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This section features interviews with our Leeds Sustainability Institute Fellows, finding out how they got to where they are and hopefully sharing a snapshot of their sustainability journey along the way.

Colin Harrop, Director, Project & Development Services, Jones Lang La Salle

When and how did you embark on your sustainability journey?

I guess I started on my sustainability journey in the 1980’s when I started worrying about the rainforests, seas and ozone layer. In those days we just all knew that there was a really big problem and the half can of hairspray I was using a day really wasn’t helping. I suspect that the environmental predictions made back then were all put together by Eeyore.

What progress have you seen since?

I think that we’ve made great progress since the 1980’s – but we’ve still got an enormous way to go. Primarily, the thinking about sustainability has slowly shifted from it being a problem, to being an important consideration of people and business and – dare I say it – an opportunity. I also use no hairspray at all now and that makes me look less ridiculous.

What do see are the key issues to be addressed today and in the future?

If we are going to solve these problems; we have to stop thinking about solutions that necessitate wearing hair shirts and sitting in dingy, unheated rooms. The solutions to moving processes and people to sustainable operations have to be those that allow the world to operate in a comfortable manner and for people to make money.  To do this I think that we also need to move more quickly away from a narrow definition of sustainability that just thinks about carbon reduction to one that looks at our impact on places and people in a holistic manner.

How can sustainability research institutes respond to the challenge?

Sustainability research institutes need to provide solutions that reflect the way in which the world works and give independent feedback on solutions offered by others. Oh, and they need to make sure that they offer at least one realistic solution to every problem they identify. Yep – you heard me – kill Eeyore.


Mark Warner, Sustainability Manager, Leeds Metropolitan University

When and how did you embark on your sustainability journey?

In 1993 when I started my degree in Environmental Monitoring. Naturally, when I finished in 1996 I accepted a sales role with Yorkshire Electricity! However, the electricity market was just opening up to full competition and in 1998 someone found out I had ‘one of these environmental type degrees’ and asked if I could get them certification to the international environmental standard ISO 14001. I’ve not looked back since. In 2002 I joined Leeds Met and my role has expanded from environmental management to be being an integral part of the Estates team working on sustainable construction including BREEAM, Passivhaus and WRAP assessment for recycled content in new builds and refurbishment projects, zero waste to landfill, environmental legal compliance and implementing and managing the university’s Carbon Management and Transport Strategies.

What progress have you seen since?

Progress over the last 17 years has been significant. When I started at Yorkshire Electricity I don’t think anyone appreciated how integral electricity supply companies (not generators) would be in government plans to reduce emissions. Feed-in-Tariffs, Renewable Obligation Certificates, Renewable Heat Incentive, reduced home insulation schemes, The Green Deal to name but a few. Now new environmental legislation seems to be a daily occurrence with the previous and current governments seeing the green sector as the jump start needed to boost the economy.

What do see are the key issues to be addressed today and in the future?

Although environmental legislation is on the increase there is still the attitude from design teams to meet the minimum requirements. This is usually blamed on the client, because they want to reduce costs! In most cases this is true, especially for commercial developers who will not own or manage the asset once its built. We have to get over this and start concentrating on the informed client. Whole Life Costing has to be standard and we need to get rid of ‘Value Engineering’ and replace it with Investment Appraisal. We also need to close the loop. There is absolutely no point in achieving 100% recycling rates if we do not specify products with recycled content. Of course there is no need for the supply chain to wait for the right client, they could just do this anyway and use the informed client to help them increase their product range.

How can sustainability research institutes respond to the challenge?

Design teams very rarely go back to projects and research actual performance verse design. When they do it’s usually in the form of Post Occupancy Evaluation and not an in-depth analysis of systems and fabric performance. Research can provide this service to help companies provide a greater level of confidence to the client when making certain recommendations. There is also an attitude in the industry that the tools we have give the right answers but sometimes there isn’t the long term data needed to support this, it’s simply a case of ‘this is what we have right now’ and it seems to do the job. Research is in the unique position to question the basics and prove if what we’ve been doing for the last 5, 10 or 20 years is actually working.

Mark can be contacted at or 0113 812 5841

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John O’Brien, Managing Director, Low Carbon Maintenance and Buildings

When and how did you embark on your sustainability journey?

I have worked in construction and facilities management for over 20 years, designing, constructing and running major projects, buildings and infrastructure in a variety of different sectors (waste management, energy, buildings etc.). Over the last fifteen years I have seen sustainability and carbon reduction creep ever higher up the Built Environment agenda and today we see these issues integrated into most organisations strategies. I set up LCMB three years ago in response to the growing challenge of improving existing building performance, efficiency and sustainability for our clients.

What progress have you seen since?

There has been a huge increase in activity over the last few years particularly in carbon emissions reduction. The UK Government is putting a lot more funding into this area as well as backing up their intent with legislation and regulation (The 2008 Climate Change Act (CCA), Carbon Reduction Commitment, Part L, the white papers and low carbon transition plans etc.). The pressure on public sector organisations by central Government to deliver the CCA commitments is helping accelerate  sustainability & CSR take up in the public sector. There has also been a huge culture shift in private sector organisations where sustainability and the low carbon agenda is now being driven from the top. Both private and public sector organisations are demanding better sustainability performance from their partners and supply chains. A real growth area for our business is implementing low carbon facilities management services. This has included re-tendering M&E maintenance contracts to include carbon reduction KPIs and exploring options for low carbon energy generation through CHP and  anaerobic digestion.

What do see are the key issues to be addressed today and in the future?

The key issue is to find ways of making sustainability understandable for people, i.e. demonstrating to them how they can operate in more resource efficient ways.

And of course for the built environment, retrofitting to improve the performance of existing buildings is a huge challenge. Only 1% of the UK building stock is replaced on an annual basis, so 92% of all the buildings that will be around in 2020 already exist and need to be improved if we are to deliver the UK’s CCA commitments.

How can sustainability research institutes respond to the challenge?

The most constructive role that research institutes can play is to connect government, organisations & businesses with existing research and disseminate the knowledge that could help them overcome their current challenges.  It is also critical to maintain regular discussion with external parties to ensure any research is relevant. This also means finding creative ways to use social media and modern forms of communication such as webinars, podcasts etc. to leverage their research and knowledge.

John can be contacted at, 07711 032137 or 01295 722823 and you can download LCMB’s free tips for reducing building operating costs, energy and carbon emissions at

1 Comment

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