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Thursday, March 29, 2007
British Land becoming 'carbon-neutral'
That is, if you count offsetting. The carbon-neutral rhetoric is here certainly being used as weak greenwash. British Land announce they will go carbon neutral by 2009. One really telling aspect of how they are approaching this came out when I read some of the details:

Their head of planning and environment Adrian Penfold on BREEAM. "If there's a criticism it doesn't focus enough on issues like climate change. It's watered down by other factors," he says and advocates adopting a "modular" approach to eco-measurement.. "There could be a module directly focused on global warming and other modules dealing with other issues, which would form part of an overall rating."

Herein, to me, lies the rub: BREAAM admirably tries to create a holistic understanding of sustainability. Hence it is not all about those carbon targets. It does matter where your building is sited, whether there is adequate public transport, and all those other aspects that I suspect is what Penfold means by being 'watered down by other factors'. A super-insulated rainwater-recycling biomass-burning business park is still not sustainable, if it is sited miles from anywhere and encouraging car use, or if it is displacing natural habitats of value. But these days, all anyone wants to talk about is direct carbon emissions, because it is (supposedly) easy to measure, and you can reduce them by doing things that are relatively easy, requiring only a bit more money, and that don't affect your core business model (as, for example, deciding never to build another out-of-town business park would).

There's a real danger here, and I'm not the first to point it out, that we are entering a world where only carbon (and, to a certain extent, water) matters. But sustainability is about systems, about how a system works from top to bottom and across scales; about networks of decision-making, about lifestyles and complexity. Developers like BL need to buy into this approach, if they are to have any integrity; looking beyond their direct 'footprint' to the implications of the things they do. They may argue that the systems thinking is for planners and policy-makers to do, not them; but that is clearly dodging the bullet.


Blogger joanium said...

I absolutely agree. I feel uncomfortable that admirable and cloutful organisations are focusing so much on climate change to the exclusion of things like employment, chemical toxicity, resource depletion... I believe that climate change is a symptom (a huge one) of our dysfunctional systems, which promote consumption, inequity, and so on. Doesn't mean we shouldn't respond to climate change, just that we need to remember the bigger picture!

6:44 pm  

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