Kevin McCloud talks Sustainability

Designer, writer and television presenter, Kevin McCloud leapt into our consciousness with his vastly successful Grand Designs show on Channel 4. This month, the affable architectural business owner talks about sustainability.

Sustainability in design is obviously a hot topic, yet it comes from a place where the reality is the housing stock in this country is actually pretty poorly constructed, and when that happens it means we are immediately on the back foot as far as sustainability and carbon footprint goes. This comes about because of that classic play-off between the environment and the wallet – they have never been good bedfellows and never will be, so we kind of get what we expect out of the equation.

What that means is that while our homes are typically not as sustainable or environmentally friendly as they might be, we compensate for that fact by trying to wrestle back a bit of positive contribution through our own daily lifestyle habits.

In simple terms, that means all of us can turn the thermostat down, or look towards secondary glazing windows, or put more insulation in the attic. All of us can recycle more, can waste less, can grow our own vegetables, walk more, invest in electric technology, or simply just explore the idea of sharing more with our neighbours.

All of these things reduce collective carbon and environmental footprint, but most also share the idea of community and a common goal, and I think that’s just as important because what you get from that is a project, and a resilience. Thus, when the big enemies come along, whether it’s Covid, or rising sea levels, or huge increases in the cost of living, it all means we don’t need to cower in the corner. Instead, we can act as communities and neighbourhoods, working together, growing stronger and more powerful all the time.

Of course, real sustainability in construction really does come down to the building rather than the inhabitants, and that’s what we need to get across to the next generation of homebuilders.

A lot of that will be about sharing what we have – after all, we have one planet, no back-up, and we know the resources are finite. We’ve perhaps made the mistake in the past of getting really hung up on carbon and its link to climate change and all that. In reality, it’s all a bit more complicated than that – it goes right from deforestation at the top to use of plastics and oil, the projection of the fish population, and a whole bigger side of sustainability that talks about things like high-performing concretes and cements that have a lot of recycled material in them… like blast furnace slag and pulverised fly ash; like building with recycled stone and locally sourced wood materials, and investing in craftsmanship rather than mass-market ways of producing what we need.

When we source materials this way, we tend to value the relationship we have with them that bit more, so we are effectively redrawing the circle in a way that ensures we invest more in what we have.

I’m really looking forward to a new wave of sustainability that goes right from the root, because as much as how we behave as people affects the environment, the way our homes are built in the first place determines so many of our actions, and the extent we need to go to in order to affect the same change.