13 March 2017 | Martin Read
Professor Dieter Helm chairs the Natural Capital Committee, which advises government on the sustainable use of the country's natural assets - land, forests, rivers, minerals and oceans.
His committee also looks at the benefits we derive from these assets: food, recreation, clean water, hazard protection and clean air. Right now, Helm and his colleagues are working on input for the government's environment plan which, for the first time, sees government committing to leave the environment after 25 years in a better condition than when it inherited it. A report is due at the end of this year.
To Helm, the environment is an inherent part of the economy and not some separate entity to be gradually degraded by economic activity. Economic growth does not have to be abandoned to protect the environment. He posits the allocation of a value to natural assets, and for human activity - the construction of buildings, the use of energy - to be weighed against these values.
There is a cost to keeping natural assets intact and available in perpetuity, and how that maintenance cost is arrived at is likely to be the subject of some complex calculations.
Putting a value on our natural capital may seem much removed from managing the facilities that result from the decisions made several steps back in the chain. But Helm describes the wider world of sustainability that has grown up over the past two decades as "woolly" and open to differing interpretations at both national and corporate levels.
In a world in which the value of natural resources was commonly codified, organisations would surely need to address corporate social responsibility in a different way, putting a stronger spotlight on the decisions they make about the impact of their physical footprint.
Building information models and the RIBA plan of works seek to ingrain operational data into facilities planning. Valuing our natural world in the same way as other assets may seem - and surely is - a complex business; but just as the idea of BIMs is to see real world use reflected in design, it's logical to work towards a world where our natural capital is coherently costed.
Martin Read is editor of FM World