ But to do so would, of course, completely fail to communicate its message which is, I believe, so profound and inspiring that I want to do my very best to encourage its spread far and wide.

Wherever you are on the sustainable journey … Transition Handbook will be of assistance. It is on the one hand a very worrying read, on the other inspirational. Through out I kept asking myself is our design, construction and FM sector ‘resilient’?

Maybe it is time for the built environment sector to take on and learn from the transition movement, to reach the tipping point for change. It is encouraging to see Rob Hopkins is talking at the Think 08 event in May. Will this be the catalyst I wonder?

More information and discussion over at the Transition Culture web blog.

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sustainability turns red … code red?

I received alarming emails from Carbonequity and FoE today describing how a good many tipping points have been reached and that we are on the brink of a point of no return. On January 28th ClimateCodeRed will be published in Australia …

“Climate code red: the case for a sustainability emergency”. … will include responses from a wide range of climate activists and organisations as part of a conversation about how we can campaign for a very fast transition to a post-carbon, climate safe future.

(another nice carbon definer here – post-carbon )

Why is this relevant to a blog on built environment issues? Well…it can be argued that the failure global built environment sector (design, construction and buildings in use) to address and improve on energy performance, energy use, and energy loss is a highly significant contributor to the current situation. As building use energy inefficiently we put an increasing demand on energy production, largely a fossil fuel sourced energy that in itself adds to the problem.

A move from seeing sustainability as green to seeing it as red may start to focus our approach in a different way and just may force us to rethink – a colour paradigm switch !

Similar to Dave Hampton’s excellent think purple carbon – if carbon emissions were purple rather than invisible we would be living in a purple smog, with purple skies – and would have tackled sustainability a long time ago, in a much much more effective manner.

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