3 R’s for rethinking built environment sustainability

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Its over ten years since rethinking construction became the driving force for improving the construction industry. Back then, in 1998, sustainability wasn’t on the agenda for many construction organisations, and didnt feature in Egans influential report.

Now at the close of 2012, it is of course one of the key challenges for construction.

But is it now just a ‘must do, tick box’ matter, rather than a real agenda for improving, reducing costs and reducing our impact?

Earth2.0 Hub in an excellent blog post ( The Future of Business – inspired by and in harmony with nature.) provides a framework and the language of 3 R’s for future businesses working in harmony with the earth .  And its a framework we should learn from, borrow, adopt or adapt  at project and business level in rethinking built environment sustainability; Re-Design, Re-Connect and Re-Kindle.

Re-Design. Not only design of buildings, but to re-design the way we build. No longer are transactional efforts (reducing waste, conserving energy and recycling) enough.

How?: Take a look at Cradle to Cradle thinking, Circular Economy, Designing out toxic materialsDesigning out Landfill

Re-Connect. Time to rethink our relationship with nature. However just including nature as a natural capital to be costed is not meaningful approach. We need a relationship that is deeper, that is deep green thinking.

How?: take a look at Living Building Challenge – what if every building, like a flower, contributed to its environment. Or the One Planet Living ten principles

Re-Kindle. Time to rekindle the sustainability debate – moving away from the negative, harassment to doing less bad, to encouraging a move towards a positive new world of doing more good,  better. Resilience.

How?: Learning and benchmarking from other industries and sectors, for example Patagonia, or closer to the built environment, Interface Flooring

This blog, since 2005, has had as a tagline built environment improvement and its connectivity to the natural world . Since then, it has been a core philosophy within fairsnape.

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Since 2005 we have organised and facilitated benchmarkwalks, discussing sustainability issues , across and within sectors, whilst walking in the natural environment. Rather than in the conference of training room. You would be amazed how diffierent, how green, sustainability discussions when conducted in the great outdoors. Try it !

Cradle to Cradle, Circular Economy, Healthy Products Standard, Designing Out Landfill , Interface UK, and the UK Living Building Challenge all featured in our #GVis2012. Green Vision Conference in Leeds on the 12 Dec 2012.

>>> See Green Vision event material, links, blogs and more here  <<<<

<<< Read the Cradle to Cradle tweetchat transcript here <<<

The Living Building Challenge UK Collaborative will be ‘launched’ at this event on the 12th.

And, Cradle to Cradle is the book-topic for our Dec #GVisChat tweetchat on Dec 10th at 8pm.

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Construction Carbon Cost and Risk Management

Having effective scenario planning in place within a construction business is essential to developing effective forward looking strategies that protect the business into the future and provide resilience against change.

One of our current uncertainties is related to the price of carbon, and how once the price of carbon has been fixed, how that will impact your business and project costs. It is now only a matter of time before carbon costing becomes established as an indicator and ‘repayment’ cost for your environmental impact

As with the increase cost of waste management over the last decade or so, cost of carbon will, most likely be a supply risk and cost.

The concept of shadow pricing is not new, (based on the lifetime damage costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions)  Applying a shadow cost to your carbon emissions now will enable you to action plan and reduce carbons, reducing exposure to future costs  hitting your business.

A good place to start is through measuring and understanding your project construction carbons with Constructco2 and then applying a carbon cost of £10 per tonne.  If you haven’t measured your construction carbons as yet (why not?) then use the ConstructCO2 benchmark of 96.7 Kg/£K project spend.

How would that cost affect your business? How would you manage projects with this additional cost, and importantly what actions would you take to reduce your project emissions?

Perhaps we should be asking the question will you start?

Many of the contractors, clients and subcontractors we support through constructco2 are seeing cost and bidding benefits. (More)

Useful Background Reading:

Based on recent Huffington Post article  The Benefits of Carbon Shadow Pricing Tyler Elm and Jim Harris

DECC: Carbon Valuation

Sustainability: Breaking on through to the other side

“Break on through to the Other Side”  sang Jim Morrison in the Doors way back in the 60s.

Listening again recently started me thinking of how ‘sustainability’ could be ‘breaking through to the other side’ … to a time / place where sustainability and CSR is the norm rather than something we strive for.

This, however, begs a number of tricky questions and answers

Just what does sustainability and social responsibility really look like? When or how will we know we have arrived? What exactly do we have to ‘break through’? What is the tipping point?

