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Green Sky Thinking: Interface on Radical Sustainability

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Radical sustainability is not that radical but not many are doing it

It was with some trepidation that I set out to the week’s first Green Sky Thinking event at Hopkins’ Gibbs Building for the Wellcome Trust. I found it rather presumptuous for Interface to title their event ‘Radical Sustainability despite their long track record in this area. Interface consistently backs initiatives which push best practice – Green Sky Thinking this year, AJ 100 Most Sustainable Practice (winner to be announced May 8) and recently hosting the Living Building Challenge. But what could they have to say that I hadn’t heard before?

I’ve met many Interface people over the years at industry events. Interface’s Ramon Arratia writes Cut the Fluff, an informative blog on product transparency and has just written a book on the subject. What more would they put across this evening? I was curious to see the building so at least that would be worthwhile.

Kelly Grainger of Interface

Kelly Grainger of Interface

Kelly Grainger, Interface sustainability manager for the UK & Ireland (ex PepsiCo and responsible for the Carbon Trust accreditation of Walker’s Crisps) treated the 50-strong audience to an intelligent and entertaining romp through Interface’s sustainability journey, interspersed with some rather damning examples of American ‘greenwash’ adverts. Grainger’s message was essentially about the importance of metrics and measuring, a familiar theme, but he pitched it well. If you don’t quantify your impacts, you don’t know where to start. Interface’s metrics are surprising – it’s really all about the yarn.

David Clark of Cundall

David Clark of Cundall

Next up was David Clark of Cundall whose talk was billed as: Energy and Carbon in buildings - are we measuring the right things? The uninspiring title was misleading. Clark proceeded with one of the best talks I’ve heard on understanding energy in buildings, with numerous images and anecdotes which were new to me. It’s all based on his upcoming book from RIBA Publishing, What Colour is your Building?, (haven’t seen it yet, but odd choice of cover image) due out in June. Judging from Clark’s talk, his book will be an illuminating read and may prove to be the book we have all been waiting for to shed some light on all the misunderstanding surrounding building performance data.

Pamela Bate of Hopkins who heads the practice’s interiors team was last up and had worked on the Gibbs Building interiors. Pamela introduced Hopkins’ work with a polished run through of slides of their green buildings, enumerating each building’s numerous green ‘features’. She mentioned that the practice has a ‘green team’, though she is not part of it. Sadly the Hopkins presentation, despite the beautiful buildings, was the least compelling of the lot, because it didn’t put across the practice’s integrated approach to design and what it really takes to deliver a green building. During the Q&A, I asked about the practice’s track record in performance monitoring (see the AJ Mind the Gap seminar), and Pamela was unable to respond.

interface GST

It’s a shame that for an event such as this, Hopkins did not field a member of their green team. 

Thomas Heatherwick’s Bleigiessen, a sculpture in the atrium (which is actually visible from the Euston Road but I had never noticed it) is spectacular and a visit to the building is worthwhile for this alone. 

interface GST

Another fun fact is that the atrium’s tree planters sit on a bed of golf balls so that they can be easily rotated to keep the trees from growing one-sided towards the light.

All in all, a very dense, informative opening to what has been a completely manic week of Green Sky Thinking 2013. I didn’t make it to all the seminars I had hoped to attend; I think we all feel that way. Thank you, Open-City!


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