27 October 2020

Overwhelming appetite for Climate Literacy workshop

TRADA image

Photo: George Brazier, ACAN


TRADA’s first Climate Literacy workshop with Scott McAulay of Anthropocene Architecture School, which took place on 16 October, sold out in 48 hours with the 85 student places oversubscribed by 100%. Students, tutors and lecturers from the disciplines of Architecture, Architectural Technology, Landscape Architecture, Civil, Structural and Architectural Engineering from 18 UK universities took part. First year students to PhD graduates attended alongside tutors, programme leaders and assistant professors.


'The Climate Crisis did not hit us out of the blue. It was forewarned and forecast for decades, and is having immediate yet disproportionately felt impacts upon society. Our built environment is responsible for 40% of GHG emissions globally (UKGBC, 2019) so represents both a significant challenge and opportunity in the decarbonisation efforts called for – and ultimately necessitated – by the findings of the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, published in 2018.


Succinctly, as the construction industry responds to the unprecedented challenge of becoming Carbon Neutral or better, it must realign itself with the ambitions of the zero carbon society that we are hopefully beginning on a path towards – as business as usual is no longer a viable option.


This workshop was developed to address identified gaps in Climate Literacy in the architectural profession, built environment disciplines of all kinds and the public at large – so shall:


  1. Contextualise the Context of Climate Emergency: what it means, what that looks like, what the dominant narratives are and what this means for the international community in a contemporary and historical sense.
  2. Explain the Science of the Climate Emergency: to a necessary extent to understand its magnitude, and the magnitude of the required response.
  3. Illustrate Business as Usual: conveying the impacts of human civilisation in its current form upon the planet that sustains us.
  4. Place the Built Environment into that Context: to stress its potential if business-as-usual is addressed and necessary action is taken - whilst also quantifying the magnitude of its current impact and necessary responses.
  5. Provide an Overview of Existing Solutions: pooling immediately accessible resources and strategies.'


– Scott McAulay, Anthropocene Architecture School


The two-hour workshop took the participants on an emotional journey through a valley of despair, on into the opportunities for change and then stimulated positive responses and immediate actions that could be taken.


Divided into three parts, the workshop was intersected by discussion breaks in small breakout rooms, where participants were able to process and respond to the information received guided by a relevant question. Upon returning to the main workshop participants responded to these questions in live word clouds…

What is your personal / emotional response to the climate and ecological emergency?

This question was asked once the climate emergency scene had been introduced and set. It illustrated a clear need to support both staff and students in responding to such a problem as huge as climate change, and for the creation of space for this to be reflected upon. Feelings and thoughts such as these are common and understandable in response to the climate crisis – within and outwith design spaces – so it is time to recognise and support those who need it.


How shall this new information impact on how you engage with design studio projects and work in the future?

This question was asked after the climate science, predictions and their impacts had been explored. It shows that attendees were proactive in their responses to this information and already had the beginnings of ideas.


Climate literacies have not been commonplace in design education historically nor in many construction disciplines. If we are to respond to the Climate Crisis, this must be woven throughout every course, module, project and studio to integrate the learning in a relatable way.

 As a result of the workshop, what actions will you take next?

This question was asked at the close, after many resources and solutions to decarbonise the built environment had been shared. This illustrates the willingness to engage and share knowledge, and an eagerness to take action within participants’ own lives and work.


Many around you likely feel similarly and want to act. Sometimes it just takes someone in a space to say so and get the ball rolling.


Discussions carried on for almost an hour after the workshop finished, with participants reluctant to leave. More questions were posed and answers sourced, while new networks and collaborations began.


Feedback from workshop participants

‘This workshop has helped bring figures and more facts to the issues we have been told are looming. …the Climate Emergency needs to be brought into the curriculum urgently and this eye-opening workshop and our discussions needs to be shared across the construction industry, from the classrooms, to the office, to the site. Initially, like everyone else, I was overwhelmed by the facts and figures, but the breakout rooms helped me to realise how many of us are trying in small ways but still feel helpless. The second and third parts were honest and encouraging in the message that the chance is now and to wait would be a grave mistake. Thank you TRADA, AAS and all involved for the engaging workshop.’ – Aidana, WSA Cardiff University, MArch


‘An emotional and thought-provoking workshop into the climate breakdown and most importantly guidance what we, as the construction industry, can do to make a significant impact. Mascara warnings should be given before listening to the statistics….’ Joanne Thomas, University of South Wales, Civil Engineer Lecturer


‘TRADA's workshop with the AAS was incredibly enriching and empowering – uniquely bringing students together from across the UK to learn and build solidarity and understanding about the issues we face in the climate crisis.’ – George Brazier, UCL Bartlett, MArch


So, do we repeat the workshop?

The overwhelming appetite for places and our commitment to a sustainable future points in only one direction – yes. Discussions are taking place for follow-up sessions from the perspective of engineering and landscape architecture.


Register your interest

A provisional date for the next Climate Literacy and the Built Environment workshop has been set for Monday 16 November at 5pm. If you would like to register your interest, please email tbinding@trada.co.uk with the subject line 'Climate Literacy Workshop' and include your name, university, course and year group.



Trees, timber and engineered timber products have their part to play in all our futures. Our mission at TRADA and the Timber Trade Federation is to work with students, academia, professionals, the trade, and relevant bodies, so that we face the climate challenges ahead together. Timber is one of the palettes of materials that designers need to understand, to be confident and competent with when designing and detailing, with both solid and engineered timber, on its own or as part of a hybrid structure, in both new and re-used buildings…


If we use wood, we must learn to use it both wisely and well. 


I’m here to help and, whilst travel is currently discouraged, I’m happy to deliver guidance, talks and lectures online. Contact me, Tabitha Binding, at tbinding@trada.co.uk.



About the author

TRADA’s Tabitha Binding drives our busy University Engagement Programme, which proactively seeks to encourage lecturers of architecture, engineering and other building-related courses to teach timber as an equal to other materials. To facilitate this, TRADA has developed a range of free teaching materials, runs high-profile design competitions for students, and creates opportunities to collaborate, uniting universities with members of the timber industry. Together with scheme sponsors TTF, Tabitha has coordinated and made possible student-centric experiences.