What Future do you Choose?
In a piece taken from his blog site and published in the CEWales members section Robert Chapman asks tough questions of all of us in construction: what are you going to do about climate change? But he also points to his own practical steps
I have been planning to write this article for a while. I was (nudged) finally into writing this piece by Oliver Banks - who when I posted this picture on LinkedIn - posed this question.
"I'd love to hear your biggest takeaway from these Robert, and some of the practical actions that you're taking, please"?
Now, I am not going to attempt to provide a precis of all of these books (a random choice by the way) other than to suggest that there is a clue in the title in each and every one of them. I give equal weight to all of them, notably including David Attenborough’s book and the book I read most recently by Professor Dieter Helm. However, it is the book by Christiana Figueres (co-authored by Tom Rivett-Carnac) which strikes home. She was instrumental in getting the 2015 Paris Agreement signed at COP21 and remains the ‘stubborn optimist’ as do I vis-à-vis ‘‘The Future We Choose’’. Christiana’s success is attributed to her skill in forging a collaborative diplomacy at scale. Maybe that is the biggest ‘take-away’ because that is what is required.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference is happening right now as I pen this blog (31st October 2021). There are 4 COP goals, namely:
- Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
- Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
- Mobilise finance
- Work together to deliver
Reflecting on these goals, two people come to mind: Sir David Attenborough (the voice of experience, in-depth knowledge, and credibility) who observes that “We have a moral responsibility.” The next decade (now circa 9 years) represents the ‘‘last great opportunity to deliver prosperity while fighting the climate crisis. Only time will tell, but the planet is fast running out of that’’; Greta Thunberg (the voice of Future Generations) who opines that we are not taking the challenges of the imminent future seriously enough in the midst of people dying, ecosystems being destroyed and the beginning of mass extinction.
Greta does what she does because she knows that public opinion runs society. That is why she states: ‘‘Take care of the planet and it will look after us’’.
I have referenced examples of leadership already. However, I want to refer to just two other examples. In reality, perhaps we all need to be leaders. Example 1 comes courtesy of the ICE and the 2020 / 2021 President Rachel Skinner who was responsible for the film entitled ‘Shaping Zero’. The video is excellent. Subsequently, in the ICE’s latest ‘State of the Nation’ report, it offers a headline checklist of six key actions that all civil engineers and infrastructure experts can take to significantly increase the pace of change (see below). It strikes me that some of these – if not all – could be applied at scale corporately and individually.
- This is an emergency – treat it like one
- Bring carbon into every conversation
- Understand and influence end users
- Design and build for the ‘right’ outcomes
- Strive for creative solutions
- Be responsible for resilience
The ICE also produced a further follow-up video entitled: ‘Shaping Zero’: The Big Questions. Another great film. Disappointingly, I see little in the way of leadership from my professional body – the RICS.
Example 2 comes in the guise of the GW4 Climate Alliance: a leading research consortium comprising Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter Universities coming together to deliver innovative solutions to the climate crisis. This is a notable example of the role of academic collaboration to find solutions. Sir Tim Smit KBE was invited to give the keynote presentation at the launch. Another good watch. Some would describe his presentation (perspective) as polemical; others would say that it offers (no nonsense / no bullshit) apposite insights and clarity. I’m in the latter camp because of (at least) 30 years of inaction.
Professionally: For a period of circa 2 years+ leading up to the Autumn of 2020, I engaged with the substantive business membership organisations in Wales (CBI, IoD, Chamber of Commerce, MAKE, BRC etc). Inspired by the Better Buildings Partnership’s (BBP) signing of a Climate Change Commitment in September 2019, I invited the business membership organisations in Wales to sign a co-produced, collaborative commitment. Yes, an example of collaboration at scale. I enlisted the support of Professor Chris Rapley, an eminent climatologist from UCL. Also, a representative from the Welsh Youth Parliament representing (in my mind) future generations. Unfortunately, ‘at the eleventh-hour,’ several (CBI, IoD and the Chambers of Commerce) decided that they could not commit, despite me ‘pushing on an open door.’ My blog said it all ‘‘You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today’’ – RC2 (rchapmanandco.com). I felt that I had failed in not securing a Climate Change Commitment but after several weeks I came to realise that I was stronger for the failure.
