Sustainable cities: “we’re waiting for everyone else to make the first move”

Staff at the UK Green Building Council give their views on how cities can make sustainable improvements. The organization was founded in 2007, with the intention of radically transforming the way British buildings are designed, constructed, maintained and operated.

Tom Poldre, a senior employee, tells me about his career in sustainability. One of his clients was Cadillac Fairview, which is a Canadian property management company that builds Canada’s tallest and most noticeable skyscrapers.

“One major problem was light attracting birds, they’d fly into these massive office towers and kill themselves”.

The only reason the lights were turned on at night was for when the cleaners came in, and it was an easily solved issue; get the cleaning staff to work during the day. “That’s what I like, the basic grass roots, simple to identify problems”.

Poldre adds that he lived in Singapore for a while. “They’ve done an excellent job with urban greening and public transit. Singapore is a model city of what’s possible. Cities need to be more livable and walkable to reduce your carbon footprint”. London is one city that has made hiring a bike from as little as £2 possible, this aims to reduce air pollution and promote healthy living.

He explains that the hardest thing about working at UKGBC is “getting companies interested in what we have to offer”. UKGBC has organised workshops around the country, showcasing their construction designs to potential clients.

Another employee at UKGBC is Julia Clough, she has worked within sustainability for 10 years and is skeptical as to whether big businesses are committed to their promises of creating a cleaner future.

“Building and construction companies have a huge amount of power to buy products along their supply chain that are eco-friendly”.

Clough discovered her interest in sustainability after doing voluntary conservation work where she found passion for wildlife and habitats. She believes that humans and systems can be better managed.

“We’re waiting for everyone else to make the first move”, expresses Clough.

It’s cheaper to do things unsustainably and use resources without thinking where they’ve come from and where they’re going to end up. “Sustainability is not quite mainstream, it’s a ‘nice to have’, rather than a ‘must have’. Businesses have to be brave and take a risk, which might mean losing a bit of competitive edge in the first immediate term, but you gain a lot in the long term”, Clough tells me.

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