On the 29th September 2020 Tevi hosted a webinar titled: ‘Building Back Better’ exploring how Cornish SMEs in the construction and development sector can be at the forefront of delivering meaningful change. The event reflected on the UK’s national agenda of ‘Build Back Better’ and ‘Green Recovery’ by discussing how the sector can deliver true improvements to built infrastructure to support nature, increase resource efficiency and benefit the wellbeing of its residents. Positive change is required across the entire sector from designers, consultants, contractors, clients and to end-users. Pioneering innovation and best practice approaches were showcased during the event from our guest speakers from Ward Williams Associates, Green&Blue and Building with Nature.

We first heard from Scott James from Ward Williams Associates (WWA) – property and construction consultants with over 40 years in the industry. WWA were the first chartered surveyors to be granted Certified B Corporation status. Certified B Corporations are companies that are committed to creating a more inclusive and sustainable economy through business practices that have the highest social and environmental performance standards – “WWA aims to influence a more sustainable built environment for people, places and the planet, both now and in the future”. WWA’s projects work towards improvements for their 3 core pillars People, Places and Planet: by a) inspiring, advising and informing the people they impact and influence; b) supporting and advocating the delivery of resilient, adaptable places with a sustainable future; and c) delivering projects that will urgently address the environmental decline of our planet.

Scott’s talk both demonstrated WWA’s commitment to achieving positive change within the construction industry and questioned what ‘Build Back Better’ really means. He argued that ‘Build Back Better’ has become a marketing ploy and needs real substance behind it with effective standards and good practice guidelines to effect positive change. WWA are positioned to lead the way for other consultants to genuinely ‘Build Back Better’ by demonstrating their positive actions including a STEM Ambassador Programme, Carbon offsetting by tree planting programme, embedment of sustainability into client briefs, investment in green innovation and collaboration with like-minded partners. WWA promote an integrated approach with true collaboration to generate a shared vision providing maximum benefits to people, place and planet. Scott believes that Cornwall has the potential to be a regional leader in the construction of green developments due to the £10 billion invested in construction activity in the region and it residents’ keen interest in conserving our natural environment. He proposes that future collaborative efforts in Cornwall should focus on delivering zero carbon, share best practice and promote careers in sustainable construction.

We then heard from Faye Clifton and Gavin Christman from Green&Blue. Green&Blue are designers, creators and innovators of products aimed at helping to conserve and enhance the natural environment within built infrastructure. Green&Blue were the very first organisation that Tevi worked with and we have continued to support and promote their inspiring work. Green&Blue manufacture and supply British made garden products for wildlife that allow for our co-existence with nature. Additionally, they are also a certified B Corporation.

One of their key product lines is their Bee Bricks that are both construction materials and homes for threated solitary bee populations. Their products both provide essential building materials and create habitat for Britain’s wildlife. Green&Blue are pioneering in considering their most important stakeholders to be the species they are supporting through the installation of their construction materials.

Finally, Dr Gemma Jerome, Director of Building with Nature, the UK’s first benchmark for high-quality green infrastructure, illustrated how her team developed the benchmark and how they are setting the standard for the UK’s green infrastructure. Green infrastructure delivers multi-functional benefits for both people and nature and connect us with the natural world. The many benefits include improved health and wellbeing, climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and enhancing our natural capital. Since 2015 a team of industry and research specialists worked to generate the standards framework for the design, delivery and long-term management and maintenance of nature-rich development. Building with Nature look to deliver built infrastructure with sustainable form and function to benefit both people and wildlife and in doing so have created a dialogue tool to incentivise people to deliver positive change by creating construction projects that work with nature not against it. By drawing form empirical evidence-bases and various good practice guidelines they have defined high-quality green infrastructure at each development stage.

The Building with Nature standards framework allows businesses to measure their progress, whilst  holding them accountable for their environmental impacts. The standards are currently in use and are informing the planning and development of new sites and communities across the UK. Gemma stated that Building with Nature delivers reduced uncertainty around green infrastructure, a shared framework of standards, a smoother passage through planning, secured benefits for people and wildlife and generated practical ideas for the development industry to do their part in tacking both the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Building with Nature also runs an accreditation scheme that recognises and rewards developers that are meeting and surpassing standards at each stage of the development cycle.

Gemma also mentioned the Radio 4 programme ‘Costing the Earth – Build, Build, Build’ that featured Building with Nature as part of the debate on the ‘Build Build Build’ rhetoric.

The final part of the event was a Q&A session facilitated by Tevi. The first topic addressed was the speakers’ perceptions of large construction companies committing to carbon net zero by 2030. Scott felt that on the surface the commitment was amazing to hear but was sceptical about its use as a PR stunt or to gain a competitive advantage. Gemma seconded this by stating that within the industry many developers are using sustainability as a marketing point to differentiate themselves from others. She added that in Cornwall, where there is less competition the council must set the bar on quality and push for better standards. Faye and Gavin said that they have witnessed a change in people’s behaviour and attitude to nature through this COVID-19 period, with more people seeking nature and wanting to provide space for wildlife within their own homes. They stated that the construction of green infrastructure has previously been fairly elitist, with only high-end developers investing in green construction. They believe that the change must come from potential homeowners to express their interest in green construction.

When asked about whether a ‘carrot or stick approach’ would be most effective in promoting a ‘Build Back Better’ industry, Scott argued that in order to change people’s opinion we need to value nature more and avoid conflict through legislation. That we will only further our reach by engaging with people in a positive way and educating them about the benefits of nature. Faye and Gavin expressed that they believe legislation may be needed to start the process but that it is essential to have people on the ground to regulate development. Gemma added that communication is key, that legislation and policy is not the issue, but rather perception and enforcement is. Stating that no-one is checking whether companies are delivering on environmental targets.

To sum up the talk the speakers were asked to provide final thoughts on the topic of how to deliver meaningful change within the construction industry. Scott believes that proving by doing is the best approach, Faye and Gavin added that collaboration and communication is key to success and Gemma concluded by saying that we must tap into what makes people feel good and that whilst the science is important, we cannot forget story telling.

As always, a huge thanks you to our speakers for their time supporting this event, and to the audience for their enthusiasm engaging with the speakers through the event and with their questions.

Tevi has many more upcoming webinars exploring the key economic and environmental challenges facing Cornwall, keep up to date by signing up to our newsletter at www.tevi.co.uk

You can watch the full webinar here: