Below is my keynote presentation given to the UCLan Teaching and Learning conference recently, where the theme of the conference was Sustainability, Sharing and Success.
My keynote covered development of sustainability thinking, from the throwaway dreams and society of the 1950’s to the circular economy, from the ubiquitous Brundtland definition to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, from sustainable buildings to healthy, biophilic and salutogenic buildings that heal. The keynote explored sharing through social media, and successful, ‘just’ sustainability leadership.
All themes covered in detail within FutuREstorative published end of August 2016.
Over the last five years the Sustainia100 publication from Sustainia has always been a welcomed and inspiring read. Over this period It has tracked more than 4,500 solutions to date from all over the world. This year’s edition features solutions deployed in 188 countries, and more than half come from small and mid-sized enterprises. Showcasing everything from health solutions that tackle climate change, to renewable energy products that alleviate gender inequality, this year’s publication presents 100 solutions that respond to interconnected global challenges and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Four key trends:
Cities as Health Promoters
Making Profit from Unlikely Materials
Disrupting the Electrical Grid
People Powered Data for Better Infrastructure
Many Building related innovations and solutions are included, of particular note are:
Making Carpet Tiles from Old Fishing Nets (Interface / Aquafil)
Legislated Green Roofs and Solar Panels (France)
Growing Bricks with Bacteria (bioMason)
Green Bonds for Low Impact Building projects (Vasakronan)
Cement Free Mortar (KALK)
Solar Powered Water Purification (Desolenator)
Cities and Health: Using Communities to Bolster Health
The 2016 Every Breath We Take report from the Royal College of Physicians is a sobering update on human and cost consequences of poor air quality. And not only outdoor air quality, notoriously poor within many of our cities, but also consequences arising from indoor air quality, significantly triggered through the design, construction and operation of the buildings we live, work and play in.
“Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with more linked also to exposure to indoor pollutants”
The report estimates that the cost to society, business and health services in the UK adds up to more than £20 billion every year.
This is a prime example of how, in the built environment we externalise the real cost of low cost construction.
The report focuses on pollutants from buildings that occur during operation, but also touches on pollutants during construction. The high volume of construction transport, predominantly diesel in addition to the pollutants known to be asthmatics, organic & mineral dust, or carcinogenic (asbestos fibres in older buildings, formaldehyde and VOCs in newer builds)
The built environment is responsible for an increasingly complex cocktail of air quality issues:
“Looking to the future, newer ‘green’ workplaces will be constructed, and newer technologies will be developed for use within them. The latter include significant developments in, for example, the use of advanced materials and three-dimensional printing. The construction, occupancy and exposure profiles of newer workplaces will lead to the potential for novel inhaled hazards and risks, and vigilance will be required in order to identify the occupational lung problems attributed to the workplaces of tomorrow”
Every Breath We Take makes a number of recommendations:
Lead by example in the NHS. Is it acceptable to design, build and maintain health facilities that themselves are not net health positive.
Quantify the relationship between indoor air pollution and health. Pressures for ever more energy efficient buildings with lower carbon footprints raise the potential of reducing air quality in homes, offices and schools. An holistic and collaborative effort is required across built environment organisations, research and health organisations to develop policies and standards.
Following the findings of the Every Breath We Take report, there really should be no air quality performance gap, even a small gap will result in human health issues and externalised health costs.
Adopting the increasingly popular Living Building Challenge and Well Build Standard, air quality must become a key element of performance gap analysis. Design stage set the required air quality threshold that is validated post construction, with a fully occupied facility over a 12 month proofing period, and the on a regular on going basis. Established standards such as BREEAM and LEED must make award of certification dependent on proven air quality.
This is a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) issue of high magnitude for those who commission buildings, those who design and construction and those who manage buildings, anything less can not be acceptable to a responsible built environment sector.
Aside from building materials that present obvious and accepted hazards to health (asbestos, leadpaint etc) it is PVC that generates the most discussion when exploring the Materials RedList imperative in Living Building Challenge training or workshop sessions. To design and construction buildings that are PVC free seems impossible to many, but LBC projects are doing just that through viable alternatives.
The Perkins+Will white paper, Healthy Environments, Whats New (and Whats Not) with PVC published last week (16th Nov) reviewed why PVC is on their ‘precautionary list’ in light of recent advances in PVC chemistry and manufacture. The white paper, a collaboration with the Healthy Building Network, to promote health in the built environment, concluded that despite advances in production, PVC should remain on their precautionary list.
Influential materials rating systems, including the Living Building Challenge building certification and Cradle to Cradle product certifications recommend avoiding PVC. Influential building owners such as Kaiser Permanente and Google have adopted PVC avoidance policies. Perkins+Will, an international architecture practice with about 1,000 architects, included PVC in its Precautionary List as a substance for which to seek alternatives.
“Exposure to a single PVC fire can cause permanent respiratory disease… Due to its intrinsic hazards, we support efforts to identify and use alternative building materials that do not pose as much risk as PVC to fire fighters, building occupants or communities.” Richard M Duffy, International Association of Fire Fighters139
This does not mean that Perkins+Will has eliminated the specification of all PVC-based products. Instead, in keeping with the precautionary principle, when evidence indicates a relevant adverse finding as it relates to human health or negative environmental impact, Perkins+Will seeks to, where possible and appropriate, present alternatives to building owners for their consideration. The goal is to empower design teams to make informed decisions, recognising that this is an issue where scientific certainty is elusive.
