Green Sky Thinking Week 2014 - Launch Event

Open-City’s Green Sky Thinking Week was launched this morning (23 April) with a debate asking ‘How does London get to number 5?’

Hosted by Greater London Authority at City Hall's London Living Room the launch received a full house of 120 people, including key supporters, partners and guests from across the sectors of property development, planning, real estate, housing, architecture, engineering, innovation design and sustainability.

With an introduction by Mark Jenkinson, City Director London, Siemens, the debate panel included:

  • Richard Shennan, Buildings Practice Manager, Mott MacDonald (Chair)
  • Matthew Pencharz, Senior Advisor - Environment & Energy, Greater London Authority
  • Prof Paul Ruyssevelt, Chair of Energy & Building Performance, UCL Energy Institute
  • Isabel McAllister, Sustainability Director, Mace
  • Niall Bolger, Chief Executive, London Borough of Sutton
  • Nick Hillard, Sustainability Manager, BNP Paribas Real Estate
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The topic of the debate referred to the Siemens Green City Index from 2009, which assessed 120 cities worldwide to determine their sustainability credentials. London, although better than the average level, was ranked 11th in Europe, coming 10th in the buildings category, and 15th in governance.

Mark Jenkinson, Siemens’ City Director for London introduced the debate explaining the methodology behind the index, which was split into 8 categories, of which 4 he focused on in his presentation: energy, CO2, buildings, and environmental governance. His presentation here was apt, as he cited one of the main aims behind the index was to highlight best practice and enable debates such as this morning’s and indeed the Green Sky Thinking week programme in general. Furthermore, one of the key findings after looking at 120 cities was that encouraging community participation has been one of the key successes. Have your say on the index in our 3 minute poll.

The question of engagement continued to be at the heart of the discussion – unless people can see change and want change, they won’t buy into it, and crucially, won’t vote for it. This is critical in London’s case, as Matthew Pencharz, GLA’s Senior Advisor Environment & Energy was keen to emphasise. With 3 levels of government and 33 boroughs working below the Greater London Authority – itself a very new institution – London is a unique case politically, as each borough is naturally very protective of their own competency. However he was confident that despite this, more and more boroughs are forming partnerships across London, with the mayor’s support.

From this perspective, Niall Bolger, Chief Executive of LB Sutton, confirmed that there is a strong appetite locally to make changes, with many different initiatives and organizations bringing people together. He advocated keeping decision making as close as possible to residents that the borough serves, and most importantly making sure that the technical aspects of sustainable development are accessible to all.

With the discussion heavily focused on governance, the question turned to Isabel McAllister, Sustainability Director at Mace to answer for the commercial sector. Of course, she said, businesses do not run on 4-year cycles, so have much more power to drive performance. She celebrated the fact that London is extremely well positioned, and encouraged the audience to celebrate success rather than always looking at restraints. She described the huge movement in the business world towards green innovation, with commercial success as a result.

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However as much as new sustainable initiatives and technology have been successful, London is by no means a new city, with centuries of infrastructure to build around and on top of. Therefore the question of refurbishment came up in relation to commercial clients: will it be widely adopted as a mode of economic driver or will they always prefer the knock-down-and-start-again approach? Nick Hillard, Sustainability Manager at BNP Paribas Real Estate, urged that refurbishment needs to be made as sexy as new build, in order that we see a resurgence. Although as Richard Shennan pointed out, it is impossible to certify the performance of an existing structure, so from a client-facing point of view, it is always going to be easier to start afresh. 

So what happens in reality? Paul Ruyssevelt, Professor of Energy and Building Performance at UCL, was asked about the barriers to accumulation of good data on performance, in order to use feedback for continuous improvement. Clearly, he said, there is a big performance gap between our expectations and the measurements in reality. There is a definite lack of incentive for businesses to gather this data, not least because there is no obvious method of funding for feedback, and no regulations for operational performance.

Questions from the floor showed the audience’s engagement with the topic, but for some, a need for less discussion and more action. Dan Epstein, Director of Sustainability at Useful Simple Trust complained of the debate not being urgent enough, saying that ‘we are so far away from a really sustainable city’. Others were less pessimistic – Paul Lincoln of Landscape Institute questioned why green infrastructure was not part of the Siemens Index, as a reminder of London’s strength 'being the greenest city in the world' in comparison to other cities. Isabel McAllister agreed with Lincoln's statement that Green Infrastructure should have been considered in the Index but it was Nick Hillard who brought the discussion full circle to Matthew's original point that unless people understand the language used, behaviours will not change, and noted Green Infrastructure as a term needs to be rethought.

The debate was closed by Kelly Grainger of Interface, with the statement that when it comes to sustainability, individuals do not and cannot win the race alone. It is collaborative teams and integrated design solutions that will move London up the index. As a lasting piece and considering the debate topic, he asked why we aren’t setting goals higher than merely reaching number 5, but emphasized we can only get this far or further collectively. Green Sky Thinking Week will show the way!

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Attendees from:
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Argent Llp
Axis Europe
Baca Architects
Balfour Beatty
Better Bankside
BNP Paribas Real Estate
Buro Happold
David Morley Architects
Deloitte Real Estate
Derwent London
ECD Architects
Elliott Wood Partnership
Environment Agency
Essentia Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
Essential Living
Greater London Authority
Green Future
Groundwork London
ING Media
Institution of Civil Engineers
Interface  Europe Ltd
Jones Lang LaSalle
Landscape Institute
LB Brent
LB Camden
LB Camden
LB Hounslow
LB Islington
LB Newham
LB Sutton
LB Tower Hamlets
LB Wandsworth
Leadership for Energy Action and Planning
Lend Lease
Lighter Footprints
Max Fordham
Mott MacDonald
Patrick Ryan Associates
Penoyre & Prasad
Policy Exchange
Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects
Rocket Investments
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
Sustainable By Design
Sutton Council
Sweett Group
Team London Bridge
Thames Tideway Tunnel
The Architects' Journal
The Crown Estate
Town and Country Planning Association
Turner & Townsend Consulting
UCL Energy Institute
Useful Simple Trust
Venetia Wolfenden
Watts Group

The Liveable City

Launch Host



‘The Mayor is pleased to support Green Sky Thinking Week. With London currently growing faster than ever in its history it is vital that the capital’s development is sustainable, maintaining and improving the city’s quality of life and so lengthening its lead as the world’s greatest city. Green Sky Thinking Week facilitates better understanding of the economic opportunities sustainability in all its forms present. He is pleased to support this platform, which brings together public authorities and business together to collaborate on making London the sustainable megacity global leader.’
Matthew Pencharz, Senior Advisor - Environment & Energy, Greater London Authority

Tweeter Thoughts


#greensky panel agrees #greeninfrastucture needs to be included as a measure in the Green City Index

Green economy in london growing by 4-5% a year throughout the recession unlike other industries #greensky @OpenCityorg

British engineers and architects are out at the forefront of global sustainable design says isabel mcallister of Mace #greensky

Mark jenkinson Siemens sees engagement of citizens as key to real sustainability change at policy level #liveablecities #greensky

Real, transformative sustainability is about working together - Kelly Grainger from Interface @OpenCityorg @interface

Refurb or rebuild? 'We to make refurb as sexy as new build' - Nick Hillard, BNP Paribas #greensky

'London borough of Sutton currently the only one planet borough in London' Niall Bolger #greensky @OpenCityorg

Great to hear from @markjenkinson @MaceGroup @MottMacDonald @BNPPRE_UK this morning for #GreenSky Thinking Launch @OpenCityorg