Category Archives: sustainability

Plastic: Are we good ancestors?

Plastic is the substance that has served as our most perfect container – and that now overwhelms our systems of containment.

Robert Macfarlane, Underland

Along with friends from the Longridge Environment Group I had the opportunity to co-view the Story of Plastic film recently courtesy of Chester and District FoE. The film was scheduled for box office cinema release but the Corona Virus has put paid to that.

The Story of Plastic travels around the globe, with time spent speaking with plastic sorters and zero waste activists mainly in Asia, and exposes a world wide seemingly unsurmountable catastrophe driven by corporate interests.

My overall feeling was that Plastic is one big social justice issue, that recycling is flawed. (Only 91% of plastic is effectively recycled) and that we really do need to understand the whole plastic life cycle story. In particular, understand how the fossil fuel and big chem industry is grooming those countries with poor waste facilities and regulations, with the false promise of a better world of plastic. This is in much the same way we in the west were groomed, way back in the 50’s and have been since, with promises of a throw away world, a world of Tupperware and of no more washing up.

A biochem corporate voice in the 50’s promoting plastic promise’s us ‘the best is yet to come’

The Story of Plastic exposes the sham of recycling, that the whole life cycle of plastic is only possible because we have poverty to deal with our throw away culture. Enabling us to make room for more. Whilst seemingly complying with laws in the west, there is disregard for environmental responsibility elsewhere – for example shampoo sold in ‘recyclable’ bottles here (for which manufacturers contribute towards recycling) – but is sold in un-recyclable sachets in Indonesia (prohibited in the west and for which manufactures make no contribution on cleaning up)

Maybe we have focused too narrowly on reducing and eliminating single use plastics – the use once and last forever plastics – such as straws, coffee stirrers and bottles, and so our actions need to go deeper.

The film concludes with hope, with respair emerging from the despair, in the shape of EPR, Extended Product Responsibility and a Circular Economy, soon to be embedded in EU and hopefully UK legislation, to varying degrees and effectiveness. Such legislation cannot come soon enough, and needs to be global.

One of the first sustainability pecha kucha presentations I made some 10+ years ago, entitled Waste is Stupid, looked at the ‘Design Requirements’ made in Cradle to Cradle (and then borrowed for FutuREStorative some ten years later) concluding with what if we could rethink the way we made things, what if construction generated no plastic waste, and what if we had no toxic (Red List) materials in our buildings. Sadly 10 years on we need to ask the same questions

Alongside this viewing I am currently re-reading Underland, A Deeptime Journey by Robert Macfarlane as part of the Emergence Magazines book reading club. Macfarlane makes a number of comments on plastic, but the most striking and concerning, is how will we be looked upon by future generations in a future deeptime, when the surviving strata level, unearthed by future archaeologists, representing our age is one of plastic, and as Macfarlane asks, Are we good ancestors?

Philip Larkin famously proposed that what will survive of us is love. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic,

Robert Macfarlane, Underland

Story of Plastic Trailer Link

The Longridge Environment Group have a showing of The Story of Plastic on the 27th May

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Construction: the next normal

As construction along with other sectors emerges from varying degrees of Corona lockdown we have an opportunity, a rare opportunity and the only one we may have in our life times to shape the next normal. Across the globe, the lockdown has provided many with benefits and appreciation of wellbeing, of deeper connections within family, friends, communities and of nature. Indeed nature, with clear skies, louder bird song and cleaner air has given us a preview of what our world, and our lives could be like. Lucy Jones writing in the Guardian sums this up in “Noticing nature is the greatest gift you can get from lockdown”

What then, for construction and the built environment. I was asked just this week to comment on a number of bullet points that have underpinned many construction training modules. It struck me they represented the old normal, the pre-covid normal, and one that we cannot, do not want to, return to, but one that we have to work, collaboratively to embed as the next business as usual. Whilst areas of the built environment have made impressive and huge advances on professionalism, business responsibility, sustainability, wellbeing and quality, there is much much more to be done.

