Notts Goes Green: the Architectural Designers Transforming Our Built Environment

Words: Adam Pickering
Photos: Leonard Design
Wednesday 24 August 2022
reading time: min, words

We take a look at Leonard Design and find an ambitious Notts-based global architecture firm looking to reduce their emissions and work towards net zero…


Nottingham based Leonard Design is an award-winning architecture practice specialising in commercial architectural design and consultancy. The practice works across five continents to deliver various projects from master planning for new streetscapes, communities and cities, to architectural and interior design for mixed use town centres and one-off houses. Increasingly their work is focused on helping clients make greener choices, but they’ve also been looking within at their own operations. 

Working with NTU’s Sustainability in Enterprise project which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Leonard Design managed to dramatically reduce their own emissions (and running costs). Student consultants from the programme found that Leonard Design’s fifty computers were costing the practice over £8,000 a year in energy costs. The practice has taken on board a recommendation to invest in software to avoid computers being left on standby, which should save approximately 66% of that energy cost.

NTU’s consultants also found that switching to LED light bulbs would reduce Leonard Design’s lighting energy consumption by between 50%-70%, making a significant contribution to carbon emissions reduction. Overall, the proposed recommendations could help the company save 8.8 tCO2e of carbon emissions a year, reducing Leonard Design’s direct emissions by almost 50%.

Estelle Morris, Human Resources Manager at Leonard Design, said: “We were doing lots of things before but they were little things. The consultants made us think about the bigger picture, and prioritise our efforts. It helps having those figures to back it up to put to the directors to show how much money we can save and how much of an impact it’ll make.”

When people come for interviews, they're asking us what do you do in terms of sustainability? What are your priorities and your goals?

Estelle increasingly feels that sustainability has a big impact on employees and job applicants, and is becoming increasingly critical in their choices of who to work for.

“When people come for interviews, they're asking us what we do in terms of sustainability? What are our priorities and our goals? It's definitely something prospective applicants want to know and are looking for. So it's important to make sure we get the best applicants.”

As such they’ve signed up to industry initiatives like the Royal Institute of British Architects' 2030 action plan and formed their own working group. Staff are consulted regularly about some changes being made, for example when it comes to issues like air conditioning. But sustainability considerations also impact on their choice of clients: 

“We want to work with clients who feel the same and who've got the same similar sort of culture as us,” says Estelle. “So we do prioritise clients who make sustainability a priority too.” 

Steven Lane, an Architectural Assistant at Leonard Design, is known for drawing up the Nottingham Green Quarter plans alongside partner Caterina Chiofalo - a task completed in their own time over Christmas 2020. Steven spells out how he’s able to bring much of his green visioning through to his work with investors and developers, and how it helps their bottom line: “We’re helping developers by making sure that there are wellbeing and sustainability benefits to anything we propose for them, rather than just building a glass and concrete structure. If it's sustainable, so it's more likely to get planning approval.”

Theirs is a multidisciplinary approach that pulls together expertise in different fields to approach. “On the Leonard GREEN team we have an expert on passive design (which helps create comfortable indoor environments with less energy), and we have people from all the different industry specialisations - residential office interiors, commercial, leisure and sports. Everybody brings their own ideas and learns from each other about how we could introduce sustainability ideas into each project. All of this helps towards our end goal which is to create a sustainable, circular economy.”

Steven says “It’s not just greenwashing, but actually making the built environment natural, so making everything that you build capable of growing food, producing oxygen from trees, and generally making it a nice place to live. Everybody loves plants, trees and bushes. But also sustainable materials can last longer, especially if legislation of material changes in the future; for example, asbestos was once widely used, PVC has now been recognised to be toxic. As legislation changes, those materials will have to get ripped out and replaced with something better, and it's better and cheaper for the developers to use sustainable materials from the start.”

It’s not just greenwashing, but actually making the built environment natural, so making everything that you build capable of growing food, producing oxygen from trees, and generally making it a nice place to live.

I ask Steven about the issue of embodied carbon inherent in new builds; “the greenest building is a building that’s already built, so it’s always better to retrofit. The best thing to do is try and design a building so they can be repurposed in future; say an office building that can be easily repurposed into flats, residential or vice versa. If we design something totally off the wall and crazy, and it can only ever be used for that one thing, if that then becomes obsolete in a few years then you have to take the building down and build something else in its place.”

Within the practice Leonard Design are constantly looking at their use of materials, and Steven tells me there are novel solutions to the embodied carbon problem; “we had a workshop a couple of weeks ago where one of our students gave a presentation on what he studied and what he learned about recyclable materials or upcycling. So not just like recycling plastic bottles into cladding, for example, but say using whole aircraft, for example, or an old bus, and turning it into a building. Adapting to be habitable, rather than just letting it go to waste.”

Both Estelle and Steven feel that being able to have conversations around sustainability at work has impacted on their own lives and ways of thinking. Estelle says that it’s “definitely affected what we do at home - recycling more, thinking about energy waste and having the lights on so much, and my other half just got an electric car. I'm at that sort of age where we didn't really talk about all this, when I was younger no one even thought about it - that's terrible”.

Find out more about Leonard Design and NTU's Sustainability in Enterprise project

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