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Circular economy, Collaborations, Education, Interview, Timber  |  08 April 2022

Accelerating the transformation of building with Built by Nature.

The people in the industry need to be the ones making necessary changes to the way they work and BBN are there to support them
Built by Nature is a network and grant-making fund dedicated to accelerating wood building transformation
Jeff Blaylock believes that the under-used wood technology in the built environment could have a huge impact on the environmental situation
BBN want to create solutions that allow future urban environments to be created by nature-based solutions
New wood technologies are not being considered enough for the right projects and BBN aim to unlock and support these to make a difference in the construction industry
Despite only being live for five months, the fund is already forming strong networks and relationships within various sectors to support their approach to sustainablity
Built by Nature is all about connecting likeminded people faster and supporting their ambitions
The adoption of wood will inevitably happen in the construction industry, but the change really needs to come quicker
Wood and natural based solutions would create cities that are not only healthier, cleaner and fresher, but also interesting to look at

Built by Nature Head of Networks, Jeff Blaylock, tells us about their vision is for the built environment to work in unison with nature.

He explains how Built by Nature are connecting, amplifying and enabling the industry, and outlines the accelerator fund that supports the work.

Funded by the Laudes Foundation, Built by Nature’s mission is to accelerate the timber building transformation by radically reducing embodied carbon in construction, and sequestering carbon by championing forest stewardship and regeneration.

The Kiss House team was delighted when our co-founder Mike Jacob was selected to be a Built by Nature ambassador, and Kiss House was chosen as a Built by Nature frontrunner in 2020. Collaboration and innovation are key to ensuring long lasting and meaningful change in the construction industry and Built by Nature have a clear focus on amplifying the great work that is happening — for us being part of this is work is very exciting.

We wanted to find out more, so we spoke to Jeff Blaylock, Head of Networks, at Built by Nature. We hope you find our interview with Jeff as inspiring as we did.

Can you tell our readers more about Built by Nature and your vision for “a new construction market?”

Built by Nature focuses on creating a built environment that works in unison with nature. We want to set out a solution for developing our cities for the future and to ensure that our future urban environments are created with nature-based solutions.

The construction industry is a huge part of the conversation and solution. We want to work with the industry to help elevate the pressures our cities put on the environment and to ensure that the nature-based solutions being innovated by companies such as Kiss House, are being implemented to reduce the environmental impact of our cities. Built by Nature considers where key changes are needed, and we support the supply chain in getting innovations and ideas to all sectors through conversations and interactions.

The Built by Nature website describes a desire to redefine hidden value within the built environment, what is this and how do you wish to redefine hidden value?

One of our key focus areas is nature-based solutions.

Take timber as an example — we believe that, although the technology exists to expand timber’s use within the built environment, it is being underutilised. If it was called upon more, it could have a huge impact on the environmental situation. We need to change the conversation and stigma attached to it. With this belief in mind, we’re currently putting a lot of our effort into timber and making sure support those who are championing it, and their solutions.

We believe that the change needed is on the cusp of occurring, and that the adoption of timber will inevitably happen, especially as more companies adopt it as their norm. However, there are currently too few conversations in the general market concerning the capabilities of CLT, or how timber frame can be incorporate into projects.

I should stress that we don’t believe every building should be timber, it’s not always the right material, but newer timber technologies are not being considered enough for the right projects, and this is what we want to unlock and support.

“Newer timber technologies are not being considered enough for the right projects, and this is what we want to unlock and support. ”

Jeff Blaylock, Built by Nature

What are the critical steps to achieving greater take-up of timber?

Whilst forming our overall strategy, our funders Laudes Foundation identified a lot of fragmentation in the market and not enough alignment. For example, if you look at the UK vs Dutch markets there are a lot of different issues in play.

The key mission of Built by Nature is to create a common narrative. We want to achieve an alignment across different markets so we can move as a collective and achieve our overall goals.

Tell us about your role as Head of Networks.

At Built by Nature, we have three core principles; to connect, enable and amplify.

“Connection” is key to getting alignments and conversations flowing in specific markets, part of the work is establishing how we have these dialogues and where they are most needed.

There are areas where organisations might already be pushing and making changes, however there may be other areas where we can offer support. An example would be that we recently issued a grant to the Timber Accelerator hub, which we felt was helpful to the market. We look for opportunities to support — after all it is the people in the industry that will make change happen and it is our job to support them.

“Amplify” is more about communications. We want to amplify the successes in the industry. These often come from those organisations moving information and knowledge faster than others.

“Enable” is more focussed on our accelerator fund which directly allows us to support initiatives, stakeholders and our front runners.

“The key mission of Built by Nature is to create a common narrative. We want to achieve an alignment across different markets so we can move as a collective and achieve our overall goals. ”

Jeff Blaylock, Built by Nature

How were your front-runners and ambassadors selected and with what aims?

