Daiva Bartke, Purcell's Head of Sustainability, discusses the development of the practice’s sustainability toolkit and the importance of environmental training for Purcell colleagues during a time when a global pandemic is changing how we approach design each week at a time.

Architecture was already one part of the construction industry that generated a huge amount of landfill waste. This material waste needs to be thought of as a ‘food’ for different opportunities across the design industries.

A lot of practices that say they’re sustainable would be designing passive houses from scratch — that’s great — especially as we have a shortage of houses in the UK. But if estates already have existing buildings on site, owners should think about reusing previously unwanted material more than ever before. During these unprecedented times, the global pandemic has proven that sustainable design is vital not only for the health of our planet but is also critical for public health and welfare.

Since Purcell began, the practice has championed the adaptive reuse of buildings as a sustainable approach to architecture. Awareness of the importance of communicating sustainable measures internally and externally has since grown so that all stakeholders involved in our projects and consultancy are aware of the principles we have instilled into our approach.

Through the development of a sustainability toolkit and informative CPDs (Continuing Professional Development forums) - which are open to all staff across our practice - we strive to enhance and expand the longevity of our buildings to reflect the rapidly changing demands, measures and standards.

It is common knowledge that the ‘greenest buildings’ are the ones that have already been built and a vast amount of our projects focus on the adaptive reuse of what already exists.

As the built environment has a huge impact on global warming and public health, the current pandemic has ushed 'universal connectivity' for change, and green buildings must be a key part of the solution moving forward. Educating our clients is vital and enables full engagement with the importance of sustainable buildings for our current and future urban landscape. Throughout our projects where we can exceed building regulations (from increasing insulation, providing better ventilation and maximizing space) we do so, and we continue to evolve and develop our processes across our studios.

To ensure quality assurance across our buildings, we have developed a ‘sustainability toolkit’ which is a checklist based on the BREEAM assessment categories. We can now use these measures to set a standard of how sustainable building design will affect the impact of Covid-19 on our workspaces, homes and public buildings for the next 12 months and beyond.

In essence, the toolkit it is a basic matrix document, but designers can work through the app and tailor it to their project; presenting a refined and focused version that serves the requirements of the project being designed. If these sustainable measures are implemented from the beginning of the project it is far easier to achieve sustainability goals at the end. It is an efficient way of showing and explaining sustainable measures to clients.

If one does this the other way around, such as designing first, then retrospectively attempting to place any design sustainability elements afterwards, not only will it be far more expensive, but it can take longer and can result in abortive work.

While we live in uncharted times economically, following the matrix we have implemented is now an essential part of ensuring efficient cost control. It allows us to meet current environmental health rules that may affect the design of buildings in the long term.

Our toolkit clearly states the following, “Think about sustainability implementation from the very start of the project, ensure it is included in the project brief, and fully engage with the clients on current sustainability measures." We then check through the RIBA stages on whether the objectives are being achieved and how it meets measures that current health and people-movement guidelines are stating that now need to be in place.

Although our sustainability strategy is built on BREEAM principles, the aim is to shape our toolkit to reflect the outcomes of our project, so little by little it will become our own.

Across our studios, we’re conducting an ongoing sustainability and environmental CPD training series focusing on water storage, clean air, green roofs amongst many other topics. These are not only external CPDs but internal ones by our partners and sustainably-minded staff. There are also new implications the global pandemic has brought which need to be frequently communicated to our design teams.

Particularly important is that the CPDs are open to all staff - this helps the practice continuously learn. We have a sustainability focus group of 15+ people covering the whole of the UK and Asia Pacific. We meet regularly and exchange ideas, best practice approaches, new design methods and lectures that we’ve been to. We then go back to our individual’s studios and give these CPDs focusing on what we’re doing and how, in the future, we can improve the sustainability of our projects. This way, we can ensure we are meeting the changes that the virus will bring to our design approaches.

By sharing, discussing, debating, testing ideas off each other we are addressing the current pandemic situation with our clients and partners as best as possible. By running our CPDs as open to all staff across the practice; from heritage consultants, architects and through to our communications teams, for example, we also ensure that our people across all studios continue to develop their environmental and social sustainability knowledge.

By continuously learning throughout this ever-changing climate and engaging in the global debate, we hope our staff will take and share this knowledge throughout their projects and professional careers. This will continue to strengthen our ability to serve the design needs for our communities and support our clients through this challenging time.