Here then are my thoughts for the next normal, influenced by gems from the recent Living Futures 20 online conference and the wonderful insights from my guests on the Zoom Regenerative (ZR) series (See Footer Note)

The Old Normal: Understanding Clients NEEDS not Wants – What will Add Value to their Business – going Beyond Construction Go beyond understanding – anticipating customer needs before they articulate them    *   Your Differentiator?  – Why YOU – They know You can Build. So what?

The Next Normal: Be equipped with your unique and comprehensive tool box that everyone in the business can use – A tool box of soft and hard tools that are regenerative, not just focused on reducing impact, one that that can be opened up and offered to clients as appropriate. Successful organisations are skilled and flexible in all leading approaches Educate everybody quickly. We can all be regenerators, and collaboratively enable & cultivate living places, buildings and systems that thrive.

The Old Normal: Price is King – How are your solutions delver Value for Money – Cost, Time and Carbon Reduction – Meet Construction 2025 Targets

The Next Normal: Price is no longer king, but a balance and blend of many success indicators. Construction 2025 targets have been eclipsed by other targets – from the SDG’s to Paris 1.5DegC to IPCC and RIBA 2030 Challenge to name a few. What does this new landscape mean to construction targets. We need to reimagine a new construction Value for Money

Coming out of lockdown 80% public in a poll what health and wellbeing priority over GDP, so what will this mean for buildings, offices, homes, staff, construction sites?
We need to learn how to count in carbon, to become carbon literate, and to know what the carbon numbers mean for the construction economy, business profits and project success.

The Old Normal: Sustainability – Social, Economic, Environmental and Well Being- Going Beyond Accreditations !!

The Next Normal: We can no longer certify business as usual, we need to recognise and certify positive impact, and …
– Commit to climate action and decarbonise everything;
– Stop using anything single use , anything fossil fuel based, any red list material:
– Ask the What if questions – What if as in nature we generated no waste, what would construction look like with no disposable plastic?  
– Invite life (nature) back to projects, construction sites, understanding seasonal and ecological cycles, become ecology literate

The Old Normal: No Surprises – Predictability of Performance during Construction and in Whole Life

The Next Normal: Change the language in contracts, in offices and projects  – talk of love, compassion, collaboration, thriving and stop using competitive war words, talking of winning, beating, competitors and yes buts. Build relationships beyond transactions and profit. Act with urgency, passion and joy 

The question we now need to ask is, what light, fresh baggage will we take with us into the next normal (regenerative, collaborative, relationships, empathy, healthy) & what heavy, stale, baggage will we leave behind (conflict, pollution, waste, modern slavery, toxic) 

There’s a Buddhist teaching that says “What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” Let’s move out of an obsession with the construction world we don’t want and start a revolution bringing into being the world we do want.

Zoom Regenerative (ZR)

ZR is a weekly zoom event celebrating regenerative buzz, thinking and activity from around the globe.

“Like a tree in a forest we will know that we are not alone, but part of a web, a network of life, healing, helping, nurturing each other, as it should always have been…” Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

ZR is emerging into a wonderfully engaged and growing community that covers regenerative themes from Cycling to Energy, from Regenerative Business to Landscaping, from Carbon to Biophilia, from Construction to Rewilding, from Art to Economics, from BIM to Social Thriving and beyond… 

[UPDATE] Please please do read this wonderful post from Michelle Holliday, a recent ZR guest

Each weekly show is promoted through linkedin and twitter, (#ZoomRegen) but if you would to be placed on a mailing list please do contact me

Braided Reciprocity

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.

Pathways to a Regenerative Future: Zoom Regenerative 3

What an inspiring exploration of regenerative futures on last nights Zoom Regenerative call. It was wonderful to hear experiences and thinking from three positive and passionate presenters, and to share and discuss with participants across the globe, from West Coast US, through Canada, Europe to India and Australia.

Whilst we talk of a post Covid19 environment, we will for a good while yet be in a bridging period of living with Covid19. Zoom Regenerative explores what that bridging and indeed post Covid19 environment would and should look like.

