Social and enviornmental sustainability are equally important, so focus on community needs, says Hugh McEwen at Office S&M 

Hugh McEwen (Office S&M) smaller

We know that the best way to design responsibly is to make places that are resilient enough to meet future needs. This can only be achieved by listening carefully, understanding needs, and designing for the specifics of the community.

We believe that social sustainability is as important as environmental sustainability because of this. The built environment’s impact on the climate is generally due to inefficiencies caused by spaces that are not fit for purpose either operating poorly or being demolished.

Generally these are spaces that are not “broken” but they simply don’t meet the needs of the people who occupy them. This is why we know that engaging with users, wider communities, and stakeholders is key.

We embed ourselves in the communities we live and work in. We know that emerging practices are smaller and nimbler, with a greater connection to the places that they work.

At the same time, we are able to innovate and collaborate in order to tailor our team, collaborators and partnerships to the task at hand. For example, we are collaborating with the wellbeing consultants Ekkist on a project to deliver a community space in an existing building in Newham, east London.

As a resident of the borough, I know how important concerns around health, air quality, and covid-19 are, and we are responding to these needs by designing a space with wellbeing at its heart. This is also an opportunity for us to reflect on what culture means to the local area and build support and capacity for this to be sustained, rather than being erased and replaced.

It goes without saying that re-purposing existing buildings is the greenest way of building, and by reinvigorating this space we know that we can future proof it.

We need to be doing more with less. This isn’t just about materials, it is about space, energy and people. 

Hugh McEwen is an architect and partner at Office S&M 

Ideas for positive change


This is part of our Countdown to Cop26 coverage in the lead up to the world climate conference in Glasgow in November. We will be publishing more big ideas about ways to tackle the climate emergency over the coming weeks and you can find more here.

Do please send us your own thoughts about how to make construction greener! Email us, using the subject line “Cop26 ideas”, at