HOT TOPIC: 'How engineers can save the planet - and improve wellbeing'

Chris Cummings, Technical Director at chapmanbdsp, on how building services engineers are charged with protecting the climate and ourselves from one another, without losing our connections to nature or each other.

Here at chapmanbdsp we provide consultancy on wellbeing in workplaces and promote social value and community creation through our residential and student accommodation projects. But why?

We are primarily a building services consultancy and it is our environmental and sustainability experts that deliver wellbeing consultancy, an arrangement that is not uncommon within a number of our peers.

Engineers should be focusing on pipes, ducts and wires, so what does that have to do with mental wellbeing? And as environmentalists we should be focused on energy and carbon, surely tackling loneliness won’t help respond to the climate emergency?

Put simply, engineers are responsible for making buildings habitable and comfortable. We ensure clean water, fresh air, light, heat, sanitation and protection from the elements, meaning we are ultimately responsible for providing many of the basic tenets of human health and wellbeing.

Clearly this is only one piece of the puzzle, but in order to move up the hierarchy of needs this foundation must first be looked after, and thus the engineers hold the key to wellbeing and fulfillment. Who knew?

In order to rise to the challenge of the climate emergency we need to feel connected to nature, and our communities. We need to feel empathy for our planet and fellow inhabitants in order to act to protect them.

Our innate preferences, formed over those couple of millions of years before we started working in offices, mean that we require social engagement and a sense of community as vital components of our wellbeing.

It is not controversial to suggest that the nations where an outdoor lifestyle is prevalent are also leading in their efforts to battle environmental catastrophe, with the opposite being equally as true.

North Americans spend the most time indoors, which could explain a thing or two, whilst my lazy stereotyping receives further support when you consider the Scandinavian countries' positions in league tables of environmental performance and time outdoors.

Over time we have lost our connection to the natural world as abundant electricity and gas allowed us to build bigger, deeper, darker places to work.

Technological advances allowed us to mass-build homes, a much-needed response to the perpetual housing shortage, but with the efficiency focused on providing the bare minimum of space, internally and socially, in order to maximise the number of homes.

The individualistic, commercialised lifestyles we have adopted have separated us from the bigger picture of what we were doing to the planet.

The built environment has played a significant role in creating that separation and we can do much more to re-establish those connections.

By creating spaces where we can feel closer to the natural world through biophilic design we can help people to reconnect with nature and motivate them to take care of it. By building communities that tackle loneliness and promote social engagement we can improve our wellbeing and foster a caring connectivity with one another.

Lastly, providing the base of all our needs, are the engineered solutions that give us comfortable, safe and healthy places to work and live, fundamental to enabling the creativity and motivation required to tackle the climate emergency.

Christopher Cummings is Technical Director responsible for all aspects of Environmental and Sustainable design* at chapmanbdsp.

*including wellbeing

HOT TOPIC: 'How engineers can save the planet - and improve wellbeing'