Built for the environment: It’s now or never

12 November, 2021

The RIBA and Architects Declare have together published a joint report – the Built for the Environment Report – which demonstrates the critical role our sector has to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sets out bold recommendations to governments. National design director David Shaw discusses the significance of the cross-body report.

This report is affirmation that the built environment needs to tackle the climate emergency, with haste and with no delay. It brings together a panel of international industry experts and demonstrates the critical role that the built environment has to play in reducing greenhouse gases and tackling climate change.

One of the key recommendations within the report is for those operating within the built environment to actively adapt practice. The report acknowledges that we cannot tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies we are facing without changing the fundamentals of what we do – how we design and construct buildings.

We have to consider the part that everyone working within the built environment has. With around 38 per cent of global energy related greenhouse gas emissions being attributable to the built environment, we all have a role to play in moving forward in a more sustainable way.

However, we know that carbon offsets alone are not the answer and it’s really important that we do not forget about the bigger picture. This means thinking more intently around design solutions and changing our approach to the overall process, as well as adopting innovations that will have a reduced impact on the environment.

As a multi-disciplinary practice, we are well placed to influence our clients and projects through our expertise across multiple specialisms, meaning that we can have a far-reaching impact with the work we carry out. From the very inception of a project, we work with the client to set clearly defined objectives and standards to be achieved, which are reviewed at each stage of development.

When it comes to new build projects, these are considered holistically to reduce both embodied and operational carbon. However, we cannot neglect to tackle any carbon related issues in existing building stock, needing to make sure it is as energy efficient as possible.

Refurbish, reuse and retrofit are all high on our agenda to avoid embodied and operational carbon output. We are actively supporting clients on decarbonisation programmes for their existing estates, helping them to offset carbon and improve energy efficiency across the board.

There will undoubtedly be challenges as we look to balance economic factors with best practice and the latest technologies, which often do not meet directly in the middle. However, we must design smart and embed cost advice throughout project development. Considering the whole life of projects and setting non-negotiable targets for sustainability and emissions at the planning stage will avoid the all-important climate-challenging elements of a scheme being value engineered out of designs further down the line.

A huge challenge is that there is still the need for wider understanding of the climate emergency – both in its severity and what we need to do to combat it. This means education, education, education – along with more widespread research and development within the profession to develop the innovations that will aid ability to create and build, while having a reduced impact on the environment and wider ecosystems.

The all-important, cross-generational change will ultimately be born out of this education. We must continue to collaborate with our clients and supply chain to ensure that sustainability is embedded firmly at the heart of every stage of a project, from briefing through to maintenance and end-of-life.

As we are the experts in our field, we should treat our own careers as a constant education process that allows us to continue that cycle of education. With this in mind, we are working on further training across our 600 strong team to build on the expertise we already hold. This will include further specialist training to ensure that we truly embed sustainability in every action we take.

However, education from a young age is more important than ever. Engaging with educational institutions through both formal and informal partnerships at every level to demonstrate the importance and role of future architects, engineers and contractors will be key. Through this grassroots education, we will inspire future generations – working to build a more positive future for all. This is something we are incredibly passionate about as a firm, making sure that we have a regular programme of these events in schools, showcasing what we do and the projects on which we work.

Tackling climate change is becoming somewhat of a buzz phrase across the industry, but ultimately, the Built for the Environment Report – along with many other recent reports like the IPCC Climate Report – are a call to arms, reminding us that we can no longer delay on the necessary. Climate change is not coming – it is here and we need to do everything we can to meet the challenge head on and collectively make positive changes to change the direction of travel.

View News index

Don’t miss out!

Never miss a story, get them sent direct to your inbox. Simply provide your email address below:

E-Newsletter sign up