Building Services Engineers Declare

What do the UK parliament, Darebin (Melbourne, Australia) Council, the British Medical Association, Wiltshire County Council, Streyregg (Austria), Architects, Leafield Parish Council, The Eden Project, Newcastle University, and Greengauge Building Energy Consultants have in common? All have declared a climate emergency (by individually publishing or by signing an existing declaration).

We are one of 44 (at the time of writing) Building Services Engineering practices that have signed the snappily-titled ‘Building Services Engineers Declare’, alongside organisations ranging from Arup and AECOM to one-person-bands. You can view the declaration and consider signing up here:

https://www.buildingservicesengineersdeclare.com/

I should preface the rest of this piece by saying of course we have signed up, there’s no way we would not sign up to this, and we agree with the spirit of it and most of the words within it. But we do have a few reservations.

One element is the bandwagon effect. We cannot claim to be pioneers of the environmental movement simply because we’re just not that old. But, as our company name suggests, we set out with a clear intention to place sustainability at the top of our agenda. It’s a combination of gratifying and frustrating that in the last six months or so, the issues which we have been banging on about for the last nine years has suddenly become more mainstream, thanks in no small part to Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. We’d therefore like to open a dialogue with other companies signing not just this declaration but other organisations signing similar declarations or making their own independently so we can collectively hold each other to account.

This is closely linked to our second main concern; that words are cheap. For these statements to be meaningful, the organisations must change something, unless they are already completely inherently sustainable in everything they do, and I do not believe such an organisation currently exists. As they say, the biggest room in the world, is the room for improvement.

So, what are we at Greengauge going to change?

We will redouble our efforts to challenge ourselves and our clients even more. We’re writing a ‘health warning’ that will go on the front page of all our fee proposals, warning our clients and fellow professionals to expect to be challenged to go further to make their project, big or small, sustainable. We’ll point them back to this statement if we feel their priorities are wrong. We hope this will inspire the people we work with, but it may lead to difficult questions on both sides; both ethically and technically.

Paid to protest. At the AECB conference earlier this year, a number of attendees, when challenged by Chris Herring of Green Building Store, committed to encouraging their employees to attend direct action events such as those organised under the Extinction Rebellion banner; attendance need not be booked as holiday, and normal pay will be given.

We are building on this concept, inspired by Piers Sadler, a fellow Passivhaus Consultant who was arrested in London on the spring protest, and who had a wonderful letter published in The Sun of all places. If members of our staff wish to register as an ‘arrestable’ with Extinction Rebellion, we will support this; we will continue to pay them if they are in custody, help with legal support and if appropriate provide character statements.

Another important way we can influence change is by continuing to engage in setting policy, standards and guidance and sharing our knowledge. We are already involved in steering policy, standards and guidance, via consultation responses (individually or as part of a group submission via organisations such as the AECB). We are actively involved with the UK Centre for Moisture in Building which aspires to be influential in this important area and have recently contributed to the LETI Future of Part L initiative. We will continue to seek out opportunities to make our voice heard and commit time to making meaningful contributions.

Some of these ideas may seem bold, but we believe they will help us to continue to be a leading voice in our industry and will ultimately be good for our business as well as the planet. We would love to hear from anyone in organisations who has ideas for concrete actions that ensure that Climate Emergency Declarations result in specific and meaningful changes.


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