‘Red-line-itis’ must end: architects can lead on ecological, ethical development
It is not business as usual in the development and property industry. In late 2019 Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, described climate change as shifting from being a corporate social responsibility to a corporate financial risk. 2020 started with the World Economic Forum meeting in mid-January, focused on a cohesive and sustainable world. On 1 February Carney took the role of United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. The greatest proportion of attendees at the annual MIPIM international property event in mid-March were investors and financial institutions. In November over 30,000 delegates are expected to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.
Green accounting, climate risk analysis and mitigation are increasingly common phrases in the financial media and within the sustainability reports of investors and leading development companies. Mark Carney has begun to set up frameworks that stress-test banks and investment houses for exposure to risks caused by climate change and delivering zero carbon. The expected change from voluntary to mandatory for financial disclosures of climate related finance risk will push the management and investment of funds into more considered approaches towards a net zero emission global economy.
As it becomes increasing transparent how and where funds are invested, pressure will further increase on executives and directors to act to mitigate climate change for the good of their company, investors and the planet. The penny is dropping that investment in property has to be carefully considered, ethically and sustainably.
Some companies have been working towards such a goal for years. Developer Landsec, for example, issues an annual sustainability report, showing increasing awareness and action in relation to responsible, ethical, low carbon development while also creating social and economic value. Its Victoria Street development by Lynch Architects illustrates how longer life structure and finishes have combined with enhanced public ground floor realm to deliver a greater, and higher quality, civic contribution than normal. Its increased design life, as a result of the greater exposed mass structure and corresponding facade, surely showed planning confidence in the long-term quality of the proposal.
Greater reliance on natural ventilation, thermal mass, natural light and shading and astute material choices will have appealed to a broad range of discerning ethical investors, creating the completed project that a major blue chip tenant was keen to occupy, through alignment of an ethical and environmental building with its own declared ideals. High level ethics and advanced financial and risk awareness will have contributed not only to a top down drive for sound environmental credentials and an ethical sustainable development but also bottom up – with an ethical ecological development and enhanced staff facilities surely helping to attract and retain employees – the informed and discerning users and occupants of this Landsec project.
I was intending to be at MIPIM 2020, before it was postponed, and with the RIBA stand demonstrating how chartered practices can mitigate the impact of buildings on the environment and create social and economic value, especially by working with the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge. At a moment when the world has reached a tipping point in its response to climate emergency and environmental degradation, development clients are increasingly aware of how this threat must be addressed in each and every project. Everyone must go beyond the site plan and ‘red-line-itis’ and respond responsibly to the broadest of range of contexts – that is why chartered architects are essential – from large scale strategies to fine detail delivery.