In a bid to find a silver lining to our current circumstances, April Marsden, Associate Architect, looks at how our greatly reduced activity is supporting improvements to our local and global environments.
The current unprecedented global lockdown has resulted in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions falling across continents as countries try to contain the spread of the Coronavirus.
In December 2019, I participated in TheBusinessDesk.com’s panel discussion in Leeds on the challenges for environmental placemaking. My fellow participants and I concluded that some deeply ingrained habits in the construction industry would need to be broken to meet the demands of the environment.
At the end of last year, none of us could imagine what 2020 would bring.
The built environment contributes to around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. This footprint has reduced since 1990, the decarbonisation of the grid is on track, with the power sector’s emissions dropping from 161 million tonnes in 2010 to 54 million metric tonnes in 2019 as a result of clean electricity.
The 2020 budget was light on net-zero but did include a £200m place-based resilience programme. This was followed by the Housing Design Audit for England, which had a focus on good design, sustainable placemaking and increased collaboration to achieve greater social value.
The pandemic and the ensuing total and utter decrease in travel and transportation, has brought oil and gas prices tumbling, to the lowest oil prices for almost two decades. According to The Independent, many experts think it will permanently alter the course of the climate crisis. Pulling forward the date at which demand for oil and gas peaks, never to recover, allowing the atmosphere to gradually heal.
Post-Covid19, critical questions will remain around people’s behaviour. Will long-haul aviation recover? The longer we are at home, remote working, using video conferencing, the more people will wonder if they need to travel to work or for work and if they can work more from home?
As per the Government’s advice, we at Bowman Riley are all safely at home, practising social distancing and working remotely. Technology has kept us working, has kept us in touch and kept us sane. For those with children, our days have become adapted to fitting in their needs, with boundaries between work and home blurred. The ability to adapt has always been key to human survival.
In the construction industry, the impact of COVID19 has been seen across the board, from the closure of construction sites to developers choosing to go into ‘sleep’ mode until the wake button is pressed. It has left many of us questioning the long-term impact on the construction industry that many were concerned was already facing a shake-up in the wake of Brexit.
For a long time, from Egan to the Green Council, “change, change, change” has been the mantra. From off-site construction to increased collaboration, this change was already happening. Cities have declared climate emergencies, investment in clean and ethical construction has been growing, off-site has become more affordable and we are all becoming more efficient.
There is a hope that we will come out of this crisis a more resilient and responsible industry. The economic impact cannot be underestimated. The UK housing market has effectively been put on hold, shares prices have dramatically fallen with dividends and annual reports put on ice. But crucially companies are sleeping rather than folding.
The hold back that the global shutdown has had, the tumbling fossil fuel prices, the glimmers of green hope, coupled with what we were already doing; can only speed up the processes that had already begun.
The lifelines the Government has offered businesses are unprecedented and not without consequence. When some degree of normality starts to resume, we have an opportunity to make fundamental changes. These changes will perhaps be based around the new community sentiment with aspirations to support each other and ultimately support the larger, global environmental concern.