A Systems-based Approach to Climate-Positive Design

Actions speak louder than declarations.

Driven by an energetic and climate-positive culture across our global studio, Woods Bagot’s Global Impact Group has created the Global Impact Assessment (GIA), a focal point for our sustainability initiatives.

Talk to Shane Burger about A Systems-based Approach to Climate-Positive Design

Our approach towards sustainability is grounded in an understanding that any solution must acknowledge and actively engage in a collection of interrelated and interdependent topics. With this belief at its core, GIA is a new systems-based approach to evaluating the sustainable, socio-economic, cultural, spatial, and performative strategies for all our design projects.

From Communication to Action

The public discourse around climate change has finally reached the level many of us believe it deserves, yet we still lack widespread concrete action. It is not enough to vocalize an aspiration without both tangible follow-through on actions and a regular verification of outcomes. To compliment a strong culture of “climate communicators” we need objective measures embedded in digital systems to ensure impact across all our projects.

The Global Impact Assessment provides a holistic framework for action around climate-positive design strategies. It is grounded in our extensive project establishment processes and aspirational review culture. It provides a knowledge sharing home for guidance on strategies, with exemplar projects. All of this embedded in a bespoke software application.

A Systems-based Approach to Climate-Positive Design

Inspired by the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, GIA frames the investigation across 4 areas of impact: Site Analysis, Social Strategy, Spatial Strategy, and Carbon-driven Design Performance. GIA works hand-in-hand with regional and global standards and sustainability concept (LEED, BREEAM, Zero Waste, Passivhaus, Cradle to Cradle, Living Building Institute, etc). Many of these standards have provided inspiration and guidance for GIA strategies.

We have structured the use of GIA around a collection of strategies for measurable impact, organized into 12 topics: Location, Site, Resiliency, Economy and Society, Community, Innovation, Adaptation, Design with Nature, Massing, Performance, Resources, and Wellness.

The strategies within serve as prompts for action:

How can we work with ERA Co to engage data and spatial analysis to design for density and resiliency?

What opportunities might emerge around the circular economy and by engaging local social partnerships?

Can we create a positive spatial experience and increased occupant wellbeing a consideration of biophilia?

What passive strategies might we consider to reduce operational carbon, and what is the wider impact of embodied carbon on this project?

We’re all in this together

In her piece Global Impact and How to Avoid Obsolescence, Deb Ray talks about the importance of “collaborative alignment” to move beyond disciplinary and role-based silos. We see the Global Impact Assessment as a series of prompts for conversation with our clients, consultants, and any parties contributing to the design, construction, and operations in the built environment. GIA will enable us to collaboratively set KPIs with our clients on a journey towards goals such as the AIA 2030 target of a carbon-neutral built environment.

We intend to use GIA as a mechanism to drive collective passion around a positive vision, encouraging our clients to value the future economic, social, and environmental impacts of the project. We all have a part to play in defining and implementing the global impact goals.

After defining the project’s vision, recording any regional or global accreditation aspirations, and highlighting priority strategies, GIA takes on a role of providing guidance and prompts for action. Questions are asked within each strategy, sometimes requiring digital analysis and simulation, for which the project team provides results for evaluation. This is where our global design review regime comes into play – frequent reviews studio and regional experts provide independent critique, pushing the team to go further.

Behind the scenes is a point-based rating system and dashboards to provide visibility and accountability from local to global studio. Through this Woods Bagot is able to understand how we are tracking holistically week on week, studio by studio, and across all sectors.

All of this is linked to the work of our global Technical Innovation stream, a core team and community of staff dedicated to applied research and development of new processes and tools. Playing a key part of the Global Impact Assessment process is our Environmental Performance Toolkit, a collection of custom analysis tools and validated simulation engines. Built using Ladybug tools, an open-source collection of applications for which Woods Bagot is a contributor and sponsor, the Environmental Performance Toolkit uses validated simulation engines such as Radiance and EnergyPlus. Going further, we are building connections between GIA and the work of our ERA consultancy’s Urban Systems and Superspace teams to provide relevant spatial analysis and data visualization across all scales from a room to a district.

Developed in-house as a web-based application, GIA is based on common web frameworks and open source systems. This provides an easy-to-use interface for staff that is maintainable and extendable into future use scenarios. It is also connected to our internal Design Intelligence Portal (DI Portal), a sort of Instagram for our projects, as well as our management and reporting systems.

Every year we take stock of our accomplishments and adapt in order to continually renew our core purpose and vision around Global Impact. We will use aggregated data from GIA to highlight exemplar projects to be published in our annual Global Impact Report. Lessons learnt will inform Woods Bagot business planning and client strategy. A regular feedback loop from projects and client engagements will drive an annual update to global impact content (strategies and guidance) and will set new targets for the coming year.

Driven by the enthusiasm of our teams, the development of the Global Impact Assessment is moving fast! The first projects are entering beta testing now, and we will be piloting projects in every region in 2020. GIA applies to all scales of our work from interiors to urban experiences, and across all typologies and sectors.

The Global Impact Assessment is our way to ensure our contributions to the built environment are carbon neutral, adaptive and resilient, drive positive economic and social impacts, and ultimately provide climate positive experiences for all people.