Architects Declare, the 11-point declaration that seeks to mitigate architects' contribution to the climate and biodiversity emergency, has captured imaginations across the world....
And so it should.
The built environment contributes a mighty 40% of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. The technology exists to reduce this dramatically and yet, the industry continues to work in ways that retain the status quo, and laud projects that clearly do little to make a difference to this shocking statistic.
Now with almost 1,000 signatories in the UK and, under the wider banner of Construction Declares, more than 5,000 in 23 countries across the globe, not to mention similar declarations by other built environment professionals, Architects Declare is coming of age.
The declaration, which is signed by practices rather than individuals, varies slightly in each country and for each profession. Here in the UK, it states that signatory practices will seek to:
For many practices, the declaration's commitment to radical change is not an easy ask: in a recent survey of signatory practices in the UK by the Architects' Journal, only 13% said that they never broke the pledges; so, there is a long journey ahead if the profession is to become squeaky clean on climate issues.
On this basis, Architects Declare has established a firm ‘no public blame and shame’ policy, focusing instead on encouragement and support. Every signatory organisation is expected to self-govern its progress toward achieving the commitments it has made.
In Architect Declare's own end-of-year survey, signatories said that their biggest obstacle to delivering the declaration came from their clients. Perhaps this is hardly surprising, after all on many projects, the architect is really only a very small contributor to the wider project parameters, which makes it tough to challenge or change the way things are done at a strategic level - particularly on larger infrastructure and commercial projects.
- May 2020: Architects Declare first year survey of signatory practices
Even so, there are many ways in which architects can be influential, and one of the things Architects Declare asks of its signatories, is to wield their influence, whichever table they are sitting at - individually or collectively.
It is therefore of some concern to see that, beyond clients, the major difficulties that signatory practices say they face relate to their own knowledge levels, skills, time and resource.
To help address these identified skills gaps, Architects Declare sees one of its principal activities to be sharing information, tools and best practice, supporting its signatories in their attempts to deliver the Declaration.
In its first year, Architects Declare in the UK has held a number of events and workshops: from the inaugural meeting, where Kate Raworth gave her inspiring keynote talk, to more focused workshops where best practice has been shared - and then made available to all signatory practices on-line.
Recognising that knowledge is often best shared locally, there is now a drive to encourage regional Architects Declare groups to meet and share case studies, new ways of working, project details and so on. Regional LinkedIn groups have been set up and the first local meetings are underway.
At the other extreme, thanks to COVID-19, everyone is now so au fait with Zoom that regular meetings are taking place to share ideas with declared countries across the world.
All that aside, one of the most positive statistic from the survey must be, that 80% of respondents say they have changed their organisation and approach to projects as a direct result of signing up to Architects Declare.
This suggests that Architects Declare is already successfully instigating change at a grass roots level. Ensuring that practices have the knowledge to voice a professional opinion with confidence will be key to then leveraging that change.
Given the fact that strategic influence is such a tough nut to crack, it has been hugely encouraging to learn that over 90% of those who responded to the Architects Declare survey, want Architects Declare to step up in terms of advocacy, and speak to industry and Government with a mandated collective voice.
The first moves have already been made, with a letter to the Prime Minister this week, calling for four key actions to help the construction industry amend its polluting ways, as the economy gears up again, post COVID-19:
So where next for Architects Declare?
In a nutshell, more advocacy, more knowledge sharing and more influence.
To help frame these activities, a Strategy for Change has been created. This is a living document that will flex and develop over time, all the while keeping an eye on the end game of creating an industry that, as a minimum, operates within planetary boundaries, and more ambitiously, is founded on regenerative principles that give back to the natural world.
For those of you who are interested, Architects Declare resources can be found on the Architects Declare website
If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to sign up.