UK Sustainable Skills Go Global

Article on Exporting Success for UK-GBC supplement ‘Building for the Future’, published in The Times, 6 September, 2010


Success for AECOM: European Investment Bank HQ, Luxembourg, Winner of the International Prize: Project of the Year, at the sustain’ magazine Awards 2010. (Photo courtesy of Marc Wilwert.)

From Masdar in Abu Dhabi, through New Delhi in India, to Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou in China, the call of the East is strong for UK companies and practices providing sustainable solutions in property and the built environment. The West, however, is far from won, with fresh opportunities on the horizon.

At present, the outlook for China is mixed and evolving. UK eco-entrepreneurs and consultancy BioRegional has established BioRegional China as a Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise. Weighing up the wider prospects, Pooran Desai, co-founder of BioRegional, offers a measured assessment: ‘China is hungry for ideas but on their own terms. There are opportunities to license and manufacture green technologies. Some engineering companies are doing well. Planning and sustainability consulting is much tougher. I suspect ultimately the companies that are successful in China may have some roots here but will be, in essence, Chinese.’
In general, according to the Construction Products Association, UK figures for both imports and exports of industry goods continue to hover around the 10 per cent mark, in spite of fluctuations in currency markets and volatile trading conditions. As regards project work for UK firms, whilst we are becoming accustomed to reading stories of activity in architecture and building coming out of Asia, by no means all journeys of export and expansion into international waters are headed East.
In the middle of the Atlantic, some 2,500 miles from the nearest port, the only architectural firm in the Top 60 of the Sunday Times Best Green Companies list, Purcell Miller Tritton has been developing the design for an Oberoi hotel, set to become a global exemplar of eco luxury. With a client brief to deliver the world’s greenest facility, the design intent is to ‘grow’ a hotel on the island of St Helena, using indigenous flax and lime for wall construction, plus a living roof.
Sailing still further West, routes into attractive North American markets are also opening up. In February this year, the Clean and Cool Mission – organised with assistance from the Technology Strategy Board and the support of UK Trade & Investment – took a shortlist of 19 UK businesses out to San Francisco. For one in particular, carbon-banking building-system specialist ModCell, the trip proved the catalyst for a move into California, resulting in them launching Stateside this month, as Director Craig White explains:
“It was revealing to see that European legislation on carbon reduction has driven a huge amount of innovation back home in the UK, whereas in America, most is only dated as recently as 2009, from the Obama administration. In many regards, Europe is up to 10 years ahead, although when America moves on this agenda it will do so very powerfully. Consequently, we saw a clear business opportunity.”
Whether looking East or West, it seems clear that UK companies are set fair for a shot at achieving future exporting success, in terms of knowledge, technology and even the building materials themselves that are driving sustainable development worldwide.

To view the full Supplement online, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland