4 September 2019



By Robin Nicholson CBE

Cullinan Studio Partner and the Edge Convenor

The Climate Emergency is the biggest threat to our normal practices and habits; but as professionals, this presents both a threat and an opportunity, with CABE well placed to play a major part in the revolution. In terms of decarbonising the built environment, how can CABE have an impact and set the pace of change?

We are so used to complying with regulations the results of which are seldom checked, that we hardly ever measure the overall performance of our buildings – yet   performance outcomes should be the key indicators.  Dame Judith Hackitt has identified responsibility and verification as the key to fire safety, as it must be for the net zero carbon built environment: we need to design, deliver and maintain.

Although many claim to be, some like RTPI, SocEnv and CABE are among the few Chartered Institutions that are multidisciplinary. But in our siloed world, CABE stands out by representing the whole process from design and construction, to evaluation and maintenance.  Both the interdisciplinary collaboration and the systemic approach are essential to managing the Climate Emergency. Make no mistake, this is going to be a struggle and change has to be rapid. As an example, what if we expect buildings to perform in-use as their designers claim, and what if we think of new buildings in UK as a privilege?

I have had the good fortune to act as convenor of the multidisciplinary Edge, a voluntary think-tank for the built and natural environment which was set up in 1996 to promote better collaboration between the professional institutions. The Edge promotes major reform of our professions and discusses difficult issues of the moment, such as climate change, building performance and transdisciplinary education. We meet monthly and hold by-invitation debates which are written-up on our website .  In 2015, we published the results of the Edge Commission on the future of professionalism, Collaboration for Change by Paul Morrell, which is available to download.

Considering how best to respond to the Climate Emergency, we decided to do what we do best. This was to bring six or seven professional institutions together to spend half a day discussing how best to work together to meet the demands of the Climate Change Committee.  We were delighted when on 20th June this year, rather than have six or seven institutions gathered at the RIBA for the Edge Climate Action Round Table, there were 25 organisations including CABE.  After the event they signed an agreement accepting the invitation of the Climate Change Committee to cooperate on meeting the UK’s net-zero carbon objectives and to work together to that end.

Robin Nicholson will be speaking at this year’s CABE Annual Conference on 3rd October.

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