Building Over Bluebells

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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.”

FutuREstorative

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?

This is of course against backdrop of the UN biodiversity assessment that we will lose 1 million species over the next decade, due to amongst other factors, land development, and against the grain of the current biodiversity net-gain initiatives, and the signing of climate emergency declarations such as architects declaration that includes recognition of a biodiversity emergency.

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.

Architects Declaration

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.

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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.

Microbiome inspired green infrastructure: rewilding the city, one human body at a time.

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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.

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A vision for the future: microbiome-inspired green infrastructure (MIGI) and multi-sensorial, multiculturally inclusive, and foraging-friendly green spaces (created by the paper author).

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.

Robinson, J.M.; Mills, J.G.; Breed, M.F. “Walking Ecosystems in Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure: An Ecological Perspective on Enhancing Personal and Planetary Health.” Challenges. 2018, 9, 40.

Source (and borrowed inspiration for the title) for this blog post appeared in Anthropocene Magazine in November 2018

Header Image: Jenny Hill, Swinsty Reservoir, United Kingdom, Unsplash

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Pushing beyond Paris

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The UN Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) meets in San Francisco, California from 12-14 September 2018, and in addition to the physical meeting, actors around the world are invited to participate by demonstrating the depth and range of climate action in their sectors and geographies to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

This raises the question what have we done in the (business, regional, national and global) built environment to contribute to the Paris Change Agreement. The ILFI through Living Building Challenge is one of the few building standards that seek to meet the Paris Agreement, and One Planet Living through its alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet we no longer have the luxury of only less bad is not good enough and as is becoming increasingly obvious, meeting the Paris targets may not be enough, and ‘good’ is now looking way beyond the 1.5 DegC aspirational targets.

The UK Construction 2025 Vision, launched in 2013, set a target of 50% reductions in built environment carbon emissions by 2025. Indications are that we are far from achieving this. (A 2015 BRE analysis showed that BREEAM assessed buildings achieve an average 22% reduction in CO2 emissions). We only have a handful of projects setting real carbon reduction targets. Yet we know we will have to improve on the 50% and get to 80 percent by 2033 if we are to meet the 1.5 degree target .

Better technology and design alone will not get us there without a shift towards a worldview thinking, that embraces regenerative system approaches, and sees the built environment within the context of wider ecological systems.

The California Summit is focused on taking ambition to the next level through five key issue areas: healthy energy systems, inclusive economic growth, sustainable communities, land and ocean stewardship and transformative climate investments.

All of the five key issues areas are built environment related, with the sector being a contributor to the problem, but can also deliver a significant solution, particular so on the sustainable communities challenge:

The sustainable communities challenge is an effort led by cities to create buildings, communities and infrastructure that are clean, healthy, and livable. Cities can encourage community driven climate projects, a transition to net zero carbon buildings through the World Green Buildings Council and a progression towards zero waste.

Healthy energy systems can prevent dangerous effects from climate change. They can be achieved through a shift toward clean and equitable energy in addition to building a decarbonized energy and transportation system aligned with scientifically founded action requirements.

  • Action you can take: Accelerate the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and make electric transport the new normal by 2030 by joining the EV100 initiative.

Inclusive economic growth requires climate leadership in business, clean technology, and an energy transition that fosters good jobs while spurring inclusive global economic development.

Land and ocean stewardship focuses on the role that forests, food, lands and other ecosystems must play in mitigating climate change and making our world more resilient, while also ensuring sufficient food supplies for a growing population. This climate action pathway requires support of sustainable food systems, conservation of resilient landscapes that deliver climate solutions, technical and financial support for new stewardship projects, and transparency, engagement, and investment from industry actors.

  • Action you can take: Implementing climate friendly land use, conservation, and agriculture policies. The 30X30 Forests, Food and Land Challenge’s goals is to achieve 30% of climate solutions by 2030 through improved agricultural and land use practices.

Transformative climate investments will require the mobilization of investment on an unprecedented scale to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Investors, considering their financial duties to clients and beneficiaries, are encouraged to act in one or more of the following four areas: Investment, corporate engagement, investor disclosure, and policy advocacy.

  • Action you can take: Commit to the use of green bonds for infrastructure investment and ask investors to invest in them. The Green Bond Pledge coordinated in part by Ceres is an initiative you can join.

