Peter Fisher and Ben Hopkins of Bennetts Associates explain why the profession should follow the example of climate change activist Greta Thunberg
On 20 September, the school strike for climate movement is inviting adults to join children in pushing for action on climate change. Bennetts Associates will be among them, alongside a number of other practices that have committed to the cause.
The school strike for climate movement started last year with a single Swedish schoolgirl sitting in protest outside Sweden’s parliament and is now a global movement. It has given rise to a number of inspirational leaders across the globe and, alongside Extinction Rebellion, has moved climate change into the public discourse.
The reasons Bennetts is joining the protest are many and varied. A number of our staff had asked whether they could join the protests (the answer: of course!). The UK Green Building Council, to which Bennetts belongs, is encouraging its members to support the strike. Elsewhere, Germany’s service sector union, Verdi, has called on its 2 million members to join.
Above all, though, it is simply the right thing to do.
What do we believe this will achieve? We have a strong history of climate change leadership, being a founding member of the UKGBC, the first and thus far only architect in the world to have approved science-based targets and a track record of low-carbon buildings.
However, being one of the more advanced practices in terms of climate change means absolutely nothing if our efforts are still not commensurate with a climate emergency (something that the UK Government has yet to realise).
During the day, as well as going out of the office to support the youth movement, we will also be focusing internally on how we can ratchet up our ambition to reduce emissions across our projects, our business and our personal lives.
Beyond the internal effects, what else do we hope to achieve? A single architectural practice closing for a day should have no impact whatsoever, even if some of our clients may think twice when they read our out-of-office reply. But who would have imagined the power a single schoolgirl sitting outside a parliament building could have?
The truth is that, no matter how much we do as architects to reduce the impact of our designs and move towards regenerative architecture, or as individuals, by stopping air travel or eating less meat, for examples, such efforts will not halt climate change on their own.
All of these actions are essential as a way of facilitating a low-carbon future, and should be done without delay. But they also act to create political space to make ambitious and globally binding reductions.
To date, despite all the efficiency savings technology has brought us, the global deals from Kyoto to Paris and all of the individual actions, we have yet to stop greenhouse gas emissions from rising.
As Greta Thunberg recently put it: ‘We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed. All political movements in their present form have failed.’
There are many business reasons for acting on climate change, too. But the reality is that it’s the right thing to do, and that should be enough.
Peter Fisher is a director and Ben Hopkins an associate at Bennetts Associates