25 Sep 2019
Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive, UK Green Building Council
Last Friday, I joined hundreds of thousands of UK citizens, and millions of global citizens across 185 countries, by taking to the streets for the Global Climate Strike. I did so because I believe in the science, which tells us that the signs of global heating are accelerating faster than expected. My two children aged 10 and 7, sisters, nieces, friends and godson also joined me on the strike. The messages these young people chose to highlight on their placards were powerful:
“The kids are right, so join the fight!”
“Act today, build tomorrow”
“Climate change is worse than homework”
“Make Earth cool again!”
This isn’t the first time my family and I have sought to make our voices heard on the topic of climate change. But it was the first time that we did so surrounded by hundreds of built environment professionals, including UKGBC member companies, industry bodies like BPF and BCO, and professional institutes such as RIBA.
All those school children who, inspired by Greta Thunberg, have been striking every Friday for over a year now must be heartened at the enormous turnout from adults last Friday, and from businesses in particular. At UKGBC this was the first time I had called on our members to consider allowing their staff to participate in a public protest in support of urgent action to tackle climate change. And the response was overwhelming – hundreds of individuals gathered outside the Building Centre on Store Street and marched together down to the central demonstration at Millbank – including architects, developers, investors, agents, advisors, contractors, product manufacturers and many more.
While the numbers on the streets were impressive enough, thousands more built environment professionals were listening to relevant speeches in their offices, watching climate related scientific content, and considering what their response should be through the prism of their organisational lens. This after all is the most important take-away from all this public concern: what action are we each taking as human beings and organisations to ensure that our own carbon footprint is reduced to an absolute minimum. As buildings are responsible for something like 40% of our national carbon footprint, the UK built environment industry is absolutely right to be taking this so seriously.
And what better place to start than our own offices and workplaces? Every single organisation that occupies real estate of some description – which lets face it most if not all property businesses do – has the opportunity to commit to, and demand for, that space to be net zero carbon by 2030. This is where the World GBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment comes in – as it commits signatories to just that for the spaces under their operational control. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg and most organisations will need to commit to much more than the carbon footprint of buildings they operate if they are to demonstrate the leadership required to achieve 1.5C Paris compliant emissions reduction targets. But it’s a starting point, and an easy one. Which is why we at UKGBC are signing up to the World GBC Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment and are calling on all our members, wider property companies, and corporate occupiers at large to do the same. Ultimately, if we all demand net zero carbon workplaces, we will transform the market, and the industry will deliver them.
It’s true to say built environment businesses need to go further than this. Which is also why at UKGBC we’ve developed a climate leadership model highlighting what is ultimately required from different sub-sectors of the industry in order to achieve net zero emissions overall. Leadership for architects looks slightly different to leadership for developers or investors – and this is why it’s so important to provide clear direction towards consistent outcomes.
To change everything, we need everyone. And we need action now.