Green roofs, living walls, urban green landscape could prove to provide more benefits than first thought. In addition to the obvious nature, biodiversity benefits and the biophilic wellbeing and air benefits, connection to nature can also rewild the microbiome ecosystems within our bodies leading to better health. (Microbiomes are the billions of microbes that live on and within our bodies and regulate our health)
With the first law of ecology, (and that oft quoted John Muir sound bite) that everything is connected, it is not so surprising that the microbiome in our bodies is connected to the wider natural eco-system. A topic I touched on with Specifi building engineers in Leeds recently!
In FutuREstorative I talk of rewilding nature, buildings and people. Rewilding is not just about reintroducing big predators such as the wolf, or reintroducing missing parts of any natural ecosystem chain, but about ‘creating conditions that allow the emergence of natural responsiveness and development’. This is regenerative, not restricting what we allow nature to do, but seeing the the way we design, construct and maintain the built environment as a part of nature, not apart from nature
Yet, the next frontier in rewilding and indeed, in the evolving sustainability nexus of buildings and wellbeing could well be within the human body itself. Researchers are exploring ways to ‘rewild’ the microbiome of urban dwellers whose microbiome state maybe below par (due to urban environments and lack of nature) back a more natural and healthier state.
A paper published in the journal Challenges, explores the human body as a holobiont—that is a ‘host along with billions of microbial organisms working symbiotically to form a functioning ecological unit’— that has the potential to enhance both human and planetary health. And the way we design cities can be a vital contribution. In the paper, Jake Robinson of University of Sheffield UK and Jacob Mills and Martin Breed of the University of Adelaide in Australia propose that urban planners focus on creating microbiome-inspired green infrastructure to “innovative living urban features that could potentially enhance public health via health-inducing microbial interactions.”
The paper notes that ‘connecting with nature, both physically and psychologically, has been shown to enhance our health and wellbeing, and adds to other recent calls for the inclusion of the environment-microbiome-health axis in nature–human health research’
A call for microbiome inspired green infrastructure – “innovative living urban features that could potentially enhance public health via health-inducing microbial interactions.” – would certainly widen the project design team to include biologists and microbiome professionals.
Eco Build had been renamed as Future Build to focus on built environment innovation for the future, whilst retaining an eco, sustainability theme. From a brief attendance on the first day here are a few comments, the good the bad and the ugly.
Giving nature a home
More than one stand promoted their product or solution as ‘giving nature a home in construction, in buildings, in the built environment – the place for the home we are giving is interchangeable. We have to flip this – and quickly if we are to arrest the loss in biodiversity. Nature has a home, and without the built environment would be doing very nicely thank you. We need to see products and solutions that respect, and live within the space that nature can give us as a home … for construction, buildings, the built environment
Its not magic dust
Not knowing what the ingredients are in products – especially glues and binders in composite materials is not that surprising, but why does a manufacture send a sales representative to a green build show who isn’t clued up on what must be a common question. One representative I talked with described the binder in plastic ‘nurdles’ as magic dust
Will it hurt me or make me healthy
A similar question, given the increase in awareness of toxicity of materials through Well Build, BREEAM and a lesser degree LBC, that manufacture and suppliers should to be able to respond to is how the product will either hurt me or make me healthy. It’s an issue we often make as discerning shoppers when buying food – why not when buying construction products? (A point I made on my Building Hub presentation – that every product being promoted at FutureBuild had the potential to affect our health, for good or for worst, and that all too often we don’t know)
And you know what? – if this is not a common question then that raises a whole raft of other issues – not only do we not know what is in the products we promote, we don’t care enough to ask!
Back to the future
It is increasingly recognised that our ancestors and indigenous people had, and in a few cases still have, the thinking and approaches that we know need tin this anthroprecene age to address climate change, biodiversity loss, skill loss. It was good there for to see rammed earth and clay blocks on display and in workshops. Although one can’t help wondering why this seemed to be hidden away behind timber panelling.
I enjoyed the waste zone’s innovative and interactive approach. I only wish we could start calling it a material ‘conservation’ zone. Language is important, and whilst we continue to call materials waste, we will continue to see only their final destination as landfill or incineration.
SDG’s – the four year old with a bright future we are just getting know
It was extremely encouraging to hear Sustainable Development Goals and Circular Economy given a main stage platform for discussion. If Future Build is the show case for sustainability, innovation and future-proofing – then the SDG’s, now 4 years old, along with circular economy for that matter, are a vital ingredients. Yet in 2019 the SDG’s should be common place, not new.
Its worse, far worse …
Where then is the innovation, the next new sustainability? A few I talked with during the day, and a theme of our building hub session (What can international standards teach us?) is that sustainability is dead, it has been our engineering solution to resources, energy, climate change, carbon for 30 years (since the 1987 Brundtland definition) but the situation is now worse than then.
The climate change book of 2019 so far (Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells) starts with what must be one of the most brilliant and worryingly sentences for a while – It is worse, far worse that you think”
Regeneration and Regenerative are better describers for the sustainability we need. And given we only have another 11 FutureBuilds before we reach the IPCC impassion of irreversible climate breakdown, we have to move fast.
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
… making sure our employees in the field have the same wellbeing …
Readers of this blog, attendees at my presentations, and those I consult and audit with, will recognise my advocacy for implementing wellbeing aspects (that we increasingly build into our projects), for those who are constructing the projects – and into the site accommodation.
It is extremely encouraging to catch up with news from Chicago-based Pepper Construction who unveiled its Net Zero Jobsite Trailer in November at Greenbuild show at the end of last year.