Martin introduced the session with a quote from Rachel Carsons Silent Spring, written in 1962 but as fresh and as relevant for today, “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair … The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. the other fork of the road, the one less travelled by, offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

Paul Wilkinson outlined the development of digital and data within the UK construction and built environment sector, focusing on Smart Buildings, citing the Edge building dashboard, and a future of connected digital twins for extended building clusters and developments.

Jelena Brajkovic’s journey through Neo- Nature, where computing and digitalisation meets nature was exciting, fascinating and yet worrying. Can bio-media replace or compliment nature, in our need for nature connectivity within the built environment?

With sustainability professionals set to emerge as key in driving and managing sustainability actions for post lockdown, Virginia Cinquemani’s exploration of Resilience was important and timely. We will be looking at many varied approaches to sustainability, so well worth being in mind the Nelson Mandela quote Virginia used “sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’

Zoom Regenerative meets again on Tuesday 5th May.

Learning and Sharing in the Time of Corona

In these tough days of Covid-19, social distancing and isolation we can also look for the light of opportunity to share and to learn. We are hearing it is possible that physical, face to face events will not be happening for months, until the UK is clear enough for travel for home events, and until the EU is clear for EU events.

Not surprisingly then, we are seeing many events, workshops, exhibitions, film festivals, from book clubs to concerts to design shows, move into the online space.

We have a range of communication platforms to help us do that, from basic to more elaborate and feature rich platforms. It is good to see the virtual world of Second Life being used for Billions of Us – “an (emerging) creative community and collective devoted to using virtual technologies to improve the real world in this time of vast systemic change.” (Thanks to Pam Broviak for sharing this through her Public Works blog. Pam and I met in Second life back in mid 2000’s and then with Paul Wilkinson and Jodie Miners formed Be2Camp – now dormant but Paul has an archive of posts on his ExtranetEvolution blog)

Indeed there is nothing new to online exhibitions and fairs – back in 2014 we used Hyperfair for a number of events, complete with in-world talks, exhibitors and social events a few years ago with (Construction21 and Others) see Sustainability made Cool? Day one at #EXPOC21

A New Normal Built Environment

For us in the built environment, we are starting see that the world of design, construction, supply chains and communications will not be the same post Covid19. We will cannot return to the normal we knew, for that normal is in too many ways responsible for the problems we have now.

Preparing for a new post Covid19 normal must be part of a ‘never waste this crisis’ approach that practices and companies need to take. And now is the time to take that development, when employees are home based, with more time to learn, develop and help shape a future business.

We cannot waste this crisis and we must emerge stronger, ready to address a different environment, when addressing the climate and ecological breakdown will be very high, if not top of the agenda. We have see, through remarkable images of how air quality dramatically improved as activity stopped in Wuhan and Italy. We have seen, after only a short time of ‘shut down’ how nature can thrive, here in the UK (shut down of modern life allows nature to thrive), in the canals of Venice and beyond.

To this end I am running in-house, online inter-active CPD style sessions through Zoom or Teams for a number of my clients, both here in the UK and overseas. (If you are interested in this for your organisation please get in touch)

Zoom Regenerative

A weekly 45 minute Zoom meet up for those interested in learning more or are practising regenerative approaches, in sustainability, in the built environment, in business etc. Each session will feature an introduction or presentation from a regenerative colleague from around the world, followed by a lightly facilitated discussion. Starting on April 7th, I plan Zoom Regenerative to be held Tuesdays at 8pm UK (but possibly shifting an hour or two to allow participation from Australia at a sensible hour)

Link for the Zoom session will be on my twitter feed under hashtags #ZoomRegen

RESTORE COST Newsletter

An extract from my Contribution the the RESTORE Cost Action ..

