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Sue Riddlestone: 3 Top Tips for a Successful Built Environment Project


To mark the 20th anniversary of BedZED, and the visit of the Running Out of Time relay race, we reflect on what made it a success.

Starting a new project can be daunting, especially when you’re attempting something that has never been done before. We get it. But we’re here to tell you it can be done.

These are the three most important things that helped us initiate BedZED, the UK’s first large-scale sustainable community:


To get your vision off the drawing board, you need the right people with the right skills. As they say, teamwork makes the dream work.

There needs to be something in it for everyone. Our vision for BedZED sprung out of our need for a new green office for Bioregional. But BedZED would not have been possible were it not for the architect Bill Dunster and his team at ZEDfactory, who, along with engineers Arup, were looking to create a large-scale eco-village. At the time, Sutton Council also wanted an eco-development, and the developer Peabody Trust, was looking to address fuel poverty. If you want your project to fly, your team needs to share the vision.

Can you align your project with relevant partners and events? If so, even better! On the back of creating BedZED, we created our sustainability framework, One Planet Living®, which has gone on to be used by businesses and communities in countries around the world.

It was even used to help write the London 2012 sustainability strategy, helping it to become the most sustainable Olympic Games ever, as well as spreading the word about our need to live within the resources of our one planet.  


When embarking on a new project, it can be tempting to give into doubt. But if you strongly believe your idea has some invaluable benefits, stand your ground. We need bold thinking in the face of the climate and ecological emergency.

We had to make a business case to the council about the reduced number of car parking spaces which, at 0.6 spaces per home, was much less than the national and local average. This wasn’t common 20 years ago, but we stressed that it would encourage active modes of transport and make it easier for people to make the right, sustainable life choices. Today, there are many low-car and car-free developments, such as One Brighton, across the UK. So you never know – you might just start a trend.


BedZED was a huge learning curve. As the UK’s first large-scale eco-village, using innovative technologies for the first time, we would have been naïve to think that every aspect would be a resounding success.

We trialed a first-of-its-kind ‘Living Machine’, a small-scale treatment plant that recycled sewage and wastewater. Reedbed tanks filtered the water collected by our green roofs, which was then used for toilet flushing and watering gardens. However, we had to close the plant because it was too expensive to maintain, and because of the type of fertiliser used on the green roofs, Thames Water deemed the operation a health risk.

Make peace with the fact that you might not get everything right straight away. It’s not a sign of a failed project, but an opportunity to learn for the next!

We know it can be difficult trying to get your project off the ground. But with the right team around you, belief in your vision, and a willingness to learn, your project will succeed – trust us.

Sue is Chief Executive of Bioregional, an international award-winning social enterprise and sustainability charity. She co-founded Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework in 2003 after Bioregional initiated and worked with others to create the BedZED eco-village in South London.

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