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.

web tech construction

Do you know your Twitter from an Avatar, or RSS from a BIM?

I am currently running an innovation circle for Construction Knowledge Exchange (CKE) looking at the use of web technology in construction at UCLAN.  The first session  took a lightning tour through communication, design and collaboration in the sector, from fax machines to BIM storms.

Innovation circles are based on a cycle of four 2 hour sessions, the content of each being decided by the delegates based upon the first ‘overview’ session.  Web technology in construction flyer

Future sessions will look into the worlds of:

■ Communications—blogs, twitter, skype and conference tools.(Thursday 10th April 1pm)

■ Information—google and wikis

■ Design—beyond CAD to Second Life, BIM and Bimstorms.

…. and, technology (wifi) permitting will be more hands on and interactive wih the web applications. (Why is I find the most trouble some place to get wifi or internet connections is within universities?  OftenI feel like taking the workshop “across the road” to a MacDonalds or Starbucks !)

Following the fourth session the presentation materials will be available here and on slideshare, with a recap at the be2campnorth event on 15th May in Liverpool.

UKGBC task group too important to be so narrow?

The UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) has announced the panel of experts that will shape the Code for Sustainable Buildings to complement the government’s consultation on its target to make all new buildings zero-carbon from 2019.

The task group comprises:

• Bill Bolsover, chief executive, Aggregate Industries;
• John Connaughton, partner, Davis Langdon;
• Ian Coull, chief executive, Segro;
• John Frankiewicz, chief executive, Willmott Dixon;
• Alistair Guthrie, director, Ove Arup & Partners;
• Ken Hall, managing director, Prologis;
• Bill Hughes, managing director, Legal & General Property;
• Daniel Labbad, chief executive UK, Lend Lease;
• Sunand Prasad, president, RIBA; and
• Ant Wilson, business unit director, Faber Maunsell.

This group is impressive and will be influential, but I fear for the wrong reasons.

I cannot help but think we again fall into the trap of trying to solve today’s problem with the mindset that created them.(*) I have no problems with any individuals on this panel, indeed from their profiles scattered across the web, they are without doubt passionate and well informed on sustainability, but collectively do they represent too narrow a view of our industry.    It is appreciated that the task force will take evidence from sub groups and work groups, but at strategy level …

  • Where is the inclusion of small builders, the SME’s , the subcontractors from the bread/butter of the industry, where there is a mixture of struggling to understand green issues, some really great examples of grassroot initiatives but a dominant denial that we need to do anything at all. I would have thought a FMB or NFB inclusion would necessary.
  • Where is the mainstream facilities management expertise?  We are talking about sustainable buildings here – ie the use and life of the buildings, the interaction with the people who live and work in the buildings – not only the design and construction of the buildings.
  • Where are the training and educational representatives. Increasingly the educational and academic sector is the problem or barrier to us really moving forward on sustainability in the built environment, both on craft skills and professional knowledge.
  • Where are the younger generation or student representatives – from G4C (Generation for Collaboration) or Sponge for example. This is our comprised generation (from Brundtlands definition) who have brilliant ideas and very different values to mainstream, viewing the sector from the start of their careers…
  • Where are those with differing views to main stream construction and property – for example from the Transition movement, or the environmental movements
  • Where are the IT or Web experts, the research and technical innovators, as increasingly this will play an essential part in built environment sustainability.

The UKGBC have in the past stated that this Code would be an open source document which is the right way forward.  Lets hope that the panel adopts open source approach during the development as well as in the document itself.  This is an important issue for our sector and cannot be done behind closed doors. For example:

    • Open communication of meetings,  minutes and evidence considered.
    • how about a Codepedia – The Code posted to a wiki site to allow real consultation and collaboration, as the Code develops. See for example RIBApedia
    • Communication and dialogue through discussion forums, blogs or twitter on progress. (See for example the use of twitter by Downing Street, HM Government and others)

    Unfortunately unless there is a truly open and representative approach to the Code development, it will, like the Strategy for Sustainable Construction and the Code for Sustainable Homes be largley ignored, misunderstood or perceived irrelevant to those at the sharp end of the industry.

    (*) from Einsteins famous quote “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”