It is possible that every sustainability practitioner, academic and student globally is now home working. Through communication technologies we can share and discuss the work of RESTORE and regenerative sustainability. There are many working groups discussions taking place through Zoom, but we can do more. For example

LFE (Living Future Europe) has started a weekly Resilience Lounge hosted by Carlo Battisti. (Wednesdays 5pm UK Details)

Martin will be starting a weekly Zoom Regenerative series starting on the 7th April with guest from around the world sharing their regenerative voices, actions and approaches. (Tuesdays 8pm UK Details and #ZoomRegen)

There is a global Transition Town discussion group on Monday 30th hosted by founder Rob Hopkins

There are also many on line book clubs which have caught my eye, for example The Living Mountain as a twitter based book club – search #CoReadingVirus and a Nature Writing Course hosted by Emergence Magazine starting on 5th April 12.00 PST

Connectivity with Nature, its importance to mental and physical health is a key theme that runs through the work and outcomes of RESTORE. It is a sad consequence of housing design and construction over recent decades that many many families are now isolated in homes with no views, no access to nature, and in some cases in city centres with no windows. We will undoubtedly see a rise in mental health, anxiety and domestic violence. You may have noticed an increase in the sharing of nature based images, videos, art and music across social media. This in a small way, may give a little comfort to those without access or views.

Lets use our collective and individual social media accounts to share, and lets use the hashtags #NoticeNature and #CostRestore

Suggested reading In Times of Uncertainty, let nature be your refuge Lucy Jones – author Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild.

Monarch Butterfly (see Why is there a Monarch Butterfly on the cover of FutuREstorative …)

On Carbon … Planes, Homes and Emails

Image result for aircraft over homes"
The airline industry is in the news again with Ryanair being told by the advertising watchdog to stop adverts that claim it to be the greenest airline in Europe,

The airline industry has become a focus of both carbon ‘anger and angst’, along with a reawakening of the carbon offsetting debate. Yet carbon is not the only issue for the airlines, it is socially unjust (with only some 15% of the population flying regularly) and the other greenhouse gasses such as NOx do damage to health and environment at point of emission – something that cannot be offset.

But, with this sector contributing only 2% of globally emissions we must also look closer to home and to improve our carbon understanding and literacy.

Our homes and buildings contribute 40% greenhouse gas emissions, with 28% through design and the way heat cool and light, the way we live, play and work within our homes and buildings. 11% is through the manufacturer of building materials, with cement and concrete contributing a whopping 8% of total world co2 (if it were a country it would rank 3rd in emission output)

In 2019 the built environment sector woke to climate warming design flaws with a large number of architects, engineers and contractors committing to address the Climate and Biodiversity Emergency. The RIBA 2030 climate challenge sets tough challenges to reduce embodied carbon in homes and buildings by 75% by 2030.

With the huge housebuilding programme across the country these are commitments and challenges our house building sector should be embracing today. Failure to do so only stokes a future of ever increasing emissions, biodiversity degeneration in addition to the health and finance for future generations.

The Government is currently consulting on ‘The Future Homes Standard‘ – an update to the building regulations for new homes. However, the proposed changes to building regulations are likely to make buildings less energy efficient not more, according to the work of London Energy Transformation Initiative (Leti), a network of more than 1,000 architects and engineers. Perhaps even more worrying is a proposal to prevent local councils from going beyond national standards and demanding greater energy efficiency or lower carbon emissions.  If you haven’t as yet, you should be writing to your MP on this as part of the consultation. (Friends of the Earth Manchester have useful information and how to do this)

But perhaps a sleeping giant of carbon emissions is the vast amount of data we generate, share and reshare, store only to never return to. And a major contributor are emails. We have all seen the warning at the bottom of emails, “Please consider the environment before printing.” But if we care about global warming, we might want to consider not writing so many emails in the first place.

Right now, data centers consume about 2% of the world’s electricity, but that’s expected to reach 8% by 2030. Moreover, only about 6% of all data ever created is in use today,” according to research from Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

That means that 94% is sitting in a vast “cyber landfill,” albeit one with a massive carbon footprint.

“It’s costing us the equivalent of maintaining the airline industry for data we don’t even use,”

Understanding carbon is complex and giving rise to awareness courses and events on carbon (or eco) literacy courses. Ideally we need a reliable and accurate equivalent to food labelling that informs us of the carbon or ecology footprint of our flight, our homes and our emails … and all the other stuff we use and do.

