Tag Archives: Red List

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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Grenfell Tower and the precautionary principle.

Many have written, blogged and commented on the avoidable tragedy at Grenfell Tower. I have been in two minds whether to add my voice, but then as a colleague pointed out, I have been blogging on themes pertinent to the tragedy since 2007. Theses themes (on risk, collaborative working, health sustainability, standards, strategies,  and construction improvement) have featured in this and other blogs, in numerous articles across many journals and of course brought together within the recently published FutuREstorative.

No doubt, in boardrooms across the world of built environment organisations, questions are being asked: have we designed, specified or installed similar materials and systems in similar situations. Do we really know? Do we know the materials, chemicals and the impacts of insulation we have installed? Where are the inspection and audit results, where are the material test certificates and evidence of compliance with specifications.

We do not know the exact cause and failures at Grenfell, but what has become clear is that this a systematic failure, a cocktail of failures and certainly not just a single cause.

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Back in my biz improvement / safety advisory role in the 90’s, we used the swiss cheese model for a systematic thinking approach to risk. In the swiss cheese model each slice of cheese is seen as a system activity or aspect layer, holes in individual layer may be problematic but other layers act as a defence to prevent more significant failure.

But when too many holes line up we see a catastrophic system collapse event.  As sadly we have seen at Grenfell Tower.

 

London fire: Screaming people trapped as blaze engulfs 27-storey Grenfell Tower in Notting Hill

Grenfell Tower will undoubtedly have a profound and highly significant impact on design, construction and building management worldwide, but we do not need to wait for an inquiry when we know the problems, the holes in the myriad of swiss cheese layers, and we know what needs to be fixed.

BUILT ENVIRONMENT HOLES IN THE SWISS CHEESE

deregulation and desire to have a legislation bonfire
slow response by government to head lessons learnt
lobbyist pressure to affect change
a fashion for ignoring experts
partial privatisation of the building inspection regime
fragmented supply chain
inappropriate materials or systems
lack of system thinking
a lowest cost mentality that still persists
passive fire strategies
material testing in isolation, not as a system
lack of transparency and impact knowledge of materials we specific, approve, install
ignorance of precautionary principle thinking
lack of collaborative working
failure to question – the “we can only do what the client, architect, contractor specifies’ culture
lack of understanding of building technology (cf uncompleted fire stopping)
inspections (see the Edinburgh Schools Report)
and so many more …

Grenfell should be seen as a warning for the deregulation many would like to see following Brexit. The great repeal bill is set to repeal many of the health and environment EU regulations (those that that ‘hamper uk business’ but will prevent other Grenfells).

Amongst the many causes, it has been suggested the fire may well have started from a faulty appliance. How sadly ironic that it was the perceived EU over-regulations on safe & efficient kettles and vacuums that became a cause-celeb in last years Brexit referendum. (Who are the EU to tell us how safe our kettles and vacuum cleaners should be ….?) See George Monbiot Too often safety has been sacrificed to an agenda of deregulation backed by lobbyists 

6442Moving in from the green fringe of the built environment sector, we have robust standards emerging containing material schedules built on the precautionary principle. (Here we can list the Living Building Challenge, WELL standards along with the Red List, Pharos, Declare and other lists.) Organisations and clients have their own schedules, for example Google’s Portico, British Lands Material Schedule. If such standards and red lists were adopted by the public sector, embedded into building regulations, then the cladding insulation at Grenfell would in all probability not have been permitted.

‘The precautionary principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk’

The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking that action. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result. (Wiki)

Lloyd Alter blogging in Treehugger illustrates the impact of the material used in Grenfell. What is sad is that this, to most, has come as a surprise.

What appears to have happened is that the Reynobond’s polyethylene core caught fire and the stack effect in the two-inch gap made it spread almost instantly. Apparently it got hot enough that the supposedly flame-retardant polyiso charred as well, putting out tons of smoke, possibly contributing cyanide and other toxic gases. The vinyl framed windows also melted, letting the toxic fumes into the suites very quickly.

As may be expected from media such as the Daily Mail, the green, carbon reduction, climate change agenda has emerged as a blame. Alice Bell writing in the Guardian(Don’t blame green targets for Grenfell) soundly kicks this into touch

But we do have a problem with many seeing building sustainability as simply being energy & thermal performance. The key message of FutuREstorative was to address the necessary shift in sustainability thinking, away from a blinkered focus on energy to one that embraces human and planetary health within a socially just and ecologically sound sustainability.  And … perhaps we should not use the word sustainability until we do.

