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George Clarke looks at the need for urgent change to tackle the climate crisis

I was born in the 1970’s. A time where the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘climate emergency’ didn’t really exist.

We were filling our cars with leaded fuel, using aerosol can full of toxic CFCs, we were still installing asbestos sheet materials into apartment blocks, schools and hospitals. We used paint full of toxic lead to paint the walls of our kid’s bedrooms. We didn’t even have to wear seat belts in our lead polling cars.

When i tell my kids about the days when I was a kid they genuinely can’t believe it. They think we were absolutely insane. They weren’t the ‘good old days’ at all when it came to the environment, they were terrible days.

These crises are massive challenges for our industry, but crisis is also the creator of opportunity

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador

Fear, panic and self-interest

And even when science and date began to prove that climate change existed and was definitely happening, we had climate change deniers across the world slowing down and even halting the transition to a clean, green, economy.

Powerful people such as President George W Bush absolutely refused to believe that the planet was warming up because of the way we lived our lives. Maybe it had something to so with the fact that his family were loaded from the oil industry and they just love oil!

Bush went even further to push for fossil fuel exploration in areas of the planet we really shouldn’t be touching. This was the leader of the most powerful and one of the most polluting countries on the planet. What sort of example did this set to kids in America?

The fact is that when any kind of revolution happens many people don’t like it. Fear, panic and self-interest kick in and some companies become so defensive that they refuse to change.

But change is the reality of innovation and progress and if companies can’t embrace that reality, then they are fighting a losing fight.

Anyone remember Blockbuster?

There is no doubt that embracing change and innovation is a risk.

Opportunities present themselves and we need to make a decision whether to go for them or not. I often use the ‘Blockbuster Decision’ as a great example of as company that passed on an opportunity.

In 2000 Blockbuster was an established company who completely committed to the video rental industry. Netflix was a tiny start-up. Netflix was contacting Blockbuster for months trying to get a meeting with them to try and convince them to buy them out and join forces. Blockbuster eventually (and reluctantly) took the meeting to listen to Netflix’s pitch.

The Blockbuster CEO was completely unimpressed and thought the dot-com boom was overblown hysteria. He literally laughed the Netflix boys out of the room when they said they would sell to Blockbuster for $50m.

Look where both companies are now. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and had $1BN in debt. Netflix is a flying, super-lucrative business, who at the time off writing, is worth $134BN….yes 134 BILLION DOLLARS!

The Blockbuster decision was literally a battle between the ‘old world’ and the ‘new’. Blockbuster wouldn’t take the risk and were blind to the opportunity. Netflix were a young, new and innovative business who were financially struggling, but had enormous potential.

Looking for the opportunity

So why am I telling you all of this?

We know we face a massive climate crisis. We know there has been a housing crisis, particularly in the UK, for well over 20 years now. We know there is a cost-of-living crisis where energy bills are going through the roof.

For me when it comes to designing and building new homes and communities all of these things are linked.

Low quality, ecologically poor housing contributes to global warming. Badly insulated homes waste far too much energy, which is becoming more and more expensive and will only become more expensive when fossil fuels deplete.

Housing needs to become more affordable rather than more expensive, so we need to innovate to build better quality homes at a genuinely affordable price.

All of these crises are massive challenges for our industry, BUT CRISIS IS ALSO THE CREATOR OF OPPORTUNITY.

Brave and bold

We have an exciting opportunity here to revolutionise every aspect of the housing system to create built environments that not only improve the lives of human beings, but also work in harmony with the environment.

We can do this through innovation, but also through education.

Young people genuinely are the future of our built environment. They are the disrupters and can be the ‘Netflix’ of new and innovative housing developments.

Some of the existing housebuilders will be brave and bold and will embrace change. Existing companies that have been around for years, who want to embrace change, actually face the biggest challenge of all as they need to change their systems and their ways of doing things that they have been used to doing for years and years.

Some housebuilders will become ‘Blockbuster’ refusing to embrace change and their businesses will die.

But what is really exciting is that some new, young start-ups will question and analyse every part of the housebuilding industry and will develop disruptive businesses that will radically change the way we design, build, finance, buy, sell and live in our homes going into the 2030’s. I’m really excited about that.

What does and doesn’t work

The old guard (such as myself) have a huge amount of knowledge that we can pass down to the next generation of young, innovative house builders, so they have an understanding of what works and what doesn’t work.

But at the same time, we also shouldn’t contaminate them with old ideas that may hold them back.

We can share knowledge, but it has to be done in a way that younger generation can decide what will work or not work for them and THEIR future.

The past doesn’t contain all of the answers. I’d argue that the past has created some of the most frightening crises of today.

We must build a better, greener and more beautiful future and empower the young people of today to create THEIR tomorrow.

In 2023 George is publishing an illustrated book called ‘Little Experts - The Future of Homes’ to inspire 5–8-year-olds and hopefully support the generational change needed to transform the house building industry.

George Clarke is an Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador