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“Collaboration is the new innovation” – a powerful idea for the green building movement

With collaboration increasingly cited as the new innovation, WorldGBC’s Matt Adams explores the notion behind this statement, and the opportunity it presents for decarbonising our built environment.

We are facing the biggest environmental challenge of our time: climate change is becoming increasingly visible across our world, wreaking damaging consequences in its wake. Wildfires now regularly blaze across California, reminding the US west coast of the immediate danger to the nature of our existence. Australia’s largest river, the Murray-Darling is drying up, while the notion of the outback is turning into a dust bowl of despair. Meanwhile, here in the UK, amidst rising anxiety about the implications of Brexit, unprecedented heatwaves and bitter cold snaps occur within a single year.

As 2019 dawned and I returned to work to confront this existential challenge, I was struck by a phrase I heard in a meeting: “Collaboration is the new innovation”. Over the next few days as one often does at this time of year, I reflected on this and explored the notion further. It might be a simple enough phrase to drop into conversation, but the power behind it should not be underestimated.

Firstly, let’s look at innovation. Innovation has been an ever-increasing pillar of our existence since the beginning of the 20th century. In roughly 100 short years, we have gone from horse and carts trotting along at 19.6km/h to high speed trains moving at 320km/h, condensing once day long journeys into the morning commute. We have gone from animals delivering physical letters to basing our entire mode of existence in a digital realm. Innovation and technology have gone hand in hand and with inventions such as the internet revolutionising our societies. And, of course, innovation has played its role in buildings. BIM, renewable energy technologies, data management platforms have allowed us to have solutions available and ready to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our built environment. But innovation can only take us so far: it operates on a case by case basis much of the time and it cannot alone influence the rapid mass scale transformation needed as per the IPCC special 1.5°C report. Globally, innovation is now passing the baton to collaboration as we head for home. So how powerful is collaboration?

Collaboration is not just a singular adjective word but a movement. A movement that has never been clearer or stronger to me than in 2018. Over the course of last year, I have seen this movement exhibit a core set of values; values which ultimately create success.

Collaboration leads.

As part of the world’s largest and most diverse network of sustainable built environment actors, 2018 saw tremendous leadership throughout our network of Green Building Councils (GBCs). Together in partnership with The Climate Group and C40, we launched the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment through our Advancing Net Zero (ANZ) program. With the strength of existing relationships and leadership across our GBC network, the Commitment currently has 46 signatories from business, city, state and region commit to reducing 221 million tonnes of CO2e from their buildings by 2050. In Europe, our regional network of GBCs played a key role in launching a new energy efficiency mortgage pilot scheme which had over 40 major European financial institutions with a combined lending power over 3 trillion euros join; equivalent to 20% of the EU’s gross domestic product. And our Americas Regional Network secured over $600,000 in funding to equip GBCs in the Americas to help city governments, private companies and NGOs work together to deliver energy efficiency in buildings at scale. These examples of leadership pave the way for an exciting future.

Collaboration is inclusive

It invites diversity, promotes resilience and establishes a common language. In December 2018, our MENA Regional Network signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chatham House to encourage reconstruction efforts that foster environmental and social sustainability in war-torn countries across MENA. Our GBC members continue to support our global efforts and voice to take action, with 38 of them operating at the highest standards of impact and influence. And through the requirements of the Commitment, businesses/organisations, cities, states and regions are speaking the language of disclosure, action, verification and advocacy as the true measures of leadership across all sectors and geographies. For the Advancing Net Zero program, there are 18 GBCs from across all 5 regions working to advance net zero buildings in ways appropriate to local market condition.

Collaboration simplifies and shares

As we work together in sharing expertise, we also acknowledge the responsibility that we have to one another to convert shared success into driving scalable action. Even the words “net zero” which previously appeared complex, have been broken down into two harmonious key principles of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Globally, action around these principles are crystallising at a rapid rate. Once a mecca of complexity, cities around the world are unravelling the puzzle through these concepts in their own unique ways from Johannesburg to Los Angeles to Sydney. In 2019, through the Advancing Net Zero program, WorldGBC will work with a broad coalition of stakeholders to demystify the complexities of embodied carbon as necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

So, what next? The stage has been set. The values are strong and I only see them gaining strength and momentum in 2019. While I feel the weight of the challenge, I choose to see the opportunity; the opportunity to put aside differences, stand together and say to our children and future generations: “Yes, we did it”. I believe in the power of collaboration and its role in achieving our mission.

Matt Adams is Project Coordinator, Advancing Net Zero at the World Green Building Council.