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 05-07 March 2019 / ExCeL, London

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05 Sep 2018

Why we all need to think the unthinkable today

Martin Hurn, Managing Director, Futurebuild Events

The decision to evolve ecobuild into Futurebuild following the 2018 event was always going to be a bold one, and not without challenges.

Our vision for Futurebuild is clear. It is a platform to unite industry, a home to the latest innovations and an arena to debate the biggest issues facing the built environment. This final element is where the ecobuild ethos plays an integral role.

ecobuild has always been, and will continue to be, central to the future of the built environment. It’s somewhere that professionals from across industry, at all levels, can come together to discuss vital issues such as the housing crisis, sustainable development, climate change, the role of government… the list really is endless. But more than that, it’s a place to devise solutions and put plans into action, an arena to “think the unthinkable” and challenge the status quo.

The ecobuild conference will be the beating heart of Futurebuild. This inspiring ideas arena will be 100% focused on turning ambition into action, encouraging cross-sector collaboration, to not only work through the “knows” but also identify the “unknowns”.

To get you inspired and really get the juices flowing we’re introducing this “Think the Unthinkable” blog series. Brought to you by experts from our Steering Group and beyond, it will present fresh thinking on how to tackle the big issues facing us all.

The time to act is now

Before I hand these blogs over to our experts, I wanted to take the opportunity to explain the thinking and process of how we choose and shortlist what we will be looking at during the ecobuild conference – and why these topics are so critical.

At an overarching level, the key message that emerged from the 2018 conference was that ‘the time to act is now’, and this will be the guiding light behind the 2019 programme.

And, of course, when the goal is so audacious, planning the programme is always going to be challenging.

Indeed, as mentioned above, while there are several ‘knowns’ that we all agree must be acted on immediately, today we also face many ‘unknowns’ which we must anticipate and consider the potential of. These include challenges presented by Brexit and bigger picture issues that influence what we do, whilst often being outside our sphere of direct influence.

So, let us first consider a few of the ‘knowns’, which include:

  • The industry’s response to the shocking events of Grenfell Tower, which will demand a change in the way the construction industry operates
  • The government’s Industrial Strategy, Clean Growth Strategy and Construction Sector Deal
  • The Construction Leadership Council’s Procuring for Value report and its Skills Workstream Strategy and Action Plan
  • The National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment
  • The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan

In other words, amongst the ‘knowns’ we have a real opportunity to make positive change with, as Ann Bentley of the CLC suggests, “a relatively small change in approach and behaviour”.

Is it so unthinkable that we could actually make significant progress on these tasks in the immediate future? We think not.

Challenging conventional thinking

Another matter still on the list of ‘knowns’ is the need to provide more homes. A recent debate by the Edge on housing concluded that “a stand-alone housing policy will fail”. It is vital that more homes, are provided alongside jobs and sustainable transport systems.

And yet a number of roadblocks continue to frustrate the delivery of housing – despite encouragement from the revised National Planning Policy Framework.

For example, a recent report from the New Economics Foundation, What Lies Beneath  points to the broken land system. Added to this we have excessive inequality in incomes, as explained by Professor Danny Dorling in “The Equality Effect” and “Peak Inequality- Britain’s Ticking Time Bomb”, alongside significant inequality in health across the UK, as highlighted by Professor Sir Michael Marmot in his seminal review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives (2010).

At a more fundamental level we have the question of resources – water, energy, soil. We know that some areas of the country are, for example, severely water challenged. Should we continue to develop these areas? How can we use our resources better through circular thinking?

These are all issues where we need to start thinking the apparently ‘unthinkable’ to achieve real change. Then we have the impact of Brexit, still an ‘unknown’ at the time of writing.

Over the coming weeks, true opinion-shapers and thought leaders will be sharing their blogs here to have their say on these challenging issues, in anticipation of creating an action plan for change at Futurebuild 2019.

And we want your input into our conference programme as well. On our social channels over the coming weeks we’ll be asking for your opinions so get involved and share your thoughts. Or if you’re raring to get going already, send through your ideas to mhurn@futurebuild.co.uk

Get involved in the conversation to shape the ecobuild conference by following #yourecobuild on Twitter.

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