Sustainability – more than a matter of taste

Someone once called me ‘one of those Green hippies’ and I suppose I could be one, but it has come about largely by coincidence than by design.


I prefer to walk or take public transport mostly because I am not a car enthusiast, have generally found car ownership a necessary evil and cost and I hate driving.


I have retrofit my house to reduce energy consumption because financially it makes sense and I like to stay warm and hate draughts.


I am passionate about designing in timber, it looks great and as a material has layers of complexity that make it a real challenge.


I advocate repurposing and refurbishing existing buildings because I enjoy the challenge of deciphering buildings, their history, how they were designed, how they are structurally stable and how they can be sympathetically and appropriately adapted.


I suppose having grown a beard might have shaped perceptions as well, but I’m pretty confident that just makes me on-trend rather than a hippy these days!?!


However, all that being said, I am truly passionate about creating a sustainable (in the original sense of the word, not necessarily the principles with which the word has been imbued) and equitable future for following generations.


I want my daughter and her children, which she tells me will be either two or three depending on whether her career in dentistry and her husband can accommodate – is this a normal dilemma for a five year old? – and her children and grandchildren to have happy, fulfilling and safe lives much as I have up to this point at least. It troubles me that so many here and across the world now and in the future do not or will not have the same level of opportunity that I have had.


In my view, as engineers and scientists we could be and should be the driving force behind ensuring this sustainable and equitable future, and we should be supporting and even encouraging efficient use of resources, both for construction and operation to balance with efficiency in land-use.


I often therefore find myself questioning the morality of an economic system and social model that rewards the inefficient use of finite and close-to-exhaustion natural resources to build and service ever taller, super-tall buildings or low density, low rise sprawl.


Don’t get me wrong, I have been seriously lucky in my career to spend some years developing structural solutions for a 52-store building in Shanghai and it was a great engineering challenge! It appeals to a large part of me that I have such a building in my experience and I get envious when I see other tall buildings jumping up on the London skyline and sometimes wish I could work on a similar scheme again. So I understand the desire to deliver and put your name to these landmark buildings.


However, I have also been lucky to work on some complex, small and sustainable projects and here the engineering challenge has been just as great and incredibly innovative solutions delivered and I genuinely feel more proud of these projects and my involvement in them.


By Jamie Siggers, Partner