Why do Architects need to be more aware of their environmental footprint?
By Michelle Sanchez, Head of the Sustainability Team
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At PDP London, we strongly believe that we live in an ever interlinked and globalised society where our actions have a social, economic and an environmental impact. We are the first generation of architects to address a great global concern through our design. Low carbon architecture is the way forward for our future.
We embrace the idea that our designs need to respond appropriately and enthusiastically to this positive challenge. As an architectural practice, we are the key stakeholders in sustainable design, not only for the buildings and urban spaces we are directly responsible for, but also because of our drive to promote a sustainable approach to architecture.
While there may be doubts as to the accuracy of the climate change predictions and the level of the impact, it’s clear the associated potential risks do not allow us to be complacent. The demand for sustainable buildings is constantly increasing, as the knowledge and understanding of the climate and environmental change has risen over the last decade.
As a company that promotes the need for sustainable design in our projects, it’s important our own operations uphold these values. In order to achieve this, we monitor our environmental footprint every year, reviewing our carbon emissions in different categories (Energy, Mobility, Water, Waste, and Paper consumption). We have set ambitious targets across all the sustainable categories that we evaluate every year, to form our 2020 vision for the future. In 2016, PDP London committed to reducing a minimum of 20% of our waste production, increase the percentage of recyclable waste from 26% to 45%, and decrease our paper consumption by 10%, following a Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle approach.
Let’s take paper consumption as an example. Architecture is a profession that uses a fair amount of paper; we as architects are accustomed to reviewing drawings on paper rather than on the screen. Even though architecture has been moving towards becoming digital for decades, through the use of software as a drawing and modelling tool, we as architects haven’t completely changed to a digital environment, where we naturally review project documentation on a paper rather than on screen, and we accept that for many, the creative process is about the manipulation of pencil and paper, but there are many ways to reduce paper consumption without compromising the creative process.
We estimated our paper consumption from the last financial year was nearly 590,000 A4 sheets or 2,242 kg per year; and only 54% of the total paper used was from recycled sources. The printed paper consumption per capita is 16 kg; which is approximately 4,097 A4 sheets per employee per year, which translates to 16 A4 sheets of paper per day.
It’s estimated that the average office worker in the UK uses up to 45 sheets of paper per day, of which over half is considered waste. However, an efficient office can use as little as 16 sheets of paper per person per day: we’re very pleased and encouraged that PDP consumption falls under the average of an efficient office.
Even though our consumption qualifies as efficient, we’re doing everything we can to lower it, in line with our promise to be a more sustainable office. In order to do that, we came up with some strategies to improve awareness and reward consciousness consumption, such as monitoring monthly paper consumption and having awards for people that use less paper. We also use printing software that tells the user the carbon emissions which will result from the print they’re about to do, so we can increase the awareness and make sure that our employees think before they print.
We also have a Sustainable Champion scheme that helps to promote a more conscious approach to all areas of our business by having at least one person per studio who monitors the sustainability in their team. We also have a Sustainable Team in the office that works on improving the sustainability in our projects and the knowledge across the practice.
One of the most important actions that we are taking is to partner up with Trees for Cities to offset our last year’s paper consumption. Trees for Cities is a charity that works on an international scale to create greener cities. Since 1993, they have planted over 600,000 urban trees in parks, streets, schools and housing estates across the UK, as well as internationally, revitalising these areas and improving the lives of the people who live in them.
Paper offsetting will give us the opportunity to mitigate our paper usage and will also allow us to increase awareness in the office. Whilst we encourage the use of recycled paper in our office, we believe that a responsible employer should also offset their environmental footprint, to give back the natural resources that we have taken from our planet.
There are a number of key environmental issues associated with virgin paper production. These include loss of natural habitat and water stress in certain areas due to intensive tree farming, high chemical and energy use in the manufacturing process, and harmful effects from the landfilling or incineration of paper waste. However, paper is a natural resource that can be recycled up to five times, substantially reducing these impacts.
Trees are usually felled for paper production between the ages of 25 and 40 years. These trees don’t live long enough to deliver the majority of their benefits to society such as, improving air quality, enriching habitats and improving biodiversity, and enabling urban wildlife foraging, to name a few.
This year we will be planting 104 trees to offset our paper consumption from the last financial year, having a day out of the office at Marnham Fields, Ealing, London, with volunteer employees. This will allow us first to mitigate our environmental impact and secondly, to create more awareness in the office, because you might think before you print if you have actually planted trees with your bare hands!
We encourage every architectural office to follow our example, monitoring your environmental footprint, making the commitment to lower your impact, and finding ways to give back the natural resources that you have taken from our planet. By doing this we can ensure that not only the buildings we design have lower environmental footprint, but the way in which we operate as architects is more sustainable too.