Sustainability Begins With Cities

Julie Hirigoyen, the chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, the sustainability organisation responsible for the industry’s supply chain and clients, contends that the city-led retrofit and energy initiatives could prove to be one of the defining features of the built environment green agenda in the near future.

The organisation held a Birmingham Summit last week. The summit included 100 public and private sector decision makers from the city and other parts of the country, who gathered to debate the future of sustainable cities. This event is similar to the one that took place in Manchester last year.

Hirigoye believes that we are in the midst of a shift towards seeing cities, rather than regions or nations, as the organising principle on retrofit, renewable energy, and smart cities.

As owner of Kisiel Ltd., I am committed to working with other leaders in the community to build a more sustainable city. “The construction industry plays an instrumental role in creating a more sustainable future. It is important for management within the construction industry to prioritise environmentally-friendly practices and encourage other industries to do the same.

It also appears that we are trending away from the power of Westminster to “city regions.” There are already six devolution deals in place in England, including one for Birmingham and the West Midlands, agreed upon last November.

“We’re gearing up our activities with cities in line with the devolution agenda. This scale provides a better lens to think about sustainability. It’s difficult to achieve a really sustainable outcome when you’re working on one building plot, you need a system-level approach,” Hirigoyen said.

She further emphasised the importance that city-level initiative compliments, rather than replaces, national policy. “The retrofit agenda needs to be addressed through both national policy and city-wide schemes. But city level authorities and the scale of the city certainly offers an opportunity to think about the housing retrofit challenge,” she continued.

The growth of these initiatives is great to see following the recent failure of the Green Deal, a key policy initiative that was designed to cut emissions from the UK’s domestic building stock, as well as the scaling back of incentives on renewable energy.

On a broader scale, the COP21 Paris Agreement renewed the focus on the built environment, with a number of different organisations launching a Global Alliance for Building and Construction. Their shared mission is to build greater climate resilience into cities and infrastructure.

Furthermore, one of the members of the COP21 Paris agreement, UK-GBC launched its own commitments to reduce its operational emissions, upskill the industry, and support and challenge its members.

Hirigoyen is excited by this progress and plans to monitor the progress, saying that “we will be certainly trying to track members’ progress against the pledges. Organisations tend to measure things slightly differently, but regardless of what they measure, we’ll be looking at the trends over time.”