Lastly, if you wish to inspire others who may wish to participate in the Global Climate Action Summit challenges, you can:

  1. Encourage your firm or community to find ways to take part in one of the five key climate action challenges.
  2. Share this video with your colleagues and business network so that they can also join the movement in raising global climate ambition.
  3. Follow the action on social media through the UNFCCC and the Global Climate Action Summit accounts:

 

Source: https://unfccc.int/news/rise-to-meet-the-global-climate-action-summit-challenges

 

Modern Slavery : There can be no sustainability in an unequal world

As emphasised in FutuREstorative, sustainability is only possible within an equitable and socially just sector. Whilst we continue to have instances of unjust practices, of Modern Slavery, within our projects, supply chains and organisations, we simply cannot call ourselves sustainable, or worst, label our projects Excellent, Platinum or Outstanding.

FutuREstorative highlighted many innovations, inspirations and approaches that will help us with the transition towards a regenerative and sustainable future. Yet no innovation, technology, biomimic, biophilic or digital thinking will really progress our sustainability performance if we do not have a matched and parallel improvement in equality, equity, diversity and justice.

no sustainability in an unequal world

And now, as we strive for a 1.5°C cap on global warming and the attendant carbon reduction, we need to ensure that equity and equality remain at the top of every sustainability agenda. There can be no sustainability in an unequal world. Indeed sustainability should embrace the three E’s of ecology, economy and equality. As we now recognise that we need a new level of consciousness in the way we relate to nature for design and delivery of healthy, sustainable buildings, we need a similar ‘worldview’ recognition in how we respect those who produce our materials and buildings.

As part of our sustainability journey, our language in construction also needs to evolve – from one that is combative, technical and confrontational to one that is mindful, and embraces a language of collaboration, sharing, care and love.

We need a change in the narrative and address Modern Slavery in the wider context of a truly  ‘Just’ built environment, through for example mapping and monitoring against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Modern slavery is currently blowing holes in 11 of the 17 SDG targets.

At a recent workshop we explored the causes of modern slavery, and in addition to the nature of our construction industry, (high labour, short-term contracts, geographic locations, fragmented supply chains), it is our continued drive for lowest cost, particularly in labour dominant work-packages that was seen as a real problem.

A powerful action we can take today is to embed modern slavery aspects within built environment sustainability standards and certifications. As for example JUST (Making Social Justice Your Business)  is embedded within the Living Building Challenge.

I closed FutuREstorative by repeating the most important and powerful of the Living Building Challenge’s aims: the transition to a socially just, ecologically restorative and culturally rich future.

This is a revisited version of the closing Epilogue within FutuREstorative. 

 

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Martin is recognised in the 100 modern slavery influencers index  

 

 

4 Laws of Ecology: Revisited

Four Lawas of Ecology

I undertook the task earlier this week of reviewing references for our upcoming RESTORE working group publication {Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative}. One of those references was to Barry Commoner’s popular quote and definition on ecology, that the first law of ecology is that everything is connected.

This lead me to pick up a copy and re-read deeper into Commoner’s 1971 The Closing Circle and revisit the Four Laws of Ecology.  The Closing Circle describes the ecosphere, how it has been damaged, and the economic, social, and political systems which have created our environmental crises. It gives us a clear and concise understanding of what ecology means that is evermore relevant today.

And timely, Commoner’s second law – everything must go somewhere – resonates with a comment I gave to our local Lancashire Evening Post on plastic pollution. (We need to We need to be critically questioning single use plastics and acutely aware of plastics impact on health and the environment – and be aware of what happens when we throw plastic away – as really, there is no ‘away’)

The First Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

The Second Law of Ecology: Everything Must go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown. Any waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another. A core principle for the Circular Economy.

The Third Law of Ecology: Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but any human change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system” And in the context of chemicals of concern we are looking to eradicate from buildings (through eg the ILFI Red List) “The absence of a particular substance in nature, is often a sign that it is incompatible with the chemistry of life”

The Fourth Law of Ecology: There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Exploitation of nature, will always carry an ecological cost and will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless.

The four laws warn that every gain is won at some cost. Because our global ecosystem is a connected whole, any impact, anything extracted from nature by human effort must be replaced. There is no avoidance of this price and delay only creates the ecological disruption and biodiversity loss we are witnessing.