Today, it is difficult to attend sustainability events where health and wellbeing is not a key theme and message, it is sad that this message is not percolating down through the long tail of construction where lowest cost is still prevalent. Lowest cost even at the high price of social and human life. (A mineral based insulation with a Fire Rating would have cost £2 m2 more than the polyurethane based, more flammable insulation used on Grenfell. It will be interesting to see any records of the value engineering exercise to arrive at this material choice, if indeed there was a recorded VE, and how the decision met the Social Value Act.

Update 30 June BBC Reporting evidence of VE (or cost engineering)

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Time then for all in the built environment sector, the government, lobbyist, clients, designers, contractors and building operators to adopt precautionary principle thinking, particularly when human health hazards have been flagged by coroners reports, data, research and lessons learnt .

This can be voluntarily done now, today.  To wait years for outcomes from an inquiry and the regulation changes that will surely follow, changes that will tell us what we already know, is simply irresponsible.

WELL & BREEAM announce alignment for credits: more good or less bad?

UPDATE 01 Feb 2017

Credit Crosswalks: BRE and IWBI have released guidance to streamline joint certification of BREEAM and WELL

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As mentioned and illustrated in FutuREstorative, we will see an alignment in building sustainability and performance standards over coming months and years. In the US we have seen an alignment between LEED and the Living Building Challenge on materials (Red List) and recently on energy and water.

On Monday 28th  Nov, we saw an announcement from The International WELL Building Institute and BRE for an agreement to pursue alignment between WELL and BREEAM will making it easier for projects pursuing both standards.

In practice this will mean documentation submitted for certain credits will be recognised by both WELL and BREEAM, saving project teams time and cost.

This will be a very interesting journey and further recognises the importance of health within building design, construction and use. WELL, like the Living Building Challenge is an excellent, robust but tough standard and one that cannot be attained without a different mind-set approach to buildings.

Key to that mindset is recognition of the impact of materials on health on construction workers and building users. An alignment or agreement between BREEAM and the LBC’s Red List would make great sense here.

It will be interesting to see how the differing philosophies between WELL (do more good) and BREEAM (do less bad) work together. Hopefully this further opens the door to a salutogenic approach to design – not just reducing ill-health but using buildings to improve health, for example, using light as medicine, as explored in FutuREstorative

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Health – the next performance gap.

I will also be watching with interest if this agreement extends to the construction process, (ie. the BREEAM MAN credits) to improve the wellness and health of those involved in and affected by construction works. This is a health and wellness area that BREEAM, LEED, WELL and the Living Building Challenge do not readily address. Yet for those whose career is spent on construction sites, it is a key health and sustainability area, and one that benefits from biophilic design considerations, for example greenery in accommodation and living walls as project hoardings.

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RegenerativeBIM … moving the GreenBIM debate

green bimBuilding Information Management offers huge benefits to Sustainability and to GreenBuild, but needs to move from GreenBIM to RestorativeBIM

Bringing together the two most important themes of todays built environment, Sustainability and BIM, the ThinkBIM and Green Vision programmes at Leeds Beckett are setting the agenda for GreenBIM.

However we need to guard against GreenBIM falling into a trap of being Sustainability and BIM as usual, but to move GreenBIM into the visionary, Regenerative Sustainability arena, as adopted by Green Vision through their association with the Living Building Challenge.

Rethinking BIM for the Ecological Age

It does seems a waste that all the creative and innovative thinking and energy being put into BIM should only incrementally improve built environment sustainability, and that we will be a little less bad next year, a bit more less bad by 2018

Aligning the innovation of BIM and the forward thinking of Regenerative Sustainability provides an immense opportunity that could and should powerfully push the overall built environment agenda forward. And, through the intelligence of a RegenerativeBIM, ensure that each element, not just the building, contributes in a net-positive manner, doing more good, not just doing incrementally less bad.

Where GreenBIM is today and where Green BIM needs to be, RegenerativeBIM.

Where GreenBIM is today and where Green BIM needs to be, RegenerativeBIM.

Imagine then if every building, indeed every ‘facility’ was designed, constructed and operated through a RegenerativeBIM, that;

> is designed and constructed specifically in relation to its ‘place’, positively impacting and benefiting its immediate environment.

> becomes a provider of water, cleaning all that falls on the building and providing clean water to adjacent facilities.

