“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.

Noticing Nature: Secret Sauce for Sustainability

How welcome is the current explosion in the media (books, guides, blogs, articles, tv and radio programmes) on the benefits of connecting with nature.

The first of the 2020 brilliant Out Of Doors series of programme on BBC Radio Scotland was dedicated to connectivity with nature, mostly through trees, in Scotland and beyond, a connectivity that spanned music and art as well as mental and physical health benefits

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
  • Sit
  • Notice things
  • Thats it

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.

This is reinforced by the current research published from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health looking more closely at the habits of 24,000 in the UK, highlighting:

  • Increase in nature visits led to increase in general environmental behaviour.
  • Increase in nature appreciation was associated with increase in behaviour.
  • Neighbourhood nature had direct and indirect effects via visits and appreciation.
  • Evidence emerged of nature visits compensating for low neighbourhood nature.
  • Effects of neighbourhood nature differed across specific environmental behaviours.

Fairsnape 2020 Recognition

Dawn on 1 Jan 2020 Inglewhite

This is a great way to start 2020 … with the recognition of the regenerative sustainability work and influence through Fairsnape, my associates and those I work with and for …


Triodos UK Sustainability Influencers 100

Ranked 49/100 along with awesome influencers, TV personalities and experts on Triodos Sustainable Social Media 100. The listing is to provide inspiration about who to follow on Twitter, and grow connections between everyone who’s interested in sustainability issues in the UK.

Triodos also ran a week long What we learnt from the UK Sustainable Social Media 100 series of questions on sustainability topics .


#Sustainability Thought Leader & Influencer Leaderboard

Ranked at #2 of Thinkers360 Thought Leader Live Standings


…. and one of my recent (co-authored) publications included in …

50 Business & Technology Books from Thinkers360 Thought Leaders!

Sustainability Restorative to RegenerativeOur RESTORE Cost Action publication that records the outputs of the sustainability working group (1). This publication, with contributions from over 20 EU countries is an exploration in progressing a paradigm shift in built environment thinking, from sustainability to restorative sustainability and on to regenerative sustainability. It presents a reference document for future work of the RESTORE Action, for other Cost Actions and for built environment academia and industry organisations.www,eurestore.eu | May, 2018 | Book | Martin Brown

A PQQ for Regenerative Construction

Originating in FutuREstorative and further developed in conjunction with COST RESTORE, this PQQ for Assessing Regenerative Sustainability Capability template details areas of regenerative sustainability that a client, the design team (or design and build contractor) should be considering, and seeking evidence of understanding, approach and experience from the potential supply chain in written responses and in interview

REGENERATIVE SUSTAINABLE PROCUREMENT

From COST Restore publication: Regenerative Construction and Operation
Bridging the gap between design and construction, following a Life Cycle Approach consisting of practical approaches for procurement, construction, operation and future life.

Regenerative Sustainable procurement is the transition between the sustainable design vision and the realisation of that vision. Within the regenerative sustainability paradigm, it is vital that the construction process of the project along with the facilities management of the project is undertaken in a manner that is not only socially just and ecologically sound but is regenerative in enabling human and ecosystems to thrive.

The template should be tailored to meet project specifics.

Request a customisable copy of the Regenerative Sustainability PQQ

A Carbon Hierarchy for (Net) Zero Carbon Construction

This is Part 2 of Zero Carbon Series. See Part One Carbon That Was then This is Now

Writing in FutuREstorative back in 2016, I looked at what a construction project would look like in response to the Living Building Challenge‘s “what if every act of construction made the world a better place”

  • Projects would be net positive in all aspects, on place, nature, water, health, even knowledge and of course carbon.
  • Construction projects are carbon-positive: Strict carbon planning and management is key. Remaining carbon emissions after all carbon management improvements have been made are addressed with restorative offset programmes.

FutuREstorative drew on a Total Carbon Study from the Integral Group, DPR Construction and others that looked at the carbon profile through the life of a refurbishment project (DPR’s Construction San Francisco Office) and reported a number of key findings:

  • 􏰀For new buildings, it is critical to focus on reducing embodied emissions;
  • For existing buildings we need to focus on reducing operating emissions.
  • The largest reductions came from the use of high-mass and energy- intensive materials.
  • Carbon and Construction carbons are not understood.

Lloyd Alter writing in Treehugger established Upfront Carbon as a key concept term in addressing the ‘Climate Emergency’. ‘Embodied carbon is not a difficult concept at all, it is just a misleading term … I have concluded that it should be Upfront Carbon Emissions, or UCE”. (By the way, Lloyds article Let’s rename “Embodied Carbon” to “Upfront Carbon Emissions” is a must read that also illustrates how twitter conversations, with Elrond Burrell, can lead to improved industry thinking)

ARRO: a project carbon hierarchy

To achieve a positive carbon project, focusing on the essential upfront carbons,. FutuREstorative proposed a robust carbon hierarchy approach. As the waste hierarchy of ‘recycle, reuse, dispose‘ has become part of our construction waste lexicon so ARRO – Avoid, Replace, Reduce and Offset.should become part of the carbon lexicon

ARRO: From FutuREstorative,

Avoid: carbon through regenerative low carbon design, construction planning and sustainable facilities management …

Replace: high carbon techniques and activities with low carbon, regenerative solutions…

Reduce: seek to reduce carbon through local material and supplier procurement and a focus on construction travel and transport, carbon productivity and construction efficiency …

Offset emissions that cannot be managed out. But be aware you cannot offset the toxic greenhouse gas emissions eg NOX from use of diesel plant and transport.