Perkins+Will includes PVC on the Precautionary List because it presents hazards to people and the environment, beginning with its synthesis and continuing through its manufacture into products, use, and additional significant hazards during its disposal or recycling.
The white paper includes detailed analysis on the Health Hazards Associated With PVC and Hazardous Emissions from PVC, but the section on Avoiding PVC hazards through substitute materials will be of great help for those seeking PVC free constructions.
When we know what our buildings are made of, we can make informed choices by selecting materials that are healthier for occupants and have a lesser impact on our environment*
This blog regularly covers the intersection between sustainable, healthy products (for example the Living Building Challenge Red List) and BIM. Indeed the selection of materials and products based on biological health, as well as environmental impact and functional performance within ‘sustainable construction’ should be a no brainer.
We are not so good at using data in construction, and although this is improving as BIM becomes more established, there remains a gap in useful product health data sheets that carry material or product ingredients. Projects that use a rigorous material schedule such as the ILFI Red List often find themselves unpacking designs and material specification in order to understand product recipes and seek safe alternatives.
The Quartz Common Products Database, a collaborative initiative from Flux, HBN, thinkstep and Google was launched at VERGE 2015 at the end of October. Quartz is an open database of composition, health hazard and environmental impact data for building products. It looks a promising contribution to a greater understanding of material health impacts and, being open source, paves the way for inclusion and alignment with BIM’s and the Product Data Sheets currently being compiled by CIBSE, NBS and others.
“Quartz aims to bridge the gaps between information, knowledge, and action, leading to less toxic, lower-impact building materials”
The Quartz database (www.quartzproject.org) will provide a collection of product profiles for commonly used building materials. Specifically:
● Quartz is a free and open dataset, integrating both LCA and health-hazard data into a single information source using widely accepted and consistent methodologies, such as Pharos Project/GreenScreen hazard screening, TRACI 2.1, and ISO14044.
● Data is vendor-neutral and covers 100 building products across a range of categories, such as concrete, drywall and insulation. Products are compared by composition, health impacts, and environmental impacts.
● Data is licensed under Creative Commons BY 4.0, meaning there is no restriction on the use, redistribution, or modification of the data. This openness will enable the AEC community and the general public to become more educated about the potential
impacts of materials in buildings and communities, and to put this data to creative and productive use.
● Through consistent language and metrics, stakeholders will be empowered to have productive dialogue with building products manufacturers, driving the industry towards increased sustainability (From Quartz Press Release)
Here in the UK this could be seen as timely launch, with the Considerate Constructors Scheme promoting a Construction Occupational cancer awareness campaign on sites. A welcomed campaign and one that should start with product specification using data such as Quartz to remove such toxic materials from construction.
“Sites need to proactively eliminate harmful substances, when this isn’t achievable working methods and equipment must be substituted for safer alternatives (CCS)”
By focusing only on construction site, we are not learning from the past, and it is the same thinking as we were a few decades ago when the focus was on ‘safe’ handling of asbestos.
In todays climate of CSR, (Corporate Social Responsibility), where Do No Harm is a common-place construction value, specifying, procuring and installing products that cause ill health in production, in installation and in use should be deemed as socially irresponsible.
In 2015 we should have a much more mature approach to health – not to be content with one that seeks only to reduce impact on health but an approach that seeks to improve health, through biophilic material inclusion and a salutogenic approach.
It is time to move on from theTriple Bottom Line …
We have become very familiar with the Triple Bottom Line approach for Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, ie Environment, Society and Economic. It forms the basis of many environmental and sustainability visions, policy statements, and development initiatives.
In the business arena, this is the acknowledged responsible ‘bottom line’ of meeting economic goals (usually profit) whilst also meeting environmental (impact) and social (community) goals in carrying out business activities. The triple bottom line approach provides a practical framework for the development of policies and strategies to drive institutional change.
And of course we are now familiar with the well used triple bottom line venn diagram. If like me you loved Venn Diagrams at school, then its a real pleasure to see such vital and complex issues such s sustainability expressed as three interwoven circles. The Triple Bottom Line has also been represented as a three legged stool or as three columns.
As mentioned previously on this blog, this triple bottom line thinking can be traced back to Patrick Geddes who, now recognised as the Grandfather of Town and Country Planning coined the triptych Place, Folk and Work. Its current concept however is credited to John Elkington in his 1998 book Cannibals with Forks:Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.
Whilst we can easily identify Geddes’ Place as being the Environment circle, (note, interestingly the Living Building Challenge renamed its Site Petal as Place for version 3), the Work aspect is readily identified as the Economy circle, there is an uneasy fit with people or folk within the Society circle. Are staff part of society, and where do the governance arrangements of a business (including vital for sustainability ISO 9001 related quality and organisational arrangements / controls) fit into the sustainability three circles?
The Quadruple Bottom Line introduces Governance as the fourth bottom line, or perhaps better, as Culture
Governance, or Culture is defined here as including both the formal business, administrative and ‘control’ processes of an organisation, as well as the informal networks, traditions and cultural and behavioural norms which act as enablers or disablers of sustainable development.
Sustainability governance therefore could include those organisational items that are increasingly seen as the vital enablers for sustainable development – many of which are embedded within the modern sustainability building programmes such as the Living Building Challenge, JUST, or Well Building Standard, including:
Health and Wellbeing
Communications and social media
This new, fourth leaf on the sustainability venn diagram, raises both important questions and huge opportunities for advancing sustainability development, and could usher in a new generation of sustainability thinking.
For example, what are the ‘governance’ issues of construction site facilities, welfare and administration that enable sustainable construction … more