This October, the Harris Debate was back in full force. After a hiatus during the pandemic years, professionals gathered once again at RICS headquarters in London for an evening of debate on an ethical topic. Nearly 500 individuals also joined online from around the world. This year’s event grappled with an urgent issue: how to tackle the climate emergency without damaging the economy.
Within our current system, the climate and economy are at odds in many ways. This can be seen in the built environment and elsewhere. However, theories and models are emerging that could change this relationship.
Chaired by Lord Bichard KCB, the debate included a stimulating keynote speech by Smith Mordak, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council. This was followed by probing questions from the audience and a thought-provoking panel discussion.
Evolving the economy
‘The ultimate goal here is social and environmental justice, and we all want a fair society on a planet that supports life.’
Smith Mordak’s keynote speech provided plenty of inspiration for the evening’s discussions as it explored possible pathways to a fair and sustainable economy. In particular, it referenced degrowth and post-growth theory. Mordak offered an overview of core concepts and principles to consider if we, as a society, want to tackle environmental issues while evolving the economy in a positive way.
Central to this is the issue of our society’s need for constant economic growth. Mordak agreed that growth can be useful for a variety of reasons. However, the key is being in a position to make the choice to grow. Currently, we are forced to seek growth continually due to the nature of the system. They commented that ‘degrowth and post-growth are interesting because they take a look at our current economic struggles and imagine a way out’.
Reasons for optimism
In making a transition to a greener and fairer economy, Mordak was enthusiastic about the role that RICS members – including quantity surveyors, building surveyors and project managers – can play. As the economy evolves, people who are able to focus on the ‘measure in all things’ will be an asset. Meanwhile, with the built environment contributing around 40% of carbon emissions, there is an opportunity for RICS professionals and their teams to make a significant contribution to the achievement of global climate targets.
Conversations and collaboration
The panel discussion that followed Mordak’s keynote offered a range of responses to the concepts of degrowth and post-growth. It was clear that the issues are complex, however all agreed on the need for action to tackle the climate crisis.
It was recognised that additional training and skills should be a priority. These will be necessary in order to transition from the current built environment to a more climate-friendly and sustainable version. RICS members were also urged to talk regularly with one another about sustainability issues. Conversations need to take place between professionals, across silos and with the individuals who inhabit places in order to share ideas and innovate.
This year’s Harris Debate demonstrated the challenging nature of our situation. It can be tempting to seek a catch-all solution, however our success need not rely solely on big ideas. As Mordak commented, ‘small things can be radical’.
The Harris Debate was established in 2013 to recognise the unique contribution made by Jonathan Harris CBE FRICS to CPD and lifelong learning. Jonathan was President of RICS in 2000/2001 and is Founder & Chairman of the Harris Foundation for Lifelong Learning.