Reflecting on Futurebuild - What next?

Sunday, March 24th, 2019 | Thoughts

Futurebuild 2019 took place between March 5-7, with the Edge sponsoring six conference sessions across the days. Our members asked pertinent questions, challenged industry leaders, and hoped to have inspired those of you who attended to put thoughts into actions. Now, two weeks later, we review what was said and what we thought were highlights of the conference.

There have been several recurring themes that interlaced a range of conversations regarding legislation, Brexit, industry futures, and impending social transformations. One of which was climate change. From the start of the conference, it was clear that the UK are not well prepared to reduce carbon emissions to limit global warming as outlined in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, let alone adapt to a future with more unpredictable and extreme weather. This issue can be discussed on two levels - within the construction industry, and with the wider society.

Speakers like Simon Lewis (UCL) and Lynne Sullivan (Edge, Green Construction Board) highlighted the range of challenges that we face as an industry to radically change the way we work for climate change mitigation and adaptation. From the heavy reliance on concrete, to the out-dated regulations that have decoupled with current practice, it is becoming clear in recent years that the built environment is ill-prepared for drastic and necessary changes. Amongst industry professionals, there was a clear consensus that an understanding of embodied carbon needs to be strengthened, and there is an imperative of us to all learn and question the norm, not simply accept it. Kirsten Henson (KLH Sustainability) put it aptly - How can Bloomberg be called sustainable with 600 tonnes of Japanese bronze louvres when there is only 40 years of mine-able copper left?

However, responsibility does not simply lie within the industry professionals. Issues surrounding regulations and legislation are being brought to light through the Grenfell tragedy and the collapse of Carillion, and one begs to question: Why has it taken so long? To achieve fundamental radical changes, one needs to look to institutional forces to take the lead. Indy Johar (00) argued that the self-inflicted Brexit ordeal has completely eclipsed the more pressing problem of climate change. We lack the tools, vocabulary, and frameworks to provide sufficient understanding to discuss the implications of climate change. Furthermore, Marvin Rees (Mayor of Bristol) argued that the country is in desperate need of a new model of governance to allow more to be delivered to local communities.

Could the draft Environmental Bill answer some of our questions? As Martin Baxter (IEMA) rightly pointed out, the draft bill could be an opportunity for the UK to address current inadequacies and raise environmental standards above the current EU-imposed ones post-Brexit. The bill itself is not perfect - panelists raised concerns over the lack of clarity in the policies proposed, and a lack of systems thinking, which is so sorely needed in the realm of environmental governance. Questions around the new environmental governing body, its responsibilities, the connection with devolved administrations are all very valid, and should be carefully thought out before the final bill is presented. This bill could be the beginning of a progressive move in the right direction, but we, as industry professionals, need to grasp the opportunities to voice our concerns based on expertise and experience, and steer policy to create a more sustainable and resilient future.

Michelle Wang for the Edge


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