This reinforces statements I make so often in presentations (see Specifi Edinburgh and RESTORE Budapest for example) and within FutuREstorative, that sustainability is the point at which we start to give back more than we take, and that we no longer have the luxury to just reduce our impact but we have delayed too long to do more good to rebalance the ecosystem equilibrium.

 

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Available via RIBA Bookshops

 

RESTORE: REthinking Sustainability TOwards a Regenerative Economy

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REthinking Sustainability Towards a Regenerative Economy 

 

After a number of years discussing, bidding, meetings in Italy and skype calls across Europe we finally launch our four year RESTORE* Cost Action CA16114 programme, exploring restorative sustainability, in Brussels this Thursday 9th March.

* REthinking Sustainability TOwards a Regenerative Economy

COST Action public page 

RESTORE Overview:

Sustainable buildings and facilities are critical to a future that is socially just, ecologically restorative, culturally rich and economically viable within the climate change context.

Despite over a decade of strategies and programmes, progress on built environment sustainability fails to address these key issues. Consequently the built environment sector no longer has the luxury of being incrementally less bad, but, with urgency, needs to adopt net-positive, restorative sustainability thinking to incrementally do ‘more good’.

Within the built environment sustainability agenda a shift is occurring, from a narrow focus on building energy performance, mitigation strategies, and minimisation of environmental impacts to a broader framework that enriches places, people, ecology, culture, and climate at the core of the design task, with a particular emphasis on the salutogenic benefits towards health.

 Sustainability in buildings, as understood today, is an inadequate measure for current and future architectural design, for it aims no higher than trying to make buildings “less bad”. Building on current European Standards restorative sustainability approaches can and will raise aspirations and deliver restorative outcomes.

The RESTORE Action will affect a paradigm shift towards restorative sustainability for new and existing buildings across Europe, promoting forward thinking and multidisciplinary knowledge, leading to solutions that celebrate the richness of design creativity while enhancing users’ experience, comfort, health, wellbeing and satisfaction inside and outside buildings, and in harmony with urban and natural ecosystems, reconnecting users to nature.

The COST proposal will advocate, mentor and influence for a restorative built environment sustainability through work groups, training schools (including learning design competitions) and Short Term Scientific Missions (STSMs).

Keywords: restorative sustainability, restorative design processes-methods-tools, climate change, health, wellbeing, sustainable urban development, social, ecology, built environment.

The Working Groups

  • Working Group 0: Project Coordination
  • Working Group One: Restorative Sustainability
  • Working Group Two:Restorative Design Process
  • Working Group Three: Restorative Buildings & Operations
  • Working Group Four: Rethinking Technology
  • Working Group Five: Scale Jumping

The Cost Action will also include:

  • RESTORE Training Schools
  • RESTORE STSM – Short Term Science Missions
  • RESTORE Early Stage Research opportunities

We have an ‘in development’ website with more information here

COST Action public page 

Ecologically Rethinking Construction

Jonathan Dawson, head of economics at Schumacher College, writing on Guardian Sustainable Business asked “How do we redesign a new economic theory framed by ecological systems?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA question we need to ask and start addressing within the built environment.

We are seeing a new vocabulary emerging with concepts such as biomimicry, zero or net energy, water and environmental impact, Living Buildings, biophillia, circular economy … and more … As the interest and importance of these concepts influence in the way we design, build and use buildings, do we need a new paradigm?  Some 15 years after Egan, do we need to again rethink construction to address these emergent sustainability themes. approaches and skills that once again the sector is lacking, engaging the economists, surveyors and accountants? As Jonathan Dawson comments:

Ecology offers the insight that the economy is best understood as a complex adaptive system, more a garden to be lovingly observed and tended than a machine to be regulated by mathematically calculable formulae.

A comment that makes a nice resonance with the Living Building Challenge philosophy

And of course a key element in this new thinking is the internet, web 2.0 and the power of social media.

Enabled by the growing power of information technology, whole new ways of doing business and organising society are emerging, whose strength lies not in economies of scale but in economies of co-operation and symbiosis

Over the weekend , via twitter I caught a slide via Rachel Armstrong illustrating the difference and need to move from 20th century Cartesian or Newtonian thinking into 21st complexity, emergent thinking …

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Jonathan Dawson: “This moment of history calls on us to rewrite the dictionary and create new stories, much as the generations following on from Copernicus did to reflect the new world-view that emerged from his astronomical insights”