Interview with Amie Shuttleworth

Amie specialises in integrating sustainability into built environment focussed businesses and projects. This is not a new field for Amie, in 2013 she was recognised as one of Building Magazine’s Rising Stars of Sustainability and appeared in Bioregional’s list of “12 inspiring women in sustainability” in 2017.

Amie’s career spans back to 2004 when she took on the role of project environmental engineer for construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine developing billion-pound projects and eventually becoming their head of sustainably. She is quick to point out she has witnessed a huge “evolution” in terms of sustainability, an area she describes as “embryonic” at the start of her working life, 17 years ago.
In the early days Amie remembers concerns over preventing pollution and ensuring timber was legally logged. The interest then shifted to local employment, followed by gender diversity. Six to seven years ago businesses began to question how they might change the narrative as to how they could go from doing “less bad” to “more good” – widely called Net Positive in many strategies nowadays.

Interestingly, Amie grew up in Hong Kong where she describes the early days of sustainability in the built environment as more progressive in comparison to the overall attitude in the UK: “I do a lot of work with property businesses in the UK; I remember being labelled a tree hugger in those early days whereas in Hong Kong there was a much more positive association with the role”.

Today, the situation has matured. All businesses are keen to discuss offsetting, reducing or indeed eradicating their carbon emissions. She explains: “At the moment everyone is setting targets and delivering strategies to outdo each other which is fantastic because it hopefully means action is being taken or will be taken and businesses will be held accountable to do something”.

Within the built environment, Amie recognises there is now a huge drive to reach net zero. Property developers and investors are keen to reduce their whole life carbon and invest in net zero buildings, but progress is slow: “Unfortunately, the market has taken some time in firstly getting everyone to agree on what net zero actually means and some greenwashing has gotten in”.

Government legislation will also take time to come into effect. The industry has drafted an amendment to the building regulations - Part Z - Whole Life Carbon (assessment and intensity).  Huge pressure from industry lobbyists, she hopes, will ensure this soon be enshrined in code. Amie explains the real drive is coming from investors who are putting huge pressure on the transparency of performance through the use of green finance – helping to reduce greenwashing which has been so prevalent in this industry.
“It’s so positive with the larger developers and contractors pushing the boundaries to reduce carbon. If they can demonstrate that it’s cost effective, and helps in raising more capital, then others who can afford to take such risks may follow in their footsteps. In construction the profit margins are so small which make it hard to spend money on innovation. It’s a systematic change that we really need,” she states.

When asked about Construction Carbon’s tool which provides net zero verification for construction projects to prove they have assessed and reduced their embodied carbon and offset their emissions, Amie is quick to state how timely the service is.
Amie describes Construction Carbon founders Gilbert Lennox-King and Tom Scott as “innovators”: “They are absolutely doing the right thing from a business perspective - defining the issues around and what embodied carbon really means. It’s great to see them bringing standardisation in to help offset that as well as providing a lifecycle assessment and procure gold standard offsets – particularly for those smaller companies that don’t have the in-house expertise”.

Amie’s success in sustainability within the real estate sector has allowed her to take on some incredible projects: At Bloomberg’s new £1bn London Headquarters she led the team working on reducing embodied carbon in the concrete producing innovative results.  More recently at Hong Kong’s International Airport she lead a study on physical climate risk.  
She also recently found herself in Sydney where she visited International House constructed with cross laminated timber in the new area of Barangaroo. Amie strongly advocates the use of alternative rapidly renewable biogenic materials in construction but concedes that one of the issues the industry faces, is access to the material and working with a supply chain which can procure and construct with these much-needed alternatives.

There is plenty of innovation around different materials like bamboo, for example, which can store carbon faster due to their accelerated growth cycle.  The industry is also looking at reducing the impact of traditional materials such as concrete. The University of Cambridge, for example, has developed and tested self-repairing concrete which is an absolute game changer. However, one of the barriers to inclusion within developments is Professional Indemnity due to insurers needing long testing periods.
Adapting to the future of climate change is certainly complex but Amie feels optimistic about the future: “I can see there is innovation all over the world with businesses lobbying the government and new legislation coming into place - it’s exciting!” How times have changed since the days Amie, the environmental scientist, was labelled a tree hugger.