5 March 2014

The Time for Rhetoric is Over!

The time for rhetoric is over; what we need now is concentrated and concerted action leading to actual strategic change!

It is my belief that we are at a cross roads in the evolution of sustainable development in the UK and that the choices that we make in the next decade will radically shape the nature of our economy, environment and society for the rest of the next century.  Get our choices right and we will make the transition to a zero carbon economy and develop the tools, techniques and products to help less developed nations achieve similar benefits.  However, if we get it wrong and allow short-term, poor strategic thinking to dictate our choices, we will see the rapid destabilisation of our economy and environment, creating a perfect storm that we will be increasingly powerless to arrest.
One of the first issues that we will need to decide upon which will have a major influence on our future is the relationship between energy demand and supply.  We know that we need to renew  our power infrastructure and that this will significantly increase our energy costs, yet we are rushing headlong into signing contracts for foreign built and operated nuclear power stations, although we have done virtually nothing to refurbish our poorly performing existing building estate.  Surely a programme of demand reduction must be undertaken before we are locked into onerous and expensive energy supply contracts that will last for the next 50 years?

In our rush to make inappropriate and short term choices we are, in my opinion, also embracing fracking with unseemly haste!  Did I miss something, or is “natural” gas not a non-renewable fossil fuel just like the stuff that we previously got out of the North Sea before we used it all up?  How are we going to prevent the worst effects of climate change if we are simply to maintain our reliance on fossil fuels?  We need a renewable energy strategy and to develop appropriate expertise to drive the transition to a post-carbon Renewable Age.  This will provide a clear vision for economic development, help to develop new green tech businesses and provide the impetus for training and skills development.

To effectively manage our activities, the construction industry must work tirelessly to achieve positive social outcomes and ensure that all of our products are tailored to fit the people who will use them.  We must urgently invest in R&D to increase our collective knowledge base and ensure that the gap between predicted and actual performance is closed.  We need to adopt User Centred Design methodologies that will ensure that buildings are fit for human occupation, breaking the tyranny of the image which forces people to inhabit ever more contorted forms conceived with no thought to the effects that they will have upon their inhabitants.  This will only be achieved when we radically improve the way we procure design and fully embrace intelligent, evidence based team selection protocols.

Ultimately we need to develop a model for integrated sustainable development where social drivers are placed at the epicentre of the design process with both economics and environmental issues thoroughly address and reconciled.  We need to find appropriate and relevant solutions that will drive through the paradigm shift that we desperately need if we are to address the pressing concerns of our age and create enduring value for those who will follow us.

This piece is also published in the UK Green Building Council(UK-GBC) publication:

A defining decade:
Radically transforming the built environment by 2025
A collection of essays from UK-GBC's Leaders' Network


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