02 October 2019


Read Time 2 mins

Industry Influencers: Q&A with Pooran Desai

For the first in our new series of blogs featuring Construction Industry Influencers we caught up with Pooran Desai, founder of OnePlanet and Bioregional, who has been voted as one of the construction industry’s Top 5 most influential people.

How do you work with the construction sector?
We are consuming many more resources than the planet can sustain creating massive problems such as dangerous climate change and ecological disruption. If everyone on earth consumed as much as the average European we would need three planets support us. I work with real estate developers around the world to create zero carbon developments where people can lead happy healthy lives within the resources available on one planet.

What projects are you working on at the moment?
I work long term on projects from visioning, through construction to operations. I love them all but my favourites include: SOMO, an abandoned data centre in Sonoma County repurposed as a green industrial park and One Planet school with homes starting construction next year making it a whole eco-village; Villages Nature Paris, the extension to Disneyland Paris, a One Planet resort of one thousand holiday and Europe’s largest swimming complex powered by 15 MW of geothermal energy (pictured below);

Singita Serengeti, 1400 km2 of community and eco-tourism development in the Serengeti which has created over one thousand jobs for local people and is educating local children in sustainability (pictured below).

What steps can construction companies make?
Construction companies can help their clients deliver more sustainable projects and communities through obvious ways such as reducing waste in construction, recycling more and using more sustainable construction materials. Probably the most important thing they can do is educate and involve all their staff and clients in creating a sustainable future. We need to shift culture and expectations.

What are the main challenges for the construction industry in the future?
To avoid climate catastrophe – and I don’t say this lightly – we need all construction now to be focussed on creating sustainable futures. This will involve massive change in processes (e.g. building to higher standards) and in supply chains. But is also the great opportunity for construction companies to differentiate themselves from the competition and to attract the best young talent who want to work for companies which are truly commitment to sustainability – not just writing some nice fluffy statements in a corporate sustainability report.

What do you see as the next trend/technology that will have an impact on the construction sector?
It has to be Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. I was involved in this field over thirty years ago and I am coming back full circle to look at how ML/AI can help us design and construct more sustainable communities.

What was the most recent app you’ve downloaded?
Interesting question. I haven’t downloaded one for ages. I don’t use apps.

Sustainable development in London

More about Pooran
Pooran Desai OBE Hon FRIBA. Pooran studied medical sciences and neuroscience at Oxford and Cambridge universities before co-founding environmental organisation Bioregional in 1994. Whilst at Bioregional he set up businesses in sustainable forestry, farming and recycling before putting together the BedZED eco-village project (pictured above) of one hundred homes in south London which was completed in 2002. He led on creation of the One Planet Living framework which has been used in over $30 billion of real estate development. This year he has set up a digital technology business called Oneplanet.com which is providing tools for cities and companies to collaborate on sustainability.

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