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Take a chance on climate change

A chance conversation between an architect and an engineer played a key part in the creation of a fledgling environmental movement earlier this year.

As a result of that happenstance, a narrowly conceived ‘Architects Declare’ campaign expanded even before it had launched, rapidly embracing the related disciplines of civil, structural and building services engineering. Following launches in the summer, each discipline now has its own ‘Declares’ website, spelling out a set of pledges designed to galvanise and accelerate responses to the climate emergency.

At the time of writing, 659 architecture firms, 107 structural engineering consultancies, 58 building services firms and 54 civil engineering companies have put their names behind the initiative, each pledging to abide by the aims of the movement. Summarised broadly, the intent is to weave positive environmental action into the fabric of each profession’s core processes.

Firms that have taken the pledge are already pooling thoughts and working out how best to take things forward. Clearly, the greater the level of participation, the more likely it will be that these well-intentioned efforts might shift the culture of each profession and as a result the trajectory of the whole industry.

I say ‘well-intentioned’ not to dismiss the chances of success, but to recognise that some difficult uphill battles lie ahead. All the architects and engineers in the world cannot guarantee a better outcome by themselves, because none work alone in a vacuum.

For example, we don’t yet have a ‘Contractors Declare’ campaign, which might provide a very substantial component of the movement. And most importantly, we lack a ‘Developers Declare’ initiative, which might possibly be the most vital single ingredient for success.

As an architect friend remarked to me last week: “Getting a client to consider future generations is a fool’s errand for many design professionals. The clients say: ‘Future generations are not paying for this building. I am.’”

And those clients are in turn dependent on banks and other investors for the funds that enable them to embark on projects in the first place.

Rapidly adopting a less harmful way of building will require the willing participation of a long chain of different kinds of businesses, each with their own preoccupations and priorities.

Nonetheless, I am not pessimistic. One chance conversation on a train quickly led to a new spirit of determination among hundreds of different firms. As we all know, small decisions can have big consequences when they occur at critical moments, acting as catalysts for change.

So, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at one of the declaration websites linked above, and consider how the pledges might translate to your own company and your own role. Have a conversation with a colleague or a contact about those thoughts.

So, go on. Take a chance. You never know what might spring from that seed.

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