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The 4 cornerstones of building sustainable buildings in an ever-changing world

Sweco author: Shruti Ganesh, Sustainability Consultant

Published on: 02/01/2023

Society is fraught with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, leading to the coining of a phrase…the VUCA world. Be it the current socio-political turmoil, ongoing energy crises and climate change, remnants of the pandemic or possible cyber disruption, our world is presenting new challenges every day. This presents a perfect storm of challenges, but also a perfect foundation for opportunity.

Looking to the future with Sweco’s sustainability vision at Chapter London Bridge student living development

While there is no silver bullet, the pursuit of sustainability in a holistic sense is now our ‘True North’. Making ‘sustainable building’ a default setting means we can respond to energy transition challenges directly, promote the many game-changing methodologies of circular thinking, harness a huge potential for digital transformation, and ultimately create transformational structures that have a positive impact on health and wellbeing in the round.

Our role as consultants in this landscape must therefore be multi-faceted. We must be ‘mountain guides’ who interpret regulations and law and present the scaling of obligations as not only necessary but achievable goals. We must be trusted partners who stand by clients as they weather various storms. And we must be pioneers who design ground-breaking innovations to navigate modern-age problems.

Below are just some of the responsibilities we need to accept if we are to truly transform society together by building sustainable buildings ‘as standard’.

With Sweco’s sustainability steer, Bankside Yards will become the UK’s first major fossil-fuel-free project

1. Guidance

Ever since the Paris agreement, countries are ratcheting their decarbonisation ambitions to achieve the goal of net zero. Given this milieu and UK’s role in recent COPs, regulatory bodies are constantly revisiting law and recommendations to ensure better performance.

Our roles as guides serve to not only interpret the tangible meaning and implications of these rapidly evolving laws, but to also observe and predict the direction of their growth. We must see the writing on the wall much in advance and anticipate regulatory pushes. For instance, a push towards Passivhaus standards seems inevitable.

2. Partnership

As the country experiences politically flux, economic instability, and surge in energy prices, it becomes crucial for us as a company to offer a steady and assuring hand to the client. This means understanding their needs but challenging that when needed. It means leveraging our collective wisdom and knowledge of the industry to find solutions to steer the ship when it hits choppy waters.

It may seem foolhardy to focus on sustainability with other seemingly pressing concerns, but it would be our role to guide clients in seeing the potential in sustainability as the fulcrum the rest. For instance, a well-insulated, well-designed building is already proofing itself against fuel volatility.

Colechurch House, where Sweco played a key role in net zero mixed-use redevelopment plans

3. Innovation

Technology and digitisation have touched every aspect of the life today, our field is no exception. With technology advancing at million miles per minute, our job is to ride the tide and use it in explorations to solve problems creatively.

Right from parametric design to machine learning and AI, a plethora of tools now exist that could aid us in optimising our buildings further. Our job is not just to utilise these tools, but to view them through the lens of the clients’ needs, retrofit them accordingly and maybe, even create something brand new.

4. Expertise

Lastly, but definitely not least, our clients look to us for answers. Answers that are well researched, considered, and careful. In order to deliver such solutions, we need to be experts of our craft, best in the field, delivering high quality work. And while investing in great technology is one aspect of producing great work, the most important cog in that wheel is – people.

Therefore, to become those experts our clients look to, we need to nurture an atmosphere where teamwork flourishes and learning from each other thrives. Where we train not just skills but ambition and curiosity too. An expert thus, is one who can deliver that quality work by relying on a framework of knowledge, learning and curiosity to better their craft.

Bloom Clerkenwell, where our sustainability expertise helped HB Reavis deliver a WELL Platinum and BREEAM Outstanding building

Only when these four elements are brought together can we hope to build buildings that become the physical embodiment of those values. Our buildings should push notions of net zero way past regulations and aim for truly considered designs.

Our buildings should be robust enough to handle the inevitable knocks (both metaphorical and physical) that this turbulent world is likely to continue to throw their way. Finally, our buildings should ‘talk’ to their users through comfortable and affordable spaces.