The recent Coronavirus epidemic has placed greater focus on sustainability within the built environment, the speakers at the recent Sustainable Development & Green Infrastructure Webinar concluded.

“We need green infrastructure professionals involved from the start. This still isn’t happening enough,” said Toby Gibbs, Managing Director for Logika Consultants. He explained that within the design process projects there are always layers, and he proposed an integral “environment layer.”

Gibbs also rejected the notion that just any incorporation of green infrastructure was positive: “Poorly designed green infrastructure may actually trap air pollution in places people congregate.”

Gibbs praised the implementation of minor sustainability projects, such as the green and brown roofs in London, as they can add up to major gains: “Green infrastructure can have significant benefits, but it must be based on good science and good design. It must try to serve more than one environment purpose and have clear objectives.”

Kristina Arsenievich, Senior Sustainability Consultant for Canary Wharf Group, echoed Gibbs and said that on their recent Crossrail Place scheme an integral part of planning was “bringing in ecologists at Stage 1.”

Arsenievich stated that “well-being is set to be incredibly important when bouncing back from Covid-19” and described how the virus had ushered in a change in the mindset of everyday people towards green infrastructure. She told delegates: “I think that we are changing, the grassroots demands are really coming through from being locked away, often without access to green space. It really is changing our approach in the industry.”

Ian Pritchett of Ssassy Properties, highlighted the need for sustainability within the construction itself: “Over half of the C02 generated in the UK either comes from buildings or within the construction of buildings.”

According to Prichett the average house is responsible for approximately 50 to 60 tons of CO2 and will generate 5 tons every year of use.  He emphasised the fact biomaterials, such as timber are actually carbon negative and that Ssassy property uses timber and hemp to construct their sustainable homes.

He proposed that governmental tools, such as Stamp Duty and SIL could incorporate sustainability as well as value within their assessments, to incentivise firms to make the switch.

Wilmott Dixon is showing how major contractors can act on the environment, already being carbon neutral within their operations since 2012, according to Chief Sustainability Officer, Julia Barratt.

Barratt discussed the firm’s 2030 targets, which include eliminating fossil fuels, delivering an environmental gain “way beyond” the 10% discussed for the upcoming Environmental Bill and having all of Willmott Dixon’s buildings carbon neutral by 2030.

In addition to brick and mortar aspects of the built environment, transport was also zeroed in as key to a long-term sustainability strategy.

Megan Streb, Partnerships Manager for Sustrans, disputed the common misconception that young people are the sole force leading the shift to sustainable modes of transport. She said: “If by young people you mean everyone under 60 then that statement’s correct. In all types of settlements people are now making fewer trips by car and driving fewer miles.”

Streb noted the elected officials sometimes placed barriers towards sustainable transport methods, where in fact the majority support expanding bike lines and closing roads outside of schools during peak times.

Kate Howe of Public Sector PLC raised the importance of an integrated approach to sustainability: “You can have sustainable modes of transport, cycling and walking routes, but if the buildings don’t have showers and a locker, people aren’t going to be incentivised to use them.”

Howe also discussed how integration of sustainability required close working with partners, but also a balancing act: “Regulatory conflict is something we sometimes find, for example when there are improvements made to fire safety that can sometimes clash with the sustainability agenda.”

Covid-19 has accelerated the cultural shift towards prioritising sustainability, but as discussions emphasised, it needs to be included from start, integrated and work with partners and be supported by those in government.