It’s mostly about mindset and an alignment of company vision to that of Built by Nature. We select organisations that are leading by example, that are being proactive in getting out there and making change happen.

There also needs to be a real desire and willingness to collaborate to be part of the bigger dialogue surrounding us. Meaningful change is going to come from collective effort and if we are going to be successful in accelerating the needed conversations within the industry, it needs to be across a variety of markets.

Insights from companies like Kiss House who are out there creating innovations and solutions help to feed our strategy and provides us with knowledge that can shared throughout the network.

What are your hopes for these partnerships in the future?

It’s important to us that our frontrunners grow with us. As we build our strategy, we hope to empower them with collected insights. Part of our strategy includes helping these frontrunners move their insights into the mass market, but to be able to do that effectively we need the to be able to support the partnerships formed in a variety of ways.

A lot of our frontrunners are already creating conversations, collaborations, and solutions, but there are many barriers and challenges they face. We want to establish how we can break these down — how to understand them and who we need to bring to the table to help us do this.

How does the fund help you to break down barriers?

We have already got a lot of our frontrunners together to tackle obstacles. It was this work that led us to create our accelerator fund strategy, which means we directly assist and impact those in our network.

The fund has a couple of key priorities. One is to enable transparency between traditional and non-traditional technologies in the built environment, another is to ensure the network is updated and aware of policies. Lastly, we want to be able to effectively share the right information to the right participants.

At the core of it, is establishing how to make decisions on where funds are allocated — we have some announcements about this coming soon!

Are there other actors you’ve got your sights set on to help scale the change needed and what can you tell us about them?

We have a “big six” of stakeholder groups; designers, developers, investors, asset owners, insurers and city representatives. We need to link up areas and stakeholder groups within each space and begin conversations. The demand side of our organisation has helped us identify the groups that we think can benefit from more information, conversations and change and to understand how we can support these markets.

Recently we have been working on building conversations around the use of timber in the investor space, and this is something we really want to see more of. ASM bank who recently joined us have shared how they tried to tackle timber in their industry which gave us great insight.

Our current targeted space is the UK insurance sector. We are trying to break into it through conversations with the Timber Accelerator Hub.

“Insights from companies like Kiss House who are out there creating innovations and solutions help to feed our strategy and provides us with knowledge that can shared throughout the network.”

Jeff Blaylock, Built by Nature

What sets Built by Nature apart from other networks and grant funds?

We are trying to create a movement at a large scale to shift the conversations forward by providing something that we think the industry is currently lacking. We want to be able to pull in local players to help us on our mission, but also want to balance this “on the ground” experience with our accelerator fund which allows us to act on these network insights.

It’s ideas like the modular elements of the Kiss House construction system that we feel are empowering tools for the industry and that we can support to expose it to subcontractors. We are creating a two-pronged, dual component attack that we hope will provide us with an effective strategy moving forward.

Why is amplifying the work of the network so critical to its success?

We need to be more than just amplify. Connection and the ability to enable action is critical for success. We want to celebrate the successes and showcase the changes and innovations that are possible in our industry through amplification. There are other organisations across Europe that do this, and it would be great to align with them, especially if they’re tackling more of the local market than we are currently.

What must happen in the next 18 months to ensure success? What are you looking forward to and planning?

We only launched five months ago, and it already feels like we’ve had a lot going on which is incredibly exciting.

Over the next year and a half, I’d like to see a cohesion between specific markets. We currently have a lot of UK based conversations, and hopefully soon we will have established more in the Netherlands, plus Spanish and Italian markets. Having a supportive presence in these markets is so important for the network, so seeing these relationships fully fledged as we support them and help them to build will be great.

We have a theory of change which has six focus areas, we have so far focused heavily on three of them. These are network, supporting knowledge, innovation, and communications. In the next year we hope to focus on the other three, policy, city scale projects and demonstration projects.

City scale projects will allow us to support cities in their material choices which will be a great breakthrough. I’m also excited about demonstration projects. The work will allow us to deal with the practical roll out of innovations and see them in physical form, to try them out, and test them which will be very exciting.

How can industry actors not yet within the network get involved and join the cause?

They can keep an eye on our website and LinkedIn profile, we’re always active and happy to communicate. We are also starting to run more events. These are online events now, but we do hope in the future that we will be able to do more in person to interact and form relationships.

Built by Nature is guided by industry, so we really do encourage people to reach out — we want to hear what’s going on!

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

I would highlight the Accelerator fund that we offer as another way to connect with us. The fund has a round every quarter so we do move quite quickly in issuing these — the next one will be issued in June so again keep an eye out!

Thank you so much to Jeff for taking the time to talk to us about the fantastic work Built by Nature are doing. We can’t wait to become more involved with future projects.

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