> generates more energy than required and contributes the net positive difference to nearby homes, community buildings.

> contains no harmful materials. There should be no place in a GreenBIM for materials on Red Lists. An intelligent RestorativeBIM could not allow materials or products such as PVC, formaldehyde, or SPF’s. Every Product Data Sheet would include the elements of the Living Product Challenge, with every product having a net-positive Handprint

>  are based on biophilic and biomimic principles. RegenerativeBIM would constantly ask the question, How would nature approach this?

> focus on a positive, salutogenetic health principle – on making people healthy, not as present on the negative stopping people getting less ill. (Big difference!)

> cleans the air, emitting better quality than intaking.

> delights and encourages creativity …

> intelligently and digitally inspires and educate the next …. BIM.

Such an approach is not only possible but arguably the responsible approach we must take. An approach that in a short time could be the accepted way of designing, constructing and maintaining buildings.

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These ideas will be explored further in upcoming ‘GreenBIM’ events hosted through Green Vision, ThinkBIM and CE Yorkshire.

Watch this space.

Not a good day for Green Building

Not a good day for Green Building in the USA.

Lloyd Alter on TreeHugger reports that the Green Building Initiative, which runs the Green Globes building certification system has been recognised as a LEED alternative by the federal General Services Administration

I feel sad for friends, colleagues, advocates in the US who are passionate in defending real green building and real building product transparency that will restore the damage done by the built environment.

Lloyd writes: The lobby organization formed last year to kill LEED and counting among its members just about every toxic chemical manufacturer in the USA, is ecstatic, but pushing for more …

The US Green Building Council that runs the LEED program put on a brave face in a press release, saying “At this point, it is unassailable, LEED works. It has played a significant role in GSA’s achievement of its energy and sustainability goals.”

Dream on. Green Globes is now recognized as legit and will eat your lunch; it’s cheaper, it lets builders use all that plastic, and doesn’t give points for FSC certified lumber. In state after state, the politicians paid for by the plastics industry will insist upon it.

Unfortunately I see this as a discussion, then argument and battle waiting to happen here in the UK and Europe. As we push for deeper green standards such as the Living Building Challenge, for deeper product transparency, as Google and other clients will undoubtedly push for non toxic red list materials in their buildings, we will see the push from the power of the petro-chemical, plastics  and big lumber organisations, resisting change for healthy products.

And unfortunately I see our UK Greenest Government Ever likely to side with these giants, removing as they already are in numerous areas, environmental protection so as not to damage industry and growth, headed by an Environmental Minister who is taking  green policy back to the 70s

The UK green build fraternity, advocates, green build councils and accreditation organisations needs to hold strong in the coming years.

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Architects and Green Deal: greater ability to improve public health than medical professionals

‘Architects have a greater ability to improve public health than medical professionals’

A provocative statement  made by physician Dr. Claudia Miller, assistant dean at the University of Texas School of Medicine, at a recent  healthy building materials panel moderated and blogged by Kirk Teske on his Point of View blog.

The panel* made a unanimous call for cooperation and transparency from building product manufacturers … the type of collaborative action our industry needs to shift the building materials paradigm from translucent to transparent, and from toxic to healthy

Here in the UK we are seeing the Green Deal  gearing up, which, putting aside the programmes finance and operational uncertainty, has a huge potential to improve public health and NHS health costs. A benefit not addressed or recognised to date. (Particularly given the UK’s lowest ranking across European Countries for health and housing related issues)

How would Green Deal look, and what additional health benefits would it provide, if the scheme embodied Living Building Challenge’s Red List Materials? Seems a no brainer to me.

Likewise the recently announced PF2 Education Funding Agency programme for schools in relation to educational building occupant health.

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Google may be the influential game changer, globally they are opening 40,000 square feet of office space a week (including a new UK HQ in London).  And none of those workplaces will use any of the materials on the red list developed by the Living Building Challenge. Google’s decision stems from two principles, a focus on health and vitality of its employees and cost of healthcare

The UK Collaborative for Living Building Challenge was launched in April and is currently developing an UK overlay for the standard. Get in touch for more information.

 
 
Panel:
Dr. Claudia Miller, an assistant dean at the University of Texas School of Medicine,
Jason McClennan, founder creator of the Living Building Challenge and CEO of International Living Future Institute; 
Bill Walsh, executive director of the Healthy Building Network ,
Howard Williams, vice president at Construction Specialties, a global building materials supplier.