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World Environment Day is a global annual event for positive environmental action, and this year the theme is calling for us to ‘Connect with Nature’. On June 5th, the #WorldEnvironmentDay campaign is encouraging us all to get outdoors, explore natural environments and better understand the importance of our relationship with nature how much we depend on it.

Between the announcement last Thursday on the US’s position on the Paris accord, and this Thursday, the day the UK will vote in the snap election, the timing of the campaign couldn’t be better to remind us how politics can shape the way we both value the environment and prioritise it.

With President Trump announcing his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Accord, we now have a clear view of the direction that the US are taking on climate change. But the debate is missing an understanding that in recent years, scientific advances have demonstrated the countless ways in which natural systems support the fundamentals of our existence. From our health and wellbeing to our livelihoods and the economy, the natural world has a part to play in it all. We must understand our connection to natural world so as to protect it, and the green building industry is no exception to this rule.

Closer to home, Thursday June 8th fast approaches and the minds of the UK are centred on who to vote for at the polling station. Since the announcement of the snap election, we’ve been considering the commitments made by the major parties with regards to both the natural and built environment. Looking through the various commitments, it has been encouraging to see pledges regards to energy efficiency and Zero Carbon homes, and a recognition that design quality and sustainability can form a beneficial symbiotic relationship for green building. However, we will have to wait until after Thursday’s result to fully understand what this snap election will mean for the natural and built environments in the UK.

It is important as we drive change, we do so based on “sound science”, which is why BREEAM has spent years at the forefront of industry research, making us the world’s leading sustainability assessment for the built environment. We understand how the industry can mitigate negative impacts of development, enhance the effect of positive ones, and ensure development does not hinder the natural world but actually supports it.  It is in more recent years however, that we have learned to not only consider how the built environment can support the natural world, but how the natural world can improve the built environment.

Humans are part of nature, and yet we isolate ourselves from it by spending 90% of our lives indoors. Increasingly evidence is showing that this is not good for our health and wellbeing, and people are beginning to recognise how nature can help to prevent and treat various illnesses. In Japan for example, instead of taking pills, medical practitioners prescribe taking a walk in the forest as part of the treatment for some mental health conditions.

Nature is good for us and Biophilic design is a method of bringing those natural benefits to our internal environments. Biophilic design brings the natural qualities of daylight, sound, plants, diversity of layout, texture, natural colours, air flow and visual perspective into human centred interiors. The outcome of which is helping building users to reconnect with nature, even when going about their daily routines indoors.

Healthcare environments that utilise Biophilic design report faster recovery rates from operations, education establishments see better student outcomes and staff performance, and offices find occupants with higher reported levels of wellness, productivity, creativity and reduced absenteeism. Where a connection with nature indoors is made possible, a more human centred philosophy can create deep green sustainable interiors that are better for our health and wellbeing as well as being environmentally sustainable. BRE’s biophilic office project is building a robust evidence base of the impacts felt by occupants after an office refurbishment. With this evidence BRE will produce guidance to enable more developments to create biophilic designed, energised and restorative indoor spaces.

Despite the current uncertainty in politics around the environment, the green building industry will continue to drive sustainable design & construction for the benefit of building users and the environments in which developments reside. What’s important to remember, on World Environment Day in particular, is that we are a part of nature and that connection is one that we should embrace.

Kerri-Emma Dobson
About the Author
Kerri-Emma has experience in Sustainability assessments, planning and reporting, EIA, Social Sustainability, and Sustainability Marketing. Having previously worked in environmental consultancy, her current role is as a BREEAM Technical Consultant within the UK New Construction Team.

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