|(L to R) Prof. Tim Dixon (Director, OISD), Dr Paul McNamara (PRUPIM) and Dr Samantha Miles (Oxford Brookes Business School)|
|(L to R) Dr Jake Piper (OISD: IAU); Dr Nicola Dempsey (OISD: SUE-Cities and Prof. Elizabeth Burton (OISD:SUE-WISE)|
In 2050, when we look back on the first decade of the 21st century as the time the world woke up to climate change, where will the finger of blame lie for our slow response?
Certainly, there will have been no shortages of warnings. On 15 January 2008, Change to Survive: Creating a 21st Century Sustainable Built Environment not only highlighted the research of OISD (the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development), but also the seriousness of the problem. Is the UK ready and willing to make the necessary transition to sustainable economic growth? Dr David Vincent, Director of Policy at the Carbon Trust, said he doubted it how will we meet the massive cut in emissions needed equivalent a cut in household energy use to a tenth of current levels to meet 2050 carbon reduction targets?, he asked.
If we are to survive what is generally agreed to be the greatest challenge of our time, then it is to academic and industry/public sector partnerships we have to turn for solutions. The conference attracted over 80 delegates, including property developers Barratt Homes and John Laing, local authority planners and politicians, property investors, architects and others to hear what academics from Oxford Brookes University have to offer.
OISD was formed in 2004 by founding directors Professors John Glasson and Mike Jenks to pull together the various strands of sustainability focused research within the School of Built Environment at Brookes. New OISD Director and Professor of Real Estate, Tim Dixon outlined some of the questions OISD researchers were now addressing:
- How can we make existing buildings energy efficient?
- Is it possible to influence people’s behaviour through design?
- What is the impact of major infrastructure projects?
- What makes healthy and sustainable communities?
- How can we reduce our carbon footprint?
Measuring the energy efficiency of the existing building stock is an essential first step. Dr Rajat Gupta, co-director of the architecture unit at OISD, has developed the award winning DecoRuM model for measuring carbon emissions on a large scale. This enables planners to measure the likely carbon emissions of whole neighbourhoods. He is now leading an industry-funded project to develop a toolkit for the UK’s Code for Sustainable Homes. Elizabeth Wilson is currently working on a EU Framework6 project with partners across Europe which will influence future policy. Her research focuses on ways of adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.
Professor Georgia Butina Watson has worked extensively on the concept of identity and what makes a place, summarised in her recent book Identity by Design. She identified what she calls ‘the four pillars of sustainability’: permeability, variety, legibility and resilience. This is being put into practice, for example, at the Thames Gateway, where researchers have recently evaluated development proposals in Hackney, with regard to both sustainability and urban design.
OISD (in partnership with Brookes' Business School) is also developing the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) through an Oxford Brookes University network aimed at business. It is working on developing the sustainable use of materials in the building industry and new methods of construction. It can also provide the skills to analyse existing buildings, showing how green credentials can be improved. The conference heard that social sustainability is as important as environmental sustainability, and Professor Elizabeth Burton outlined research into the link between well-being and the design of neighbourhoods. Research has disproved the notion that older people like living in the new high density urban neighbourhoods being created in city centres, she said. In another stream of research, Dr Carol Dair has run the Sustainable Lifestyles Plus project, seeking to establish whether sustainable development can bring about a change in behaviour in residents. For example, if better provision is made for cycling, will people be more likely to give up their cars?
Commenting on the success of the conference and South East Excellence’s key sponsorship of the event, Pat Tempany, Head of Urban Renaissance and Housing, SEEDA said:
'South East Excellence was pleased to support the OISD 'Change to Survive' event on the 15th January 2008. We were particularly encouraged by the level of attendance and the range of public and private sector participants. It is of paramount importance that different organisations and sectors work together to address climate change and work towards creating a sustainable built environment. This event was a step towards achieving that, and gave us all food for thought about the need to apply sustainability principles across all aspects of our business'
Summing up, Tim Dixon said University researchers were working closely with industry and government on a range of sustainability projects.
“Our mission is to really make a difference, and contribute to a more sustainable environment and better quality of life. We face tremendous challenges, but we hope by building on our strong research partnerships with industry and the public sector that we will have a real impact on the outside world. As Mahatma Gandhi said in a different context, ‘"We must be the change we wish to see'."
(Our thanks are due to Lucy Tennyson of Rudi for her help in producing this conference press release)