Footprint+: Our six take-home’s from the event
We’ve put together a summary of our six take-homes from the inaugural Footprint+ conference in Brighton and Hove earlier this month….
1. The timing: Why has it taken this long to get a conference together focussing on decarbonising construction?
Its 2022. 50 years since the first UN Conference on the Human Environment (1972). Today, 42% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from our built environment, with embodied carbon making up 20%. Construction is a significant component of the carbon problem we face, and so, as building industry professionals, we have a significant responsibility and contribution to make to reduce carbon emissions.
In terms of conferences on decarbonisation, our industry has shown up late to the party with Footprint+. But at least we have shown up, and it feels like now that we’ve arrived, we’re going to make it count.
2. The venue: Brighton is the perfect setting for a forward-thinking conference on decarbonisation, but was Footprint+ just another corporate gathering?
Brighton is the first and only city to elect a Green MP, the first city in the UK to achieve Silver Sustainable Food City status and is home to the first offshore wind farm along the south coast of England. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting location for a progressive conference on sustainability in the built environment.
Being exposed to the elements, close to the sea and out of the capital promoted an open mindset at the conference. Footprint+ has already been compared by many to MIPIM, but it felt far less exclusive and more representative of what is a diverse UK property industry.
3. The content: Is information enough, or should we be advocating for change?
Although many conferences are disguised as networking opportunities, the quality of the conversations at Footprint+ on stage were compelling enough to draw you away from networking. Excellent case studies, financial insights, and material innovations ensured there was something for everyone. The talks often focussed more on education, rather than opinions, which gave intellectual rigour to the whole event.
The tone of Footprint+ was overwhelmingly positive, but the planet demands more than optimism. Difficult decisions need to be made; the demand from building users to de-carbonise will be considerable; new legislation will force businesses to consider their impacts; more robust buildings will cost more; insurance for biogenic materials will carry more risk; and programmes for innovative material reuse will take longer. Will optimism pay the price?
4. The delegates: Who is responsible for driving net zero?
It’s obvious that we cannot rely on policy – it’s not moving quickly enough. We need to engage investors, designers, agents, lawyers, developers, project managers, planners, insurers, contractors and tenants in why sustainability is important and how it can be achieved. Each of us have our own areas for opportunity.
Mixing with a myriad like-minded individuals at Footprint+ ensured a diversity of representation and richness in the conversation that we’ve not seen replicated elsewhere, especially around sustainability in construction. The programme and venue encouraged a cross-pollination of ideas and engagement in topics beyond professional boundaries – it was inspiring. The bottom line is that we’re all responsible for driving net zero and with critical mass this can have significant impact.
5. The after-effect: Will it be enough?
One of the main criticisms of Footprint+ was that it was an echo chamber. In the short term, this may be true, but in the long term, we saw like-minded individuals garnering ideas about how they could play their part to decarbonise the built environment. Everyone was there for a reason and looking for solutions. Taking these conversations back to the workplace is the critical next step to facilitate change.
But… was the conference too polite? We are in a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. We didn’t get the sense that Footprint+ conveyed the sense of urgency or responsibility on those in the room and the power they have to change how we build.
6. Next year: What do we want to see?
Although this was the inaugural event, we’ve seen that Footprint+ will be back next year. How will the landscape have changed? We’re hoping to see more circular buildings, more innovative materials, more feedback loops for measuring success, more financial drivers for change, and a better use of natural resources. We’d like to see conversations around social value, biodiversity and health + wellbeing, and we’d like to see a better engagement at a governmental level.
Footprint+ brought us together to highlight the aims of sustainability, but it’s now time to have the hard conversations about how we get there. Next time, we want to see real debates about what our future looks like, from alternative opinions and critical viewpoints.
Whilst it’s lovely to spend a few days on the beach, this is not a time to be patting ourselves on the back about how far we’ve come. The ecological footprint of the built environment is substantial, and we’ve got a long way to go before we can really say that our industry is successfully sustainable.