Arial view of the Eden Project complex in Cornwall. Credit Graham Gaunt.

+ Designers must be advisers, not servants, who creatively engage with clients to find solutions that support their businesses and reduce their risk.

I believe that, done responsibly, construction is a force for good. Responsibly designed buildings give us better places to live, better places to work and better places to learn – with minimal impact on the environment.

The construction industry certainly has a duty to act responsibly. It consumes 30% of the world’s resources and then sends up to 40% of its waste to landfill. When the buildings it produces are finished and in use, they account for around 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, construction employs 10% of the world’s workforce and has the potential to dramatically improve our quality of life through everything from healthier buildings to more socially cohesive cities. Less tangibly but no less importantly, buildings define the beauty and elegance of our cities.

So I think responsible design is a balancing act. It must address what the client wants to achieve, minimise their risk, and benefit society and the environment. But can we as consultant engineers really achieve this balance when our clients are calling the shots?

I believe it’s our job to help a client see how they can achieve a solution that does all these things. We must be advisers, not servants, creatively engaging with them to find solutions that support their businesses and reduce their risk.

As designers we have a lot of influence. We need to exercise that properly and help our clients to imagine what can be achieved. In my career I’ve seen how informed pro-active dialogue with clients can change perceptions and improve the project. It’s also worth remembering that responsible design can often be less expensive than another solution if it’s explored properly at the outset of a project, rather than as an afterthought.

Ultimately, some people will hark back to an idealised rural past before urbanisation. I don’t agree with them. I believe construction is fundamentally positive – if we design our buildings and infrastructure responsibly to stand the test of time.

As designers, I think each of us has a personal responsibility to do this.