Can BTR fully embrace regenerative design?

Craig Sheach at PRP discusses the environmental impact of the sector, and whether or not regenerative design and materials are best suited for Build to Rent developments.

Canada Gardens, Wembley Park. PRP discusses regenerative design in the sector | BTR News
Canada Gardens, Wembley Park.

The property sector is slowly but surely adapting to modern sustainability and environmental efforts. From the materials used in the building of developments, to how it’s sourced and where, are just some of the considerations that developers are now implementing. Less replacement and maintenance lowers Build to Rent’s environmental footprint. Craig Sheach at PRP discusses the environmental impact of the sector, and whether or not regenerative design and materials are best suited for Build to Rent developments.

By Craig Sheach, Partner at PRP

What’s good for the environment is often bad for the construction industry. Cheaper materials with lower capital costs are often harder to maintain and quicker to deteriorate, thereby needing more frequent replacement, increasing carbon intensity, material consumption and waste. Potentially great for the bottom line if you move onto the next project immediately, but terrible for the planet and the people who own the final home.

However, for Build to Rent, environmental benefits are also aligned with developmental ones. Long term hold means long term stewardship and as I’ve written about previously, Build to Rent is all about the long game.

Getting the right specification of materials, products, and systems makes the difference in the frequency of the maintenance and replacement period and reduces the size of maintenance teams, replacement stores and parts held. Added to this, tired looking buildings and public realm impact the attractiveness of the development and increases voids. 

It makes business sense investing in high quality, durable materials, and robust detailing for creating low maintenance buildings that have reduced impact on the bank balance however it has an added, and let’s face it more important, knock on effect. Less replacement and maintenance equals reduced impact to the environment. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building design and the environment. We are now past the point of just minimising our impact by material choices. It helps but it certainly isn’t going to move the needle far. We now need to start thinking more in terms of how we improve the environment with our developments, of putting back rather than reducing what we take. Of net positive rather than carbon neutral. Of doing better rather than less harm. We need to fully embrace Regenerative Design principles, where what we design is more in sync with, and has a net positive effect on, the environment, on our health and wellbeing and on our society. Our interventions need to leave the planet in a better place because we intervened. 

There are fragments of this already occurring throughout the industry. Solar panels that push electricity back to the grid. Recyclable materials that can be used multiple times. Grey, brown and black water recycling, community consultation and co-design, biodiversity enhancements and urban agriculture. All of which benefit the developments and those who live in and visit them by improving health and wellbeing and reducing wastage and costs.

These fragments show that it can be done, but that it’s not being done coherently, consistently or holistically. In order to achieve better for the planet, we need to be pulling on all the levers, rather than a sporadic few. As designers we certainly have a role in advocating for this, but we do not have the final or ultimate say. The most effective, and the most irresistible voice will come from the custodians of developments, and they can have a greater impact the earlier in the process they are involved. 

High quality, environmentally responsible and socially conscious Build to Rent developments are more successful, more profitable and ultimately more sustainable than others. The question is are we achieving as much as we can with them in order to make them net positive contributors to the environment and society?