A good place to start is Mike Berners Lee (Professor at Lancaster University and Sustainability Patron for Cumbria Action ) ‘How Bad are Bananas’

And of course we need to list not the rising young generation and to paraphrase Greta Thunberg from her talk at Davos ‘we cannot address the climate emergency with clever carbon number fudging, accounting or offseeting – we need zero carbon’

Image result for schools strike"

“We Need Real Zero”

Once again Great Thunberg has shaken our thinking on carbon with her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. With our focus on “net zero emissions” “low carbon economy” and “carbon neutrality” are we cheating and fiddling around with numbers? are we “offsetting emissions” by just paying someone else to plant trees whilst we carry on as normal?

Another wake up call. Here is the full transcript of her remarks, taken from the New York Times, host of the WEF in Davos

selective focus photography of hands

One year ago I came to Davos and told you that our house is on fire. I said I wanted you to panic. I’ve been warned that telling people to panic about the climate crisis is a very dangerous thing to do. But don’t worry. It’s fine. Trust me, I’ve done this before and I can assure you it doesn’t lead to anything.

And, for the record, when we children tell you to panic we’re not telling you to go on like before. We’re not telling you to rely on technologies that don’t even exist today at scale and that science says perhaps never will.

We are not telling you to keep talking about reaching “net zero emissions” or “carbon neutrality” by cheating and fiddling around with numbers. We are not telling you to “offset your emissions” by just paying someone else to plant trees in places like Africa while at the same time forests like the Amazon are being slaughtered at an infinitely higher rate.

Planting trees is good, of course, but it’s nowhere near enough of what is needed and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature.

Let’s be clear. We don’t need a “low carbon economy.” We don’t need to “lower emissions.” Our emissions have to stop if we are to have a chance to stay below the 1.5-degree target. And, until we have the technologies that at scale can put our emissions to minus, then we must forget about net zero. We need real zero.

Because distant net zero emission targets will mean absolutely nothing if we just continue to ignore the carbon dioxide budget — that applies for today, not distant future dates. If high emissions continue like now even for a few years, that remaining budget will soon be completely used up.

The fact that the U.S.A. is leaving the Paris accord seems to outrage and worry everyone, and it should. But the fact that we’re all about to fail the commitments you signed up for in the Paris Agreement doesn’t seem to bother the people in power even the least.

Any plan or policy of yours that doesn’t include radical emission cuts at the source, starting today, is completely insufficient for meeting the 1.5-degree or well-below-2-degrees commitments of the Paris Agreement.

And again, this is not about right or left. We couldn’t care less about your party politics. From a sustainability perspective, the right, the left as well as the center have all failed. No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency and create a cohesive and sustainable world. Because that world, in case you haven’t noticed, is currently on fire.

You say children shouldn’t worry. You say: “Just leave this to us. We will fix this, we promise we won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.”

And then, nothing. Silence. Or something worse than silence. Empty words and promises which give the impression that sufficient action is being taken.

All the solutions are obviously not available within today’s societies. Nor do we have the time to wait for new technological solutions to become available to start drastically reducing our emissions. So, of course the transition isn’t going to be easy. It will be hard. And unless we start facing this now together, with all cards on the table, we won’t be able to solve this in time.

In the days running up to the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum, I joined a group of climate activists demanding that you, the world’s most powerful and influential business and political leaders, begin to take the action needed.

We demand at this year’s World Economic Forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments:

Immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.

And immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.

We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021. We want this done now.

It may seem like we’re asking for a lot. And you will of course say that we are naïve. But this is just the very minimum amount of effort that is needed to start the rapid sustainable transition.

So either you do this or you’re going to have to explain to your children why you are giving up on the 1.5-degree target. Giving up without even trying. Well I’m here to tell you that, unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight.

The facts are clear, but they’re still too uncomfortable for you to address. You just leave it because you think it’s too depressing and people will give up. But people will not give up. You are the ones who are giving up.

Last week I met with Polish coal miners who lost their jobs because their mine was closed. And even they had not given up. On the contrary, they seem to understand the fact that we need to change more than you do.

I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing a climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?

Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else. 

Thank you.