“We need an economic transformation in the way we invest and build.”
At the heart of Bristol, on a leafy street corner is the rising building of Triodos Bank, with a glass green façade. A banner reads, “Welcome to sustainable banking”.
The reception is full of furniture that is sustainably sourced, a living wall trailing leaves, and an owl statue made of trees from nearby Ashton Court Estate.
Triodos Bank has environmental values at its core, seeking to help enact positive social, environmental and cultural change. Their building design and interiors to reflect this.
On an autumn morning, Ross Russell, a Stride Treglown architect and Sustainability Champion, and Ellen Harrison, Corporate Projects Manager at Triodos meet to understand what two different B Corps can learn from each other.
Certified B Corps are dedicated to balancing purpose and profit. This requires them to consider every aspect of their work, how this influences the people they engage with and their impact on the environment. The movement is about using business as a force for good and driving a shift to a new kind of economy.
Ross: “So, Triodos Bank were members of the community from the beginning, while Stride Treglown became a B Corporation recently, in February of this year. It’s been an exciting journey, but it’s something very new for us. It’s inspiring for us to look at Triodos and see a business that was one of the founding members in 2015 and how your mission drives everything you do at all levels.”
Ellen: “I think businesses should be purpose driven, and not solely looking at making profit. Triodos was founded over 40 years ago, with the aim of solving the societal and environmental challenges of the time and sustainability is fully integrated into the business. B Corp status is one way of having this externally recognised.”
Building a sustainable and inclusive economy that works for everyone is what Triodos Bank is all about, and this is something which influences their choice of clients and partners.
They finance projects including renewable energy, sustainable farming, education and charities, whilst they refuse to finance fossil fuels, deforestation, weapons and ammunition and tobacco.
Ellen: “We have a fairly strict criteria about where we put our customers’ money because we’re always trying to do things that contribute to our social and environmental purpose.”
Ross: “That’s interesting. There’s a challenge for us in architecture. We’re good at designing new buildings that perform well and have a low carbon footprint. But many of the buildings we work on already exist and are often very inefficient. They urgently need to be upgraded or adapted to current requirements and to address climate change.”
“Do Triodos ever consider customers who don’t initially meet your criteria, perhaps because they haven’t previously had the resources or the opportunity to change?”
Ellen: “It’s something we’re grappling with. If we think particularly about the current climate crisis, we believe very strongly that it’s something we can only solve if we all do it together. For a bank, our impact in terms of carbon is dependent on the emissions of the organisations that we finance – so we need to help them on that journey. We’ve got a lot of businesses in our portfolio doing amazing things in terms of social impact, but like you say, they might be doing that from a very energy inefficient building.”
“There’s a balance to be struck in order to ensure that the transition to net zero is a just one – whilst appreciating that we need to move fast. We don’t want to stop lending to organisations, like social housing, because their buildings are not efficient enough. We don’t want to stop people getting mortgages because they can’t afford to get their house to a good energy performance certificate. Instead, we want to help those organisations and individuals to reduce their environmental impact so that we can all get to net zero together.”
Ross: “Yes, as architects we’re very much on the delivery side of things, and you have to really understand the needs of who you’re building for and match the requirements to that.”
“I joined Stride Treglown as a practice committed to sustainability. With more experience, I now realise achieving sustainability across all projects is complex and connects to much wider systemic issues. Just like Triodos is careful about where money is invested and comes from, we need to understand the impact of our buildings and the forces that shape them.”
Triodos has a clear assessment framework for investment. Ross has been inspired to take something similar forward and understand how architects can make value assessments on building proposals.
Many B Corps, including Triodos and Stride Treglown, are seeking to become more open about how they affect the environment and the communities they work with.
Ross: “There’s a level of transparency needed for any organisation to truly show it’s being sustainable. Triodos Bank’s map on your website is a great example because it allows the public to easily see what you’ve invested in and where the projects are located.”
Ellen: “Yes our directory is an important cornerstone of our work, and we believe that transparency is key to transforming the financial system. And additionally, it’s crucial that financial institutions who are making net zero commitments are then actually showing how they are doing this through their portfolios.”
Ross: “We should do more of this in the architecture industry, show what the entire supply chain is doing to decarbonise and allow people free access to see what our buildings are made of. I’d love to see something similar at Stride Treglown where you can click on our projects online, find out the providence of their supply chains, the journeys involved, the people assembling them into a building onsite, and the communities that benefit from them. We do some of that now, but I think we need to make it more open and accessible.”
“The construction industry can be fragmented and opaque. Even trying to identify and record carbon emissions through all stages of an architectural project and report the data back in a meaningful way is difficult.”
Ellen: “I agree that this commitment to transparency means looking at the interconnectedness of the supply chain, in architecture, construction and finance. We need an economic transformation in the way we invest and build. We’ve all got to work together.”
Ross: “Yes, multi-disciplinary collaboration is key. Architects are part of a wider community. Being a B Corp is a great opportunity to connect with people from other fields and join up the dots.”
This systemic transformation can seem daunting but seeing Ellen and Ross share joint challenges and talk so passionately about finding solutions together shows it takes just one conversation to spark change.
Sustainable investment in architecture and banking is about more than monetary value. By funding projects that tackle climate change and by designing buildings with a lower carbon footprint, Stride Treglown and Triodos Bank can have an even greater positive impact.
Ellen and Ross, in their respective roles, are aspirational in pushing this agenda forward. Ultimately, these two B Corps are investing in a greener and better future for generations to come.