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Can we risk leaving the sustainability supply chain to demand alone?

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We still need to improve our sustainability supply chain, but can we risk leaving it to demand alone? And where does design fit into this?

John Callcutt is a housebuilder and his new report for the government on housing delivery is a housebuilder’s response to a crisis. The industry will take care of itself, he says – new construction methods will be created by the market as and when it needs them. Callcutt adds that it’s not the housing industry’s responsibility to deliver government targets; it’s the government’s responsibility to cajole and caress it into building houses fast and well.
This contrasts with a few years ago, when Prescott and Rogers toured the Netherlands and advocated a future of tunnel-form concrete houses, a new, more efficient supply chain, and quality in the design of low-budget housing. We were told that we could have German or Swedish modular systems, if we were willing to invest in manufacturing. That investment never came, and our supply chain still does not match those of other European countries when it comes to energy-efficient construction products. Callcutt freely admits the cost of making housing zero carbon could hamper profitability and hence housebuilders’ desires to build. However, he does nothing to suggest how the sustainability supply chain can be ramped up.
He believes demand alone will reform the supply chain, but this Adam Smith-ian piece of thinking is not borne out by the countries in Europe leading the charge on sustainable construction. Germany and Sweden have heavily subsidised their sustainable energy industries, and become global leaders. Callcutt’s vision for the UK is contrastingly pragmatic, and adds to the feeling that the housing targets set by government are on a collision course with sustainability aims.
And design in all this? Design review committees are the great safety net proposed by the report, although it is unclear who will be responsible for this. CABE and the RIBA have been mentioned. The RIBA would be a strange choice. It would create the situation of architects judging their colleagues, and a professional body judging its members. Design review should remain with CABE, and regional committees should draw on the expertise of architects for their personnel.
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