It is worth noting that the RIBA 2030 Challenge calls for a reduction in embodied (upfront carbon) … rising incrementally from 50 in 2020 to 75% over the next decade before offsetting become acceptable

Asked recently at the end of a keynote zero carbon talk for three actions that we should be doing today, I responded with firstly to Take Back, secondly to Stop and thirdly to Think like a Tree. Admitedly, his was on the spot thinking, but based on a decade or so of engagement with sustainability thinkers, researchers, scientists, practitioners, it makes the basis for a good strategy

Take Back – On our watch , over the last 30 years , of urging sustainable construction, carbon in the atmosphere has increased from 320 to 415ppm. And we in the built environment are responsible for 40% of that increase. To get back to the science based safe target of 350 we need to be taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Therefore, the most responsible thing we can do is to design and construct buildings that are carbon sinks. Buildings that lock carbon away.

Stop – or at least severely reduce putting pollutants and carbon, into the atmosphere.

Think Like a Tree – carbon is an essential building block within nature. We need to rethink and understand carbon cycles, acknowledge that carbon is not the enemy. We need a better construction carbon and eco – literacy so we fully understand carbon as a natural currency cycle, evaluating carbon efficiency (carbon productivity) as we do financial efficiency.

Once we see carbon as a ‘currency’ then we can understand carbon productivity – how much value of building are we delivering for each unit of carbon emitted. This should become the KPI for projects, alongside or even replacing the measure of productivity in labour terms. It is one of the most simple of KPI’s., or could be, construction cost divided by upfront carbon. We tightly monitor and measure construction value, and we measure construction carbon, albeit unevenly.

In conclusion then …

An ABC for (Net) Zero Carbon Construction

Adopt a carbon strategy: of take back, of stopping emissions and of rethinking carbon as natural cycles,

Build robust carbon ARRO hierarchy strategies that Avoid, Reduce and Repair and Offset into every project

Carbon productivity monitored as a core KPI, with strong carbon leadership and literacy, that matches the level of focus we have on financial and safety performance within the industry


Next: Part 3 – Just What is Construction Carbon and Ecological Literacy


Image Source: Unsplash, EJ Yao

Healing the Future

At the start of each year there is a searching for new, we feel we need something new, a new tool, a new message, a new tagline to recharge our sustainability approaches.

Over recent years I have loosely used hashtags to define my approaches, consulting, keynotes and thinking, for example #ImagineBetter and #EgoEcoSeva in 2018, 2019.

For 2020, I return to, and incorporate a tagline I first used way back in 2009 through keynotes and work associated with Green Vision at Leeds Beckett and then incorporated into FutuREstorative in 2016 … #HealingTheFuture

“Recharging nature recharges the human spirit. In 2020, we could all do with some of that” @GeorgeMonbiot

Through climate & ecology emergency declarations and increased climate justice awareness we now have a sense for the urgency in not only reducing our impact, (being less bad) in being regenerative (doing more good) but also in repairing damage done, on our watch over the last 30 years or so. I feel Healing the Future sums this well, whether it be carbon, climate justice or ecological healing.

My 2019 twitter profile image took the warming stripes from Ed Hawkins and reversed them, showing the journey we have in front of us to reduce carbon back to 350ppm, to keep global temp increases below 1.5 … and maintain climate justice. My 2020 profile image is from a slide used in 2011, for a Green Vision presentation, entitled Time to Heal the Future.

A Winters Note

Standing one day in winter, by the side of a pond near a row of tall elms watching boys sliding, I heard a few short twittering notes of a Nuthatch overhead. It occurred to me how I should describe the note in such a way that it should be infallibly recognised. It is precisely like the sound made by a pebble thrown so as to bounce along ice. This is the winter note.

British Birds in their Haunts 21st edition 1947

There is much in this passage from 70 years ago that illustrates how our relationship with nature is changing. The Nuthatch is a regular visitor to our nut feeders, yet try as I might I cannot distinguish its twittering notes. (Described elsewhere as a rapid trilling ‘chiriririri‘)

We can probably hear, in our inner ear, the sound of a pebble bouncing along ice. On a New Years Eve, on a walk over Cauldale Moor in Cumbria I had the opportunity to bounce pebbles along frozen mini tarns. The sound was more thud-like rather then the chiriririri trill I had been hoping for.

The imaginary of winter, of children sliding on ice is one now deep in memories for many – if it is a memory at all. And as for a row of tall Elms …

And, today in 2020, it is hard to pinpoint just what we would describe as a natural ‘note’ of winter.