WSP's sustainability director Peter Sharratt tells Elaine Knutt what he does, and why it doesn't give him much time to go sailing.
How did an architect come to take a non-design role at a consulting engineer?

It is part of a growing trend. We have to start thinking outside the confines of our traditional professional barriers – what I call interdisciplinary thinking, as opposed to multidisciplinary. Sustainability is about more than just buildings or architecture – it embraces all kinds of social, economic and environmental issues.

You head WSP’s sustainability group. What exactly does it do?

It is a centre of excellence and a new kind of consultancy. We are either brought in on existing contracts secured by other WSP companies, or we make the initial contact with clients. We prefer to get involved right from the beginning. We aim to influence key decisions, not respond to ones already made.

We look at a range of issues: sustainable waste management, low-energy design, recyclable materials, or design for future change. We table suggestions to the client; some are taken up, some aren’t. We are currently working on Cadogan Estate’s redevelopment of the Duke of York’s headquarters in Chelsea, and other clients include BAA and Wilcon Homes.

Is sustainability a growth industry?

It is a growing field. It is about acting as a focus for knowledge that already exists, about thinking laterally and making connections. The idea is to get the different disciplines to think sustainably and to evolve sustainability consulting in its own right. But I don’t think we want something like an institution for sustainability advisers – that would be going back to ring-fencing between different disciplines.

Do you miss being at the design coalface?

A bit. But designing can be about imposing one vision on a project, whereas this kind of consultancy is about taking the best of what’s on offer from each discipline. You have to get away from the idea that there is one definitive solution to a problem.

Which buildings make you shudder because they’re so unsustainable?

You mean the name and shame question? I think the problem is more about loss of diversity in urban areas. That is partly down to planning policy and partly to the many pressures on development. I don’t like slating buildings, because you never know what restraints were placed on the designers.

Is your home sustainable?

No, I have a leaky, energy-inefficient Victorian house. So, the next challenge is to make some improvements. I have high hopes of using the south-facing conservatory to passively preheat the ventilation space by making some openings and having a mechanism to operate the vents.

What do you do in your spare time?

I work on private commissions in the evenings and at weekends. I’m working on a low-energy mews house in Camden at the moment. And I teach an energy and environment graduate programme at the Architectural Association.

I enjoy sailing, although I don’t have much time for it at the moment. But it is a very sustainable sport – no fuel bills. And I’ve got two little girls, so I spend a lot of time with them.

Personnel Information

Age 39 Current job Director of sustainability, WSP Environmental Employment history Joined architect Peake Short & Partners after qualifying in 1987; appointed associate partner in Short & Associates in 1993; joined WSP Environmental in June this year. Also practises as Peter Sharratt Architect and tutors at the Architectural Association Qualifications MA (1984) and diploma (1987) in architecture from the University of Cambridge; MSt in interdisciplinary design for the built environment from Cambridge as the first Ove Arup Foundation scholar (1999) Lives Willesden Green, north London Drives BMW 320i Salary £50 000-60 000 from WSP, plus earnings from private practice and tutoring Family Married to Oonagh, with two daughters, Chloe, seven, and Katie, five