Architect and environmentalist Lucy Pedlar has just moved her family to Bristol and is currently transforming her 1930s house into an example of ecologically sound design. She runs her own ecological design practice and is the creator and manager of The Green Register, a training and networking organisation for people in the building industry who care about the environment…
Q: What's the best thing about living in Bristol?
A: I’ve only lived here a couple of weeks! Me and my family moved from London. We found a house in Redland and bought it in an auction. It’s really run down, which for an architect is an ideal scenario. It looks down into the city and over to Bath and the view is to die for. Also, there’s a higher density of greenies here. That can be a double-edged sword though – on the one hand you’ll meet lots of people who think like you, but on the other hand there are less people to convert!
What would you like to see more of in this area?
I realise I haven’t been here long but Bristol does seem a bit of a monoculture, a very white city. I’d like to see more diversity
What's your biggest achievement?
On a personal level I’ll never create anything more beautiful than my children – they are my inspiration for everything and without a doubt the best thing that’s ever happened to me. From a professional point of view setting up The Green Register is the thing I’m most proud of.
What is The Green Register?
Basically, what we do at The Green Register is help professionals (builders and architects) to build ecologically, by providing them with information about sustainable building practices.
I’m an architect and I’d worked for 20 years in the conventional industry but I really couldn’t stand the sort of buildings that were being built – there is no regard for any environmental issues. I wanted to make a difference and help other practitioners to do the same, so I set up The Green Register to try to do that.
What about us non-professionals, what can we do?
I’m also involved with a project called Archipeleco, which is for the lay-person. Anyone can approach us and ask for advice on how to minimise their environmental impact. We’ll come to your house and make an environmental audit, looking at everything from what cleaning products you use to which heating and lighting systems you’ve got. It only takes an afternoon. Then we’ll advise you how to change your practices so you can reduce your impact. The doom and gloom statistics abou the state of the planet seem so overwhelming and that tends to paralyse people – they think “What can little old me do?”. But if you begin at home in a small way it can empower you and you CAN make a difference.
How are you renovating your house?
I'm super-insulating the inside of the house and using high performance timber windows to try and save energy, putting in solar panels to supply the hot water, and using natural, low impact materials thorughout the house.
What's been your biggest mistake?
I’ve made millions of mistakes but I don’t believe in regretting things that you do. Things that happen that might appear to be bad usually turn out to have another side to them.
What drives you mad?
When people don’t realise the consequences of their actions. Part of that is due to ignorance and just not knowing enough about a situation. What drives me really mad is when people DO know and continue to act in a very selfish manner – that drives me to despair.
What was the last cultural event you enjoyed?
The Balloon Festival at Ashton Court. It made me feel really good about moving to Bristol – it was something so unique and so absolutely beautiful.
What's your favourite book?
As a young adult one book that really struck me was Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I loved the way she ran the thread of a character across generations and time-periods and even sexes. And I absolutely love John Grisham thrillers – I tend to go for escapism. They are set in the American south and my husband is from Mississippi, so there’s another layer of enjoyment there for me.
What's been your most memorable trip?
The most life-changing one was the year me and my husband gave up our jobs and went off round the world. The sense of freedom and of being completely loose on the earth was absolutely amazing.
What's your greatest fear?
That we won’t learn quick enough that we have to substantially change our practices in order to survive on earth. There’s one view that says “Okay, maybe we’ll become extinct but the earth will go on as an organism without human beings”. Well, maybe that’s what we deserve, but it’s not exactly very optimistic is it!
I’d like to think we’ll reassess what we are doing before it gets to that. And one of the messages I try to give people through my work is that this doesn’t have to be painful – it doesn’t have to be brown rice and lentils and uncomfortable living. To live with a respect for the planet actually gives you a huge amount of satisfaction and it can be a very inspiring lifestyle. It’s not about having to go backwards, we can go forwards to a different way, and it could be wonderful.
What skills do you wish you had?
I so wish I could type! I curse the fact I can’t almost every day, it would save me so much time.
What gets you into trouble?
Being impatient and packing my life so full that I constantly teeter on the edge of being exhausted.
What inspires you?
I find the earth so staggeringly beautiful. I can walk, like we did last week, on the north coast of Cornwall and be completely gobsmacked by the beauty of the natural landscape. And I get the same kind of uplift if I’m in a wonderfully designed building.
What has life taught you?
To be thankful and to appreciate everything you’ve got because who knows how long it will last. I always tell my daughters, we have incredibly fortunate lives and are very comfortable and we should just enjoy it.
The Green Register runs two-day training courses in 'Sustainable Buildings and Services' which take place regularly at the Create Centre in Bristol. Call Lucy Pedlar on 0117 377 3490 or see www.greenregister.org for more info.
Interview by Fiona McClymont
First published issue 43 (Winter 2005)
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