Green Week 2021 Reflections

23rd December 2021

Now in its seventh year, Green Week is our staff-led initiative that brings together a week of talks and events to help our team to continually improve our sustainability practices and expand our thinking. This year we aligned Green Week with COP26, with our events organised around key themes developed from the UN Sustainable Development Goals/RIBA Sustainable Outcomes and the conference. For the full list of COP26 themes see here.

Our goal for Green Week in 2020 was to improve awareness about emerging sustainability topics in the built environment, such as Social Value; this year, we focused on implementation strategies, with a series of talks and workshops to empower each one of us within the practice to affect positive change.

There were two days dedicated to whole life carbon (WLC), which included workshops with external consultants and a presentation from our certified Passivhaus designers, to aid in upskilling our staff and pushing the agenda forward for achieving net zero. Following on from last year’s Green Week event, “Introduction to Passivhaus”, this year our Passivhaus designers presented a case study which took us through a step-by-step process of considerations when designing to Passivhaus standards, and how these considerations can relate to and balance with low embodied carbon design. The events over these two days were designed to help promote a broad understanding of WLC so that all members of the practice can be sustainability champions, whilst identifying key experts within the practice.

As part of our schedule of events, we reprised our staff Pecha Kucha— a storytelling event where a presenter shows 20 slides with 20 seconds of commentary per slide. This fast-paced, light-hearted presentation format offered a chance for our staff to highlight sustainability in their lives—from university research, to personal projects—and celebrate sustainability as an integral part of our practice culture. Presentations spanned topics from a sustainable fashion brand, utilising circular economy principles, to a large-scale refuse waste management strategy for a housing development in Chennai, India.

Green Week 2021 also took on a change in format, with activities taking place both in our offices to celebrate the opportunity to convene and collaborate in person, and streamed digitally across our three locations. This hybrid format maximised engagement throughout our offices, successfully bringing our staff together virtually to share in discussion and experience. We feel that this hybrid structure is the future as it offers ultimate flexibility to our staff and opens up opportunity to hear from speakers based across the country, optimising the effectiveness and reach of our events, while helping to further unify staff in our work towards mitigating climate change.

Overall, we felt the week was a success in further galvanising discussions around sustainability topics within the practice, continuing to seize new opportunities to move beyond ‘back to normal’ to accelerate sustainable development. Similarly, we felt this motivating energy surrounding the coinciding events of COP26, which highlighted the importance of our industry as leaders in mitigating the effects of and adapting to global climate change, while noting this in consideration of the built environment’s significant contribution to emissions: 39% of global energy related carbon emissions (World GBC), and directly responsible for 25% greenhouse gas emissions in the UK (UKGBC Roadmap).

Our responsibility as an industry is amplified as we consider the already significant ecological changes we are observing globally. As architects and designers, we must work to facilitate a paradigm shift, to design with climate adaption in mind, and consider that the buildings we create today will exist in a potentially very different world with very different requirements in the future. This change in approach further highlights the need to build in flexibility and adaptation into our existing building stock, reinforcing the case for retrofit and reuse.

And while COP26 has been effective in putting the spotlight on the important guidance and research that is already being done by our industry and offering a chance to celebrate the collaborative efforts that have resulted in industry target setting and guidance, it has also highlighted the need for further government action to push sustainable innovation forward.

The need for more progressive, well-defined legislation regarding the construction industry’s environmental impact is clear; until this happens, we must continue to collaborate to drive forward and realise the opportunities available to make positive change, for the environment and for the communities in which we work. We must continue to support our clients—who are increasingly eager to push the envelope of sustainability—optimising briefs, guiding understanding and setting agendas at this critical moment in time.

Read more about COP26 here.

Ruth Marsh

Sustainability Lead and Environmental Manager