“We need to keep reminding ourselves that we’re on the wrong trajectory.”

Alistair Mant, UKGBC

One might have thought that an event about the twin threats of climate change and environmental damage would make for a bleak evening. However, this year’s Harris Debate left me with a sense that there is still hope and everything to fight for.

Hosted by Kath Fontana, Senior Vice President of the RICS, the event was informative from the outset. It did highlight some difficult truths. Guest speaker, Alastair Mant from the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), gave an overview of the current climate and ecological crisis. The statistics are alarming.

As professionals working within the built environment, however, it seems we are well-placed to make a significant, positive impact. Mant highlighted that buildings account for 40 per cent of worldwide energy consumption and more than 30 per cent of worldwide carbon emissions. For the professionals that create and maintain those buildings, there is huge scope for change.

In the words of Harris Debate panellist Dr Eva Gkenakou from Multiplex Construction Europe: “Imagine what we could achieve if we acted”.

There is hope, but change will not be easy. Chair of this year’s debate, Lord Bichard KCB, noted that while we live in a society that is good at setting targets, we are not always so good at delivering on them.

So what should we do?

Climate science expert Professor Chris Rapley CBE highlighted the importance of talking to people (in particular, those we work with) about the issues and bringing them along with us on the journey. Jorge Mendonça from Grosvenor Developments invited us to see our current situation as an opportunity – to recognise that this is about the survival of our businesses. Alastair Mant, meanwhile, challenged us to be inquisitive, to collaborate and to innovate. He also highlighted a range of useful UKGBC resources, including a framework definition for net zero carbon buildings and a Climate Commitment Platform. These, of course, were just some of the points raised during the hugely valuable and wide-ranging discussion.

Much of the debate was focused around new buildings. There is also the question of existing stock – which I raised during the event. Valuers and auditors may have a role to play here, as buildings that perform poorly from an environmental perspective become more and more expensive to maintain. Could pressures such as these provoke a willingness to change among the business community? Hopefully this will prove the case.

Let’s act now

It is clear to me that professionals involved in the built environment have a responsibility and the opportunity to be the agents of positive change. The world is facing a crisis and we need to keep reminding ourselves that we have a role to play. If we act now, we can make a difference.

Jonathan Harris

WATCH: The 2019 Harris Debate is now available to watch online