We are moving to a time when every project has a seat for the planet at the board table. But is there enough understanding of the difference that seat should make?
LDA Design has been looking at what building sustainably actually means, and how you define and secure positive outcomes. Most recently, looking through the lens of environmental impact assessment as a design tool as we guest edited the latest issue of the Outlook Journal of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has always had a guiding role in the planning process for projects likely to have a significant effect on the environment, with its reports on how to avoid, reduce or offset impacts. But the shift to an outcomes-based approach could lead to a fundamental change of project process, with a clear ambition set from the earliest stages, together with a plan which benefits people and nature. This issue of Outlook explores the implications of this shift and the role of EIA coordinators. It contains within it a call to action for clear, bold and confident leadership.
Professor Sadie Morgan OBE believes the future will involve a more considered and pared-back outlook. She makes clear that design requires rigour and process. “Good outcomes never arise from haphazard thinking. To deliver sustainable places, somebody needs to be thinking about materiality, somebody has to be thinking about the environment, somebody has to think about behaviours and how users will interact with what is there.”
Professor Dame Julia King makes clear the need for urgent progress in the face of the climate crisis and a better understanding of our natural environment. She points out we need to factor in resilience and adaptation over time. “With at least 30 more years of escalating hazards ahead, adaptation is still getting pushed down the line. We have lost the last decade in terms of preparing for the risks we already have and those we know are coming.”
In ‘Our most precious asset’, Katie Medcalfe describes how our environment functions as a dynamic and interconnected system and design needs to be rooted in scientific evidence and modelling. Sam Griffiths shows how assessment of alternatives needs strategic environmental data, and to be founded on specific design principles so a proposed development is the right design in the right place.
Hanne Larsson makes clear that EIA professionals act as environmental designers. They need to be courageous in challenging the team and make space for design change to be considered. Matthew Fox asks, “how is this assessment outcome or assumption secured?” and outlines the risks associated with an ‘indicative’ environmental masterplan.
Jeremy Rendell suggests how a new approach to site selection allows for the achievement of positive environmental outcomes and LDA Design director and Trustee Robert Pile outlines how the shift from ‘impact’ to ‘outcome’ can empower engagement and influence the way that projects turn out.
Other articles stress the benefits of a thorough approach to considering alternatives and Ed Hargreaves shows why the move to Environmental Outcomes Report (EOR) Regulations would be so significant.
LDA Design Infrastructure lead Alister Kratt commented “This has been a great chance to get the best minds in the industry together to look at EIA and the design process and principles, and what good leadership looks like in this field.”
Creating a lasting legacy
Finally, it is helpful to think about what design means, and what it is not. This has been written about by Stanford d.School, the Design Council and by McKinsey and Co, amongst others.
Design is more than a feeling: it includes being able to be analytical and to synthesise, demonstrate understanding and being good at communicating and measuring and driving design.
Design is more than a department: it involves cross-functional talent, collaboration and interdisciplinary and integrated working.
Design is more than a phase: it involves iteration, optioneering, learning from others (people and contexts), looking to the future and understanding approaches to governance including flexibility and fixity.
Design is more than a product: the process and outcome is about user experience and people, demonstrating a care for our environment, listening and empathising… human connection and informed environmental response.