The Net Zero Jobsite Traile is a 12×60-foot structure ‘designed to focus on the human experience, productivity, and quality from every aspect to make sure employees in the field have the same wellness features as those in a traditional office setting.
“Most people spend about 90% of their time indoors, and that environment has a significant impact on our health,” says Susan Heinking, AIA, LEED Fellow, Pepper’s VP of High Performance and Sustainable Construction, who led the project. “That philosophy also applies to the men and women working on our jobsites. We want our trailer to match our values.”
The ‘trailer’ is fitted out with RedList compliant furniture and materials, with recycled felt over the conference room providing sound absorption incorporating biophilic patterns through organic patterns.
If we in the construction sector are serious in delivering healthy buildings, then surely this approach must become commonplace on all projects – certainly those delivering to Well Build Standard, The Living Building Challenge or platinum LEED or BREEAM projects? And of course should form a part of these standards itself, as a socially just approach.
Delighted to be joining a Buildings Hub session at FutureBuild in March, along with Living Building colleagues and Elementa Consulting discussing international building standards and sharing insights from Cuerden Valley.
Buildings Hub, FutureBuild 5th March, London Excel. 13.30-14.40
This session with will draw on approaches taken from international standards, such as RELI, SITEs, Ecodistricts, EDGE, Powerhouse and, above all, the Living Building Challenge. It will examine the framework tools used and discuss their relevance to the UK. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) describes itself as the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings. It is a framework to create spaces that, like a flower, give more than they take. Through its seven petals or performance areas – water, energy, materials, place, equity, beauty, health and happiness– the LBC tackles this ambitious goal: what if every single act of design and construction could make the world a better place? LBC focuses on regenerative design to restore our environment and rethinking buildings as biological organisms integrated into our ecosystem.
EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) provides a quantitative, achievable and affordable standard with a path to net zero carbon. An innovation of IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, EDGE makes it faster, easier and more affordable than ever before to build and brand green in 144 countries. Through the free online EDGE App, builders, owners, and financiers can identify the systems and solutions that work best in the local climate and context, and can calculate the return on investment from energy and water savings.
Chair: Nathan Millar, Associate Principal Sustainability, Elementa Consulting
Overview of international standards Nathan Millar, Associate Principal Sustainability,Elementa Consulting
The Cuerden Valley Park Visitor Centre – the first building in the UK pursuing Living Building Challenge certification Martin Brown, Sustainability Provocateur, Fairsnape, Living Building Ambassador, Strategic Advisor, Living Future Europe
Living Buildings exemplars from Seattle Louise Hamot, Living Building Ambassador Alkyoni Papasifaki, Living Building Ambassadors
EDGE Showcase: Case studies from around the world Tom Saunders, EDGE Program Director, thinkstep-SGS
DEFRA currently have an open consultation that seeks views on the UK government’s proposals to introduce four new measures designed to increase transparency and accountability in the process of felling street trees and to strengthen the Forestry Commission’s power to tackle illegal tree felling.
Two of the measures introduce new duties on local authorities: a duty to consult on the felling of street trees; a duty to report on tree felling and replanting; while the third suggests the production of best practice guidance to support local authorities in drawing up, consulting on and publishing a Tree and Woodland Strategy.
The duty to consult is intended to ensure that members of the public are appropriately consulted on the felling of street trees, which can contribute positively to the quality of life for people in urban areas.
The duty to report would require local authorities to collate and report information on the felling and replanting of trees in a uniform way. This would increase transparency and allow the government to monitor tree felling at a national level, helping to make sure we maintain and enhance the natural capital benefits of trees.
Tree and Woodland strategies would help local authorities to set out the principles that support their tree management activities, thus both increasing transparency and accountability and improving stakeholder and public engagement.
The fourth measure is intended to give the Forestry Commission more powers to tackle illegal tree felling and strengthen protection of wooded landscapes.
All of these proposals could contribute to the protection and enhancement of the natural environment, and help deliver the government’s ambitious 25 Year Environment Plan. This consultation seeks views on these measures and their implementation.
This is the first in a regular series covering pieces I have been reading online that I think are worthy of further sharing. Followers on twitter, linkedin and to a lesser degree on Instgram 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:
Patagonia is in business to save our home planet For the past 45 years, Patagonia has been a business at the cutting edge of environmental activism, sustainable supply chains, and advocacy for public lands and the outdoors. Its mission has long been “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”But for Yvon Chouinard, that’s not enough. So this week, the 80-year-old company founder and Marcario informed employees that the company’s mission statement has changed to something more direct, urgent, and crystal clear: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.”
Ten lessons for embedding sustainability across the business Sue Garrard, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership Senior associate and Unilever’s former EVP Sustainable Business, was responsible for leading and embedding the company’s ambitious USLP (the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan) into the business and ensuring progress against its 70-plus time bound targets. Here she provides 10 lessons for embedding sustainability across the business.
Plantwatch: is sphagnum the most underrated plant on Earth? Sphagnum is probably the most underrated plant on Earth. This humble little moss makes up the bulk of our peat bogs and holds up to 20 times its weight in water. That makes boglands huge sponges that store water, slowing its flow and helping prevent flooding downstream.
The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths. Article by Sam Knight in The New Yorker on our English footpaths “The Countryside and Rights of Way Act created a new “right to roam” on common land, opening up three million acres of mountains and moor, heath and down, to cyclists, climbers, and dog walkers. It also set an ambitious goal: to record every public path crisscrossing England and Wales by January 1, 2026”
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.