Mitakshi Sirsi, director of sustainability at Will+Partners explains why individual action has a crucial role to play in our quest to achieve a net-zero future
Earlier this month, it was disenchanting to see COP27 open in a luxury resort town, backed by questionable sponsors, a large increase in delegates from the fossil fuel industry, and hearing climate justice cheerleaders expressing regret over the choices made by the conference.
Climate change is a personal issue to me. Having become a parent recently, I feel highly motivated to cut carbon through my work. I have also found confidence in my ability to make a remotely tiny dent in doing that waning, daily. Perhaps, the way to address this despair is to ‘fake it till you make it’. Fake the optimism, focus on actions, and make solutions.
Many have addressed the technical solutions to cut carbon in the construction industry – we know it is difficult, but technically possible. Fabric optimisation, designing out fossil fuels, on site renewables, energy demand management, data sharing, whole life and embodied carbon calculations, energy storage, carbon sequestration, designing efficiency, etc. – solutions that will get us there eventually, but how do we build the will to do them?
Firstly, flip the one person cannot really do much excuse. Join an industry group and protest with them, engage with consultations to impact policy, demand action from those you have chosen to make decisions (such as your MPs), use data to push for change, and donate your skills. Push for systemic change. Then spend time understanding your personal and wider professional impact. Do not be happy just to hear we already do sustainability because it is not enough anymore. Ask what your company’s environmental policies are, what they are doing to address procurement and supply chains, etc. Hold yourself and people around you responsible and call out greenwashing.
Collaborative models such as the Integrated Project Insurance (IPI) model allow for a collaborative, risk managed model of working and help promote trust and a no blame culture. Teams of designers, engineers, contractors and their supply chains can use these to adopt an evolved working approach and remove some of the traditional problems of collaborative projects.
The compliance driven mindset is starting to hurt us now, our ability to understand our work, to uptake technology, to innovate, and most importantly – our attitudes. It is time to look beyond compliance and towards outcomes. Show your clients why they hire experts. Talk about the why and how of climate related decisions, use logic, question the status quo, and demonstrate the positives.
Cut down on unnecessary travel. Request a standard travel decision flowchart for your company’s carbon heavy travel decisions. Or if you must travel, simply just take the train – insist on it. Planning an event? Go meat free. Attending one? Register as vegetarian or vegan. One of the key things we can do to reduce the carbon, biodiversity and deforestation impact of the meat industry and its supply chain is to reduce the demand for meat.
You are a reflection of what you spend your time doing. Choose to work on projects of high utility – cutting carbon on a project of wasteful luxury is still only improving something that is not needed to start with. If you can’t influence this decision in your company, request that you are taken off projects you can’t morally abide by.
Seek out people who understand this and be kind to yourself. If you have the influence, do digital detox team days out where your teams can talk about these issues. Eco-anxiety isn’t a “largely theoretical” construct anymore – seek help if you need it and offer help where you can. Practice courage consciously, it is one thing our world needs urgently.