We have come a long way on sustainability, but the latest IPCC report demonstrates how much further we have to go - and how quickly we must get there
Climate experts from around the world have produced the most comprehensive report to date on the science of climate change. They’ve stated, with 95% certainty, that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.
Such an announcement is not unexpected – we have been discussing the impact of man-made greenhouse gas emissions on our planet for decades. But this new weight of evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reminds us of the scale of the challenge we face if we want to create a more sustainable future.
According to the report, we can expect heat waves to occur more frequently and last longer in the coming years, wet regions will get more rainfall and dry regions will become even drier. This suggests to me that poorly designed buildings and public spaces will be increasingly unpleasant places for people to live and work in if these predictions play out. And while reduction targets and international agreements are important for the scale of change necessary, on an individual and practice level, we have an important role to play in leading the low carbon agenda. Construction projects are one of the biggest drains on the world’s resources. Surely it’s no longer a question of whether the extra cost involved in implementing sustainable solutions can be afforded. For the future of our planet we can’t afford not to design and construct environmentally responsible spaces.
“We have gained a huge amount of experience over the last decade and the buildings and spaces that were being designed at the turn of the century would not leave the drawing board now.”
From what I see of our profession there is an incredible willingness to learn and act as leaders in this arena. We have gained a huge amount of experience over the last decade and the buildings and spaces that were being designed at the turn of the century would not leave the drawing board now. Modular construction, BIM, responsible sourcing and new technologies are helping us create greener solutions. But are we moving quickly enough and what will really drive change?
The recent World Green Building Week focused our attention on the impact of green buildings on peoples’ health, wellbeing and productivity, demonstrating the value of designing spaces that allow people to thrive. The bottom line will always be a consideration of course, and there is debate about the role of investors in pushing sustainability initiatives forward. But there is no single argument that will lead to the scale of change we now know will be required and the possible solutions vary depending on the client, context and budget.
This adds considerable weight to the work we do as designers of buildings, spaces and infrastructure. We have an opportunity to use our understanding of the science and of the benefits that we strongly believe sustainable design can bring to make the case for zero carbon. Our deep relationships with our clients will help us understand which drivers to engage them with and an innovative approach will allow us to turn that vision into reality. We’re already taking steps in this new, green direction but this latest IPCC report suggests that now we have no choice but to pick up the pace.
Ken Shuttleworth is the founder of Make Architects