Is Sustainability an important part of a design brand?

Peter Murray, chairman of the NLA came to HTA to talk to us this week about communications for architects. It was a very interesting talk with some home truths about how architects often get communications very wrong, and equally how successful they can be when they get it right. He talked a lot of sense about presentation techniques, which are important for any professional, and, most importantly, how to avoid ‘death by powerpoint’.

But I was a little taken aback when, during a discussion about branding for designers he said that it no longer made sense for consultancies to talk about sustainability being part of their brand, as it ‘ought to be part of every companies identity by now’. I have been thinking about this since and I think that he is partly right and partly wrong. He ought to be right because sustainability ought to be part of how people work in construction by now, we certainly have been talking about it for long enough. But are we really doing it? Or just talking about it.

I don’t think that we are doing sustainability yet. We are still routinely designing and building buildings that fall very far short of the standards that we know about. Certainly I cannot think of a single development where the client talks about wanting to design sustainable buildings and places, but instead the discussion is about how to meet the standards that have been enforced on the development from outside by local authorities or Government can be met. The general mood in the housing industry, still reeling from the credit crunch, is that sustainability can wait until we can afford it. So how can we claim to be sustainable? The fact that we don’t appear to be able to afford to build more sustainably at the moment should be a source of regret, and not something that we should accept lightly.

I think that designers need to think about sustainability more, and what it means to us both as individuals and practices, and maybe then we can deliver it.  We must not fool ourselves by thinking that by building the cheapest solution to solve a financial problem while ignoring the ever-growing environmental one is being sustainable.

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