Emily you’re busy with your annual conference, FOOTPRINT+. What’s the latest?
FOOTPRINT+ is a conference for the whole of the property industry, and all the related industries in the UK. We look at how the built environment, both existing and new buildings, can contribute to the overall decarbonisation aims of the UK. The UK is signed up to be net zero by 2050. 40% of the emissions come from the built environment – either via how we power those buildings, or how we construct them in the first place. So it’s a hugely important sector to decarbonise.
I’m an architect by background, and have been working in environmentally-conscious architecture for my entire career. As an architect, you can pull together lots of contacts and threads from projects you’ve worked on over the years. We are in contact with lots of different developers and people who have sites and properties to operate, plus local authorities that have schools and residential areas. So we are the spoke at the centre of the wheel; bringing together all those contacts and those projects.
How has the conversation around net zero changed during your career?
In the last decade, the conversation around carbon emissions that result from the built environment has been amplified. At the beginning of my career we were talking about using materials that were more benign on the environment – that and the energy efficiency of buildings. That has evolved into a developed consciousness now in the UK, a much more mature thing; as an industry we have got to grips with how you can quantify and portray the carbon characteristics of buildings. We are at an interesting crossroads – there are some fantastic examples of extremely energy-efficient buildings and retrofit projects that we aim to showcase, so people can learn more about how they’ve been achieved and then do that in their own work.
How does FOOTPRINT+ help bring social value to building projects?
It’s all about bringing together the audience that needs to find the answers to their own carbon problems. If you’re attending one of our events, you’re coming because it’s the place to get the right information and meet the right people to learn from. Our job is to put together those people, and create a forum where that can be shared.
Ultimately there are an awful lot of existing buildings that need to be modified. Quite often it’s a question of shifting the managers’ attention from the status quo. I think the ‘do nothing’ scenario is no longer acceptable to us as individuals in society, and local authorities have a key role in delivering on what society wants. All authorities that have recognised the climate emergency are now trying to act on that, looking across their own activities and the activities of everyone they represent, so there’s a huge scope for change. Coming to find out how to do it is probably the first stage in that process, which is one of the reasons why FOOTPRINT+ exists.
Why is social value so important to you?
I think it’s a recognition of the Earth as something we all live within, and how mankind’s activity has affected our planet. Sometimes for good, but a lot of the time … not so good. The opportunity to respect our home, and work in harmony with it, is something I have always been very attracted to. There are many people in this industry who have wanted that – I suppose what’s different now is that the analysis of what climate change means, the impacts it can have, and the impacts we are seeing around the world, including on our own shores, means it’s become much more real. So now it’s not all about getting the cheapest price. I think the hope is that by approaching things from the standpoint of social value, environmental value and respect for the planet, better decisions will get made. There’s a cultural shift for all of us that’s underway, and I’m hugely glad to be part of the solution to help people achieve that.