Neil Coales shares his ambitions for ethical design
There’s no escaping the fact that, over the past five years, sustainability has truly found itself a seat at the boardroom table. Even prior to the events of 2020, clients presented briefs which centred around a project’s carbon footprint, with a genuine ambition of achieving net zero carbon construction.
Although we still have a way to go as a population, never mind sector, to bring about real change, my vision for Agilité Solutions is to make us synonymous with ethical design, because it has to be the ambition of our industry – come what may.
As a general contractor focused on the fit-out of space, the design is often complete by the time we get involved. Many aspects of planning which could have an impact on sustainability have already been agreed, but that doesn’t stop us offering advice – when required.
With a wealth of experience and talent within our organisation, we empower colleagues to act as a ‘critical friend’ to try and create a better future for the client, the building, and its occupants – often implementing innovative design solutions in the process.
Sustainable supply chain in construction
The ability to manage or reduce the carbon footprint of a project and create a sustainable solution is only as good as those making the final decisions. Rather than adding such sentiment as nice ‘to haves’, there should be a target set at the very start – with all parties bought into the strategy and rationale behind it.
Of course, that’s in an ideal world. I’d love to see ‘sustainability’ being core to each and every construction project the world over, but we’re still a long way from achieving such a commitment. Instead, one simple way to start is by sourcing local materials.
Sourcing goods from neighbouring countries, instead of shipping across vast oceans – usually in a bid to keep costs down – will help to reduce the emissions associated with ‘getting’ the product to site, but also means any product issues can be rectified quickly, too.
That’s why Agilité Solutions’ own supply chain management centres around procurement from local, and responsible organisations. From sub-contractors to suppliers, we actively seek out recommendations for those based close to our sites and which demonstrate clear commitments to the environment and recycling, too.
This is the ‘real world’ though, and there will always be cases where a development is driven entirely by budget and ambition – rather than longer-term implications of the design, or when it’s simply impossible to procure goods in any other fashion.
Even if you’re surrounded by people for whom ethical construction sits at the very bottom of the pile, you can still make a difference. Examine your own carbon footprint, implement change where you can, and be sure to offer your ‘green credentials’ as part of any bids.
How does Europe measure up?
As a pan-European contractor, we’re exposed to varying attitudes across the continent, with some countries taking sustainability far more seriously than others. Take the Swiss, for example; they have long-since been committed to the welfare of staff and the country – as are the Dutch and many northern Europeans.
Over the past year, it seems as though many organisations have woken up to the need to offer sustainable solutions not just in the bricks and mortar sense, but in the holistic working environment they offer to colleagues.
Flexible and remote working is here to stay, and the requirement to create a workspace that answers the needs of all who use it – be that retail, hospitality, or office staff – is firmly at the top of many priority lists.
While flexible hours and the option to work from home once felt like something firms included as a bullet point on job adverts, but neither actively supported or encouraged, is now taking precedence above all else.
We’ve stopped creating spaces which encourage people to stay in the office for as long as they can, and in their place are locations which support hybrid working and wellness – with hotdesking, ‘breakout’ areas, and open-plan leisure areas.
Although COVID-19 has been the catalyst for rapid, unapologetic change, it’s important to note the opportunities which arise as we start out on the road to recovery. While functionality of space will remain front-and-centre, futureproofing the ‘soul’ of a building must be considered, too.