J. Lipscombe: ‘Sustainability is no longer an unwelcome burden’

Julian Lipscombe, the director of one of the UK’s leading architecture firms, Bennetts Associates, and an internationally recognised pioneer in sustainability in the construction industry, talks to ESG+ Stories about the adoption of sustainable development practices in the construction industry, B Corp certification, their first project in Greece, the Syggrou Office Complex and the Greek market.

The work and activity of Bennetts Associates became more widely known in Greece after the implementation of their first project, the Syggrou Office Complex, which recently received LEED Platinum certification.

Can you refer to the company’s activity as well as the actions you implement internally for the adoption of ESG criteria?

We are one of the UK’s leading architectural practices, operating in the UK, Greece and India.  For all of our 36 years in business, we have been at the cutting edge of sustainability – actually that word wasn’t even in common usage when we started out! Hence ESG is not something we have come to recently – it is who we are, it is in our DNA.  We have achieved a series of world-firsts, such as being the first architects globally to have Science Based Targets for our own business operations. We practice what we “preach” and we aim to ‘Be the change that the planet needs to see’ on climate.

What does the adoption of sustainable development practices mean for a company active in the construction industry and what difficulties does it encounter along the way?

We have always advocated for sustainability but it’s fair to say that, apart from a core of enlightened clients, collaborators and fellow practitioners, it felt for an eternity that the rest of the built environment sector was not on the same page — either ill-informed, complacent, reluctant, or in denial. However that has now changed with few left arguing that Mother Nature is not in peril. Through imperative, sustainability has also become good business — but then we feel it always has been. No longer is it an unwelcome burden or expensive premium but it is increasingly business as usual, resulting both in better buildings and cities. Now that the vast majority is finally on board, we collectively have to hope that it isn’t already too late for the planet…

As a company, you recently became a B Corp member. What does this mean for you and what is the process that a company must follow to join this community?

Being a member of the global B Corp community is great but, in reality, it is simply an affirmation of who we are and always have always been. In our very foundations we are an ethical business.  Joining required only a few minor tweaks to certain aspects of our business, and then a long wait for accreditation by B Lab due to the popularity of the scheme that creates an application backlog. Since becoming a B Corp in March 2022 it’s been brilliant and we were thrilled to be cited almost immediately as a ‘Best For The World’ for the exceptional treatment of our staff.  We have just issued our first B Corp Positive Impact Report which can be read here:

What does a sustainable building mean to you in practice and how does sustainability add value?

We have always said that sustainable architecture is simply better architecture. This is born out of a deeply rooted conviction about creating solutions that work with, rather than fight their local climate; that have comfortable and healthy internal environments; that are made of local materials not transported around the world and that simply belong better where they sit. The added value for the planet is unquestionable and powerful. Increasingly the added value for clients and users is likewise. With ambitious public commitments to carbon neutrality from every major organisation there is now a flight to sustainable buildings – so much so that, in London, we are finding that office clients are prepared to pay a higher rent for Net-Zero Carbon stock. Good for business and better for the planet – but again, is it enough…?

Your first project in Greece, the Syggrou Office Complex, received LEED Platinum certification. Can you give us more information?

We are beyond delighted that the building on Syggrou has achieved LEED ‘Platinum’, especially since the original brief was only for ‘Gold’. It means everything to us, our client DIMAND and the owner Generali. As such it places the building as one of only nine projects in Greece thus far to be ‘Platinum’ rated. Achieving this is down to good base design, client commitment and lots of very hard work by DIMAND’s sustainability managers to fight for every point. Our objective in working in Greece is to use our proven sustainability knowledge in collaboration with local expertise to make a difference and break new ground. To achieve this with our first scheme is everything we could have hoped and striven for – but it’s only the start, there is more to come and we are here to stay!

How do you see the market in Greece, and what challenges do you encounter in our country when implementing Projects?

Greece is a wonderful place to work, due to the stunning context, delightful climate and warmth of the people.  The market appears strong, especially in commercial offices and hospitality where we hope to be carrying out more projects soon.  The conversation on sustainability has also changed markedly in the last 12 months – between my April 2022 visit and a recent guest speaker slot at the ‘Energy Efficiency in Buildings Conference: Athens 2023’ it was palpable and powerful just how much so many have engaged with the need to act and the great opportunity it presents.  We intend to do more here and to keep innovating with new ideas and techniques.  In terms of potential barriers to that, things like your planning regulations could do with a review and other blockers need addressing but we sense the will is there to do that.  As I said in the webinar that we hosted in 2021 called ‘Ready, Steady Greece: The Race to Build Back Greener’ Greece has an incredible opportunity to do just that – and we are here to help ensure this is achieved.