What’s your role at Acorn and how long have you worked here?
I started working with Acorn in 2012, initially as a Design Consultant before being appointed Design Director and most recently as Acorn Green Ambassador. I have a history of working with other developers on difficult sites which was part of the appeal in working for Acorn – I enjoy problem solving and complex challenges as they give rise to the most interesting and exciting design solutions.
What led you to becoming Acorn’s Green Ambassador?
I’ve always had a passion for sustainability both personally and professionally and because of that I think the team thought I was a natural fit – the fact that when our HR director phoned me to ask and I was planting a Cherry tree in Wales at the time made me think it was fate, you could say it was meant to be!
What sparked your interest in sustainability?
Nature and wilderness has always attracted me. At University I did a study on Low Energy and Autonomous Houses it made sense to me that buildings should be able to draw their needs and energy from their immediate environment rather than tapping in to networks of polluting energy sources. Then in 1992 I spent a year travelling in South America, Australia and Southeast Asia – taking in the wonders of nature, witnessing some appalling waste and pollution, and recognising that we have finite resources available to us.
Why has Acorn launched Acorn Green?
Acorn Green was launched to bring a focus to a lot of good things that we were doing already and then to build on these with a structured roadmap. We also wanted to create a culture for the business that everyone, internal and external, buyers and investors, could engage with and be a part of.
We wanted to open up the Acorn Green agenda to residents and future buyers so they could understand more clearly our approach to living a greener lifestyle , especially as sustainability is much more at the forefront of many people’s minds – when buying a new home it’s important that buyers understand what the end benefit is to them in a more accessible way.
Acorn Green also highlights that we’re committed to delivering our road-map to becoming net carbon zero – we take a holistic approach to carbon reduction across the entire company that’s authentic to our values.
How would you say Acorn are unique in the green house-building industry?
Our unique selling point in the green house-building industry is that we look at each site individually, so in contrast to a lot of other house-builders where a one-size-fits-all approach to carbon reduction suits their product we are totally bespoke – this brings challenges and opportunities, but also interesting results. Our other key USP within this is our commitment to re-using existing buildings –studies have suggested that it takes between 10 and 80 years for a new building that is 30 per cent more efficient than an average-performing existing building to overcome the negative climate change impacts related to the construction process. We’re unique in this sense as many other UK developers shy away from the challenge of existing buildings.
How do you bring in sustainability into your design process?
We work closely with external design teams at all stages to make sure they understand our green agenda. We will bring in lessons learned from our other projects to guide the design process and also tap into new ideas that our consultants bring to the table. We have vast knowledge and experience within Acorn that we can tap in to, both in projects and people.
Also, we like to stand back and take a more holistic view of sustainability, thinking about the re-use of existing buildings and long term place-making where we can build on an existing sense of place.
When you start with a site that already has a rich history, to then design from that as the core and build in additional sustainable features such as maximising the thermal performance of the building’s envelope with a fabric-first approach, bio-diversity solutions, or tailored engineering solutions to reduce carbon emissions, it enhances the design process and creates a rich mix of place and space that communities that can thrive in for years to come.
What are the biggest challenges with sustainability at Acorn?
A lot of the sites we take on are challenging, and that’s what makes us true to our ethos ‘Different by Design’ – because if they were easy, everyone would do it! Retaining existing buildings to reduce embodied energy adds to this layer of challenge because it means we can’t have a ‘cookie-cutter’ style approach to sustainability. We therefore must have a bespoke solution to every site – whether that’s increased glazing to maximise light and warmth, or if we’re close to a lake to take on water sourced heat pumps. Each site is different and therefore comes with its own challenges – it’s part of the beauty of an Acorn designed home.
What’s the future for Acorn Green?
One of the exciting parts of this process is that it is forever evolving, and investments in the industry mean that there are more and more innovative technologies that are enabling us to move faster than the government guidelines. We’re committed to working on a timeline with our consultant partners Energist on how we become a net Carbon Zero company as soon as realistically possible.
We also have some exciting new sites in the pipeline that will really push the Acorn Green boundaries. We are looking to better integrate design, technology and nature as well as working with local communities and start-up enterprises to gain access to a greener world.