3 Decisions to Change the World – Happy Earth Day!

22 April 2020
Claire Hector

Essential lock-down listening for Earth Day… here’s Arc’s Ian Boyd presenting at the Critical Infrastructure Innovation Pitch at Futurebuild this year just before lockdown, now on CoLab and on our Youtube channel…

Designing for biodiversity shouldn’t be boxed as innovation but somehow it’s ended up that way! And yet it’s never been more important to go back to basics… Climate Emergency, Ecological Breakdown and the resulting public health issues (including the current global pandemic) won’t have gone away when we’re out of lock-down. Whether you are an architect, landscape architect, developer, real estate investor or an infrastructure/construction industry giant, things need to change and now.

So many of those responsible for designing and constructing our built environment – the world we all inhabit – tell us they’d like to do things differently but they don’t know how or where to start. Well, here’s Arc’s extraordinary body of natural, social and cultural experience distilled into a 3-point to-do list and a 5 minute talk for you!

You don’t have to over-engineer or reinvent the wheel… but you do need to understand what wildlife (and that includes humans) wants and needs. We can show you how designing spaces for more than one species, ecological thinking, is critical if we are going to build for a better, more generous future.

We can use this time to pause, reset and let’s not go back to ‘building as usual’ when we’re all back out on site.

And if you’d rather read rather than listen… here’s a handy transcription for you!



‘Ours is not a product, it’s a method. It’s a way of thinking. And it’s designed to optimise the whole of the built environment for ecological functionality, for resilience for people and wildlife. We call this method Shaping Better Places. There are 9 points to our plan but there are 3 simple decisions you can make to get you started… and it’s no more or less than a to-do list. Do one thing, things get better, do two things, things get very much better, do three things, everything changes, horizons broaden and opportunities pile up and that’s exactly what’s needed if we’re going to get anywhere near the requirements upon us and if we’re going to have a systemic change across of all our built infrastructure.

So, what does this mean, what do you have to do?

The first decision is to deliberately go about building fully functioning ecosystems in the built environment. We can make the built places we make for us function fully as ecosystems for the natural world in the places we inhabit. Why wouldn’t we do that?  It doesn’t mean your building is going to fall down, it doesn’t mean your loft is going to be full of bats (it might be, it doesn’t have to be), it doesn’t mean your garden will be full of nettles. We don’t need that stuff; we can be sophisticated about making the built environment functional for wildlife. Fully functioning, not expedient, not purely decorative, but fully functioning ecosystems in the built environment.  Once you decide that all sorts of other things will start to happen.


The second decision is to look at the units, the quantum of your development or infrastructure, there might be a single wall on a building, a single building on a plot, a single plot in a neighbourhood. It doesn’t really matter. Start with a quantum of development and look from top-to-bottom at opportunities to intervene. You don’t have to do everything everywhere, just change certain things where you are, it could be a window box; it could be a street planter – a street planter can be a fully functioning ecosystem if you want it to be, so look for these punctuated interventions in the built environment from top to bottom. That 200 metres of our domain that we build is exactly the same as the natural world. High level migrations aside, the daily operation of the natural world is within that scale. Why wouldn’t it be? We’re medium-sized wildlife building habitats very badly for ourselves and the natural world responds in the same way. So, we’re looking for punctuated interventions.

The third and critical thing is to pattern repeat. Once you have built this cluster of ecological intervention, a planter, a planter and a window box, a roof, a wall, a piece of greenery fully optimised for ecology, you repeat it a meaningful distance… 50 metres, 100 metres, 350 metres, 500 metres, by which I mean that the wildlife you build up in one place will find the next. And the space in between will become enriched and enlivened without you having to do anything. You can come back to those spaces, fine, brilliant, but you can patch your way through your built environment building up spikes of ecological density that communicate… your green roof talks to the landscaping below at this point, they’re saying the same things and you are providing life cycle resources – breeding, feeding, hibernation, overwintering, pupating, display – all the requirements of wildlife built in to the infrastructure we create.

It has asset resilience, it has psychological resilience, it is necessary work and we can leapfrog our way. It may be within your red line still, but it may not be.  The next thing in this zone of intervention may be a school or a church or an abandoned bit of public land, and you as an infrastructure delivery organisation will be communicating with a new audience beyond your traditional stakeholders by taking this approach. Your legacy in effect ripples out beyond you. Pattern repeat is crucial.

By doing these things:

  • your built environment outperforms in terms of its environmental quality – you’re faster through the planning process; no rafts of awful planning conditions because your application wasn’t good enough to start with
  • you’re building conversations with the community that hosts you and your infrastructure and…
  • you’re increasing investor confidence because they are going to be asking those questions – how are you going to deliver these resilience requirements? It can be done by following these three steps.’


Ian Boyd presenting on Shaping Better Places at Futurebuild 2020, ExCel London

For a creative and innovative approach to designing healthier, resilient places for people and wildlife, contact the team at Arc Biodiversity & Climate.