Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

Finding eco-architects is tricky, but even traditional thinkers are often ripe for conversion

Wednesday 03 October 2007 00:00

"Where can we find an eco-friendly architect?" is a common plea from my eco-auditing clients. They often report that their architects have been unsupportive of plans to make their new building or refurbishment green, or have no idea how to implement such plans.

There are three ways to deal with this. First, you could use one of the star eco-architects such as Alex Michaelis, who did the refurbishment of David Cameron's house, or Bill Dunster, of the groundbreaking Bedzed development, or Constructive Individuals, which designs beautiful tree-houses.

Alternatively, you could use the search facility on the website of the Association for Environmentally Conscious Building. Or, as a final option, you could use a recommended architect and get them to learn their eco-lessons on your project.

This last option has the advantage that you will have helped an architectural practice to design and work in a more eco-friendly manner. If you go down this route, you would benefit from reading about the experiences of those who have done it before you. Will Anderson's book Diary of an Eco-Builder is an excellent source of information if you're trying to build a new home from scratch, while It's Not Easy Being Green by Dick Strawbridge has useful tips for refurbishments.

With time to tackle climate change running out, the building industry needs to bring zero-carbon techniques into the mainstream as fast as possible. I was asked recently to speak at the Royal Institute of British Architects. The occasion was a climate-change day for its staff, organised by the consultants Corpra.

The building was abuzz with staff visiting carbon-pledge stalls, an information stand on how the RIBA was intending to tackle climate change, and eco-educational games provided by Motiv-Action, a corporate events company which recently underwent a green conversion.

Richard Hastilow, the RIBA's chief executive, told the assembled staff that tackling climate change was now their top priority. As he put it: "RIBA members are centrally involved in a sector of the economy that is responsible for a very significant portion of the UK's emissions of carbon dioxide. As an employer, and as an organisation in its own right, the RIBA has a responsibility to reduce its own carbon footprint. And, as a professional institute, we have a great opportunity to campaign for action."

Most usefully, from the point of view of people who want to employ eco-friendly architects, the RIBA is ensuring that low-carbon design is included in the training of student architects, and that qualified architects have such training as part of continuous professional development.

A messenger is only effective when practising what he preaches, so it was great to hear that RIBA has slashed its HQ's CO2 emissions by 424 tons a year by replacing electric heating with a modern condensing gas boiler.

In a week of very bad news on climate change, with confirmation that the Arctic sea ice has retreated by a terrifying 22 per cent beyond its previous record low, I left the RIBA headquarters thinking that here, at least, finding a local eco-educated architect will not be a problem for my clients for much longer.

Donnachadh McCarthy is the author of Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth. He works as a home and organisational eco-auditor (

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