Scroll forward to the 6th April 2021, I must admit to experiencing an eureka moment when I read Nigel Topping’s piece in the Raconteur publication entitled ‘Sustainable Business’ (#0730 06/04/2021). Within the body of his article, it stated:
‘‘Last but not least is Topping’s call to pro-climate advocacy. For all capitalism’s talk of free markets, the global economy depends as much on public policies as private enterprise.
Corporations and their lobbyists have long sought to stymie progressive climate policies, he says. If business is serious about tackling climate change that urgently needs to change.
The chief culprits, in his view, are trade associations: ‘‘It’s almost as if it is built into their DNA to slow down the rate of change and argue that climate legislation is damaging to industry’’.
Despite the trade associations (as we know ‘‘actions inform’’), it is my view that informed businesses are increasingly taking action to address the biggest issue of our time, namely, climate change / global warming / the race to decarbonise (net zero).
In my professional work, I weave the theme of climate resilience into the various aspects of my consultancy work. Indeed, by extension, sustainability is a key part of my work. For example, earlier this year, I gave a presentation to fast growth AGP clients on the subject of sustainability. Furthermore, I was one of the judges selected to judge the Construction Excellence Wales sustainability awards. And I am a member of Cynnal Cymru. I could go on.
Other notable actions that I have taken include: the disposal of my Audi A4 car in 2016; and the decarbonisation of my two-storey office in Llandaff, Cardiff. Let me explain further. Yes, my business car was disposed of in 2016. It was replaced with a Brompton. Now, my wife and I represent a one car family. Actually, most of my travel is by Brompton and train. I use the car as a last resort if there is no other practical travel solution.
In relation to the office, I have made the following investments since 2015:
- Investment in 14 no. solar panels on the roof (requiring planning consent).
- Replacement of the front elevation ground floor doors and windows, plus rear windows with more energy efficient / sound insulation proof ‘fabric;’
- Installation of LED lighting throughout both floors.
- Installation of insulation material in the attic space.
- Installation of smart meters; and in September 2021
- the installation of an Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) scheme with associated piping infrastructure and radiators, thereby continuing the office’s journey to ‘net zero.’ The ASHP facilitates the complete move away from fossil fuel gas as part of the decarbonisation strategy. After I had obtained planning consent, Heatforce were appointed to deliver the ASHP scheme and did so extremely well.
Because of the investments in decarbonising the offices, the energy performance improved from epc D to epc B.
Personally: With my wife’s support, we have invested in improving the fabric of our home: for example, all doors and windows have been insulated and insulation wool installed in the attic. My diet is now predominantly vegetarian. We are fastidious about recycling and waste. We adopt a ‘twenty-minute neighbourhood’ approach to sourcing goods. For our principal holiday this year, we travelled by train to the west coast of Scotland (no car, no plane). In summary, we make conscious decisions that either mitigate our impact or influence our choices. E.g., the placement of pension monies (non-fossil fuel etc); the repair of goods (via the Repair Café) rather than their disposal etc.
Modestly, I can say that I have ‘walked the talk.’ I will continue to do so because ‘actions inform’. I attempted to persuade the business membership organisations in Wales to collaborate at scale as an example of leadership. Sadly, ‘group think’ intervened and they continue to stymie progressive climate policies.
Individual, practical actions are necessary and important because collectively they can make a big difference. They may be more difficult or uncomfortable, but the reality is that consumption and growth must change. I understand the point about ‘scale’. Interestingly though, a recent RSA survey shows that the “public appetite for climate action is reaching new heights”. A LinkedIn neuroscientist connection observed that we need a tipping point change at scale from our ‘dear leaders’ by requesting / demanding / influencing their minds and behaviours. Indeed, we need systems thinking. There is no doubt in my mind that the outcome of COP26 will influence ‘‘THE FUTURE WE CHOOSE’’. The biggest penalty we can impose on future generations is not doing anything / not investing in a green economy / not changing behaviours. In the meantime, what are YOU going to do?