Episode 14: Julia Barrett

From the Spirella Building in Letchworth Garden City, Safia talks about sustainable construction with Julia Barrett, Chief Sustainability Officer of Willmott Dixon. Julia was Business Green Leaders’ Sustainability Executive of the Year (2018) and Women in Construction’s Green Leader in 2017.

“The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions” and as such the construction industry plays an important role in going carbon zero. Julia explains how Willmott Dixon rises to the challenge of creating buildings to reduce emissions and maximise efficiency which helps people using them reduce their energy usage, save money and improve their quality of life. They discuss how green construction can reduce social inequality.

Safia learns about Passivhaus, the “state of the art” sustainable building standard. It ensures you build highly-insulated buildings with the “right materials to very high quality standards of workmanship and to high standards of design which means you use minimal energy and you are able to maintain a stable living environment. Some examples of that have been spectacular.”Willmott Dixon is a member of the Supply Chain Sustainability School which provides training for contractors to ensure a high standard of workmanship across all sectors.

Safia and Julia discuss the Climate Emergency and Julia recognises that Willmott Dixon and society as a whole are being challenged to do more. “Let’s be bolder, let’s be faster, let’s be more ambitious. The XR strikes showed support from public and hosting COP 26 will lead to commitments. Not doing it is not an option.”

Willmott Dixon had a 2020 strategy to reduce waste, increase efficiency, and transform the lives of young people. These goals have been met and Julia discusses their new targets, including climate positive operations and net zero carbon buildings.

Julia says Willmott Dixon is “Using the climate challenge as a lens through which to drive innovation”. She continues, “what we need to do is push the envelope and make it non-optional.” She explains how Willmott Dixon introduces sustainability to customers.

Willmott Dixon has won many awards, including the Queen’s award for Enterprise: Sustainable Development (2019 and 2014), Social Mobility (2018) and Construction News’ 2019 Environmental Contractor of the Year.

Julia outlines her ambitions for the future. These include creating a built environment that adds value, enhances lives, and creates a better world for future generations. She wants to show this can be done and “demonstrate the art of the possible”.

Julia believes that as a family business Willmott Dixon has an advantage. It’s a benefit, as the company is not beholden to shareholders with different values. She points out that leadership and culture determine the pace of change, not technology. We are “change agents who turn the ‘what’ into the ‘how’”.

Safia and Julia discuss the global opportunities for sustainable construction, the inequality of carbon consumption across cultures and the implications of global heating. Julia finishes on a positive note pointing out the glimmer of hope represented by oil multinationals realising they need to add renewables into their portfolios. She concludes, “they need to do a hell of a lot more” but “a journey of 1000 miles always starts with the first few steps”.


Wilmott Dixon Projects:
Sutton Passivhaus school
George Davies Centre
Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development:
World Wildlife Fund HQ, Woking

The role of Passivhaus buildings in the fight against climate change
Passivehouse in 90 seconds

World Green Building Council


The world we made – Jonathon Porritt

Be The Change Graphic

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