What we should find really exciting is that we dont really know, we dont know where the boundary or tipping point is. Where, what or indeed how far we need to push.  Are we nearly there or light years away?  This makes sustainability an adventure and exploration.

And of course many argue, quite rightly, that sustainability is a journey not a destination or a state of business.

A tipping point may well come when organisations move across a rubicon, from trying to do good whilst making a profit, to making a profit from doing good.  (I am reminded here again of Yvon Chouinard at Patagoniaevery time we do the right thing for the environment we make a profit”)

Have we made sustainability and CSR too intellectual? I fear so. Is it now far too embedded in checklists, processes and systems. We have lost connection with the natural world, with planet earth, the very reason we need sustainability, resilience and CSR?

Perhaps the tipping point to breaking through to the other side is re-igniting this connection, where we dont need a tag, or a label, but doing the right thing as an organisation or individual is the norm and ‘feels’ right, rather than something we do because we are encouraged, nudged or told to do.

Through fairsnape, organisations are supported in understanding their Route to Zero, where zero is a target, the route the more important, and supported in breaking through barriers.

If you are interested in learning more, I invite you to join me in the sustainability and CSR conversations on twitter, to subscribe to this blog or to get in touch at fairsnape for more information

And a thought for the built environment in 2012… what do you see as the sustainability boundaries that we need to break through and move beyond?

towards a be2camp sustainability manifesto

This post was originally written for and appeared on the be2camp website

Last weekend I bought and read a copy of Charles Leadbeater’s We Think. “the web is a platform for mass creativity and innovation”.

An analogy that Charles uses in his prologue struck me as a good one as to what is emerging within the built environment sector, and chimes well with my call for a be2camp manifesto at be2camp brum last week.

Imagine a large sandy beach with a small number of big, very big boulders. Around each boulder are gathered crowds of people.

The scene changes, and slowly hundreds and thousands of people come to the beach and drop small pebbles on the beach, anywhere and everywhere, and increasingly no where near the big boulders.

Slowly the pebbles, some of them as small as grains of sand start to dominate the beach-scape. A few new big boulders appear but these seem somehow more attractive, more colourful than the original ones. And on close inspection these are not the mono-culture type as before, but a collection of smaller, independent pebbles.

The landscape has changed dramatically. The big boulders having no influence crumble, as the crowds of people are scattered across the beach.

Leadbeater uses the scenario to illustrate what is happening within business under the influence of social media and network developments. A move away from big corporate control, to the smaller emergent ‘long tail’

In the built environment I see this analogy as a potential shift of influence from the institutes, quangos, national strategy working groups, corporate websites, (the established boulders) to the emerging ‘conversations’ through twitter, facebook, blogs, networks … (the peebles).

The new boulders, the collection of groups, are the flickrs and slideshares and linkedins. We can also see the be2camps, AECnetwork and Archnetworks, as the new colourful, more attractive boulders with a very different culture.

Problems and innovations are increasingly addressed by the crowds themselves, through connections and connections across the pebbles.

The pebbles are independent in another important aspect, they are no longer tethered to the original big boulders of IT departments, software and internet providers.

The influence in the built environment is shifting.

Which is where I come back to a be2camp sustainability manifesto, (which incidently should really be a resilience manifesto.)

The influence of where the built environment goes in respect of sustainability/resilience should come from, be influenced by, be commented upon and monitored by the people with pebbles. That’s the twitters, the bloggers, the be2campers, ie those who learn, share, inspire through social media, and are slowly becoming the conscience or compass for the sector.

The original starting point for a manifesto, part of the introduction to be2camp London follows, but I have added the issue of resilience that emerged at be2camp brum.

A be2camp manifesto

Address sustainability as an issue of resilience – resilience to changing environmental, social, economic and technical issues.

Make sustainability in the built environment open source. Sustainability is too important an issue and cannot be done behind closed doors

Adopt and use the opportunities that web2.0 offers

Influence, comment, monitor built environment approaches and strategies

Embrace open communication through pedia and dialogue through discussion forums, blogs and twitter to allow for consultation and collaboration

Engage with all in the built environment sector. Unless there is open and representative approaches to sustainability, it will be largely lost, misunderstood or perceived as irrelevant to those at the sharp end of our industry.

Encourage the debate, the transition, the movement to help shape a resilient built environment that embraces web2.0


These points will be put up onto a wiki very shortly for collaborative development. I do hope you engage and shape an open and collaborative approach to sustainability and resilience.

A discussion session will also be held at the be2camp working buildings event in London Oct 7 and 8

There is also the opportunity to comment and add your thoughts here and through twitter using the #b2camp hashtag.