In a sector responsible for 35–40% of total global carbon emissions, the scale of the challenge within the property industry is significant, as is the potential to realise transformatory benefit.
Five Manchester-based practices, B Corps Pentameter, Ward Williams Associates (WAA), and Planit-IE, and soon to be accredited Buttress and Hemsec, came together to share how this movement and community is prompting change; seeking to use Business as a Force for Good. The co-hosted gathering was attended by leaders across Manchester’s construction industry with the ability to influence change within their organisation.
Founder of Pentameter, and co-chair of the city’s B Local, Annalise Lewis opened the evening, outlining how B Corp seeks to utilise business as a force for good through sustainable and ethical practice. This global movement seeks to radically change the way we do business, making a fundamental shift from shareholder primacy to stakeholder value, to reduce the cost of capitalism to people and planet. By raising up consideration of people and the natural world in balance with profit, we can create a more equitable and sustainable future.
The value of this holistic approach, encompassing governance, workers, environment, community and customers, chimed with WWA’s long history of commitment to the triple bottom line approach. Partner, and Co-Chair of the B Corp Built Environment Working Group, Scott James, explained how the movement had been a true driver for change, innovation and growth within the business. The programme has helped them respond to the Climate Emergency, committing to ensuring their operations are carbon neutral by 2030, and supported delivery of resilient, adaptable places.
Director Kevin Redhead, shared Planit-IE’s advancement towards regenerative practice, and strong social ethos. He explained how values that have always been in our DNA, have been given a new sense of purpose and structure by the B Corp framework, so they consistently underpin all governance, decision-making and design innovation.
The imperative to reduce carbon emissions through changing practice, specification and reuse of existing materials is underway. In-situ resurfacing of existing cobbles to remove ‘loaf-tops’ that have been domed by years of weathering and use, has been used to reform smooth-paved surfaces across Oldham town centre. Below ground, Stockholm-design tree pits can be employed to provide structural support to surfacing, eliminating the need to pack the substrate with plastic crates, and landscapes can be created to maximise carbon sequestration through design and their management.
The themes of utilising natural solutions and a potential return to more traditional techniques was also explored by Managing Director of Hemsec, Stephen Painter. Currently producing insulation from plastic, the family-run business seeks to buy-back and reconstitute units at the end of their life. Looking ahead in conjunction with partners, they’re investigating how mycelium can be utilised to form insulation. It currently takes a month to ‘grow’ a 100mm panel. Slower to produce, but a more sustainable product, akin to their founder’s use of cork to insulation ice-cream carts.
Matthew Burl, Associate Director of Buttress, spoke of the uncomfortable questions that the process of becoming a B Corp prompted them to ask of themselves. It exposes weaknesses, which require deep-rooted and hard work to address, continually holding them to account. On the cusp of assessment, the practice can confidently demonstrate clear ESG credentials to their clients, and will soon utilise their B Corp accreditation as a measure of Trust and Authenticity.
With an ever ready ‘we can’ attitude, Manchester steps up rather than steps back from a challenge. It was evident from post-presentation questions and discussion that the will is already there and growing. Forward-thinking, bold and innovative, together we can realise impactful change. Collaboration is one of our industry’s strengths, and we now need to engage the skills we’ve honed through projects to take collective action that safeguards our future.