The Climate Crisis Challenge


Usually, when the lighting industry goes quiet over something its for one of two reasons; expect a mass launch of new products at Frankfurt – or it’s something that’s too difficult to get the head around so let’s ignore it and hope it goes away. Given that Frankfurt Licht+Bild is a matter of months away, there is a SLIM chance that a mass response to the Climate Crisis might be unveiled among the usual sublime/ridiculous offerings, but my money’s on the other thing; it’s too difficult – someone please make it go away.


But this time around, I’m not sure that’s going to work for us.

The UK government recently declared a Climate Emergency and then passed the buck to a Citizen’s Assembly, refusing at the same time to guarantee taking-up that body’s recommendations; so that looks like business as usual as far as our elected representatives are concerned.

Of more interest to those of us in the construction sector (which is anyone likely to be reading this), the RIBA has also declared an Environment and Climate Emergency and is calling on RIBA members to act accordingly. Ben Derbyshire, RIBA president said: “The climate emergency is the biggest challenge facing our planet and our profession. But to have a significant impact we need to do more than make symbolic statements – we need to turn warm words into impactful actions.” The RIBA is implementing a five-year plan that will allow it to look at the effects of new design approaches and to evaluate the impact those changes make. What happens in the next five years could change the face of building design for the rest of our lives. This could get very interesting .

Alongside the main RIBA position, Architects Declare is a group of RIBA members who are hoping to have every UK architectural practice join them in making a series of commitments to sustainable architectural design. As I write this the list of signatories is just shy of 500, so well done to everyone there.

The United Nations has warned that we have just 11 years to limit global warming or risk catastrophic change to habitation all around the globe. Extinction Rebellion have become the new noisy neighbours, asking that we put that barbeque out, and stop flying off to our French cottage every other weekend, and do we really have to drive to work every day?  And you might like to think about the irony of taking that cruiseship up the Northwest Passage to see where the polar bears used to live – and reports come in this very day that the Antarctic has lost as much sea ice in 4 years as the Arctic lost in 34 years.

So what are we to do?

If I have any argument with the RIBA position its that it doesn’t go far enough. The call to arms from Architects Declare is vitally important in respect of the need for radical change in the way that we manage the built environment, but its missing out on something that matters just as much and that is our personal relationship with the impending crises.

Greta Thunberg puts it succinctly: “Act. Do something.” and she’s talking on an individual level; not just sitting around waiting for governments or global corporations to save us. Because they won’t unless they see a groundswell of action from people like you and me to change the way that we do things.

I’ve been getting my head around the planning for the PLDC in Rotterdam later this year and, of course, to Frankfurt Licht+Bild next year. Yes, it’s possible to get there by train and I don’t even need to worry about seasickness pills;. Does it take much longer, once you factor in the horrors of the airport queuing experience? I doubt it. And the views are certainly better. Does that mean I’ll never fly again? Somehow that doesn’t sound likely but, then again, maybe I’m not being imaginative enough. (Why I’m never flying again: Eric Holthaus; 2013)

Here’s another thing.

I was talking to a friend of mine about how many miles he drives in a year, being a managing director and so busy all the time. He reckons its 40,000 miles or so. If we factor in the awful truth that no journey ever gets better than an average of 40 mph, that’s 1000 hours of sitting on your backside doing nothing more than risking your life by taking those essential phone calls while you’re going along.

Let’s assume also, because he’s the boss, that he works longer hours than the rest of us – maybe 60 hours a week and only takes six weeks holiday . . . crikey, that’s only 2760 hours a year . . . almost a third of which he’s spending developing a thrombosis. That’s what I call efficient. Its also what I’d describe as a wake-up call to get a better life; one that means you work more efficiently and more effectively; where you can get home in decent time . . . and you can still keep in touch with those important clients. It’s the 21st century, after all.

Its Action time

Students across 150 countries are calling a Climate Strike for Friday 20 September – and they’re encouraging the alleged adults in the room to join them. So why don’t we do that? It doesn’t mean that we necessarily have to head out onto the streets. Here’s a few thoughts – and I’m really talking to the bosses here:

  • Close the business for the day in solidarity with your kids and grandkids but spend the day (half a day?) with all the staff thinking about ways that the business can reduce its carbon emissions.
  • Commit to everyone reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis. What might that mean for everyone in the company? What alterations might be needed in working practices?
  • Can travel routines be changed? Walk – cycle – get e-bikes – take buses – take trains – lease an electric fleet –  combine as many ideas as you like.
  • What would it mean to you if using a private car wasn’t a practical or an economic option any more?
  • How good are your e-communications?

And what are you doing about your products? The RIBA will be looking for something like this: “Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our client to adopt this approach” Because if this article is about nothing else, its about survival.


This does not go away. If you’d like to let me know what initiatives you come up with I’ll be sure to share all the good stuff here on The Light Review.


Act. Do something.



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John Bullock is the editor of The Light Review

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