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Continuing Professional Development (CPD): Placing sustainable practice and climate literacy at the forefront

With the focus on building safety legislation and incoming regulation, engagement with the built environment professional institutions and their qualifying and ongoing competence processes are now at the forefront of the minds of many built environment organisations and the professionals’ therein.

The implementation of building safety legislation in 2023, and the registration of Accountable Persons (APs), has the potential to shape the industry and the role of professionals and their professional bodies for many years to come. These regulations will have significant implications for professional practices and for design, contracting, manufacturing and those who own, operate, manage and maintain buildings.

As significant changes are likely to be needed, particularly around demonstrating initial and ongoing competence, the need for CPD as a means to maintain and up-skill professionals has never been more important. Having to make such significant changes at this time can also be used to address and/or enhance sustainability, climate literacy and biodiversity CPD for members, with consideration for making such CPD mandatory.

Many of the built environment professional institutions already mandate CPD for members, with this being committed to by members when they sign up to the code of conduct, and for qualified professionals, is often part of the professional review process. However, CPD focused on climate literacy, sustainable practice and biodiversity remains, for the most part, optional.

Transitioning to mandatory CPD in itself has been a long process, but members and qualified professionals are now beginning to see the need for CPD, with professionals turning to their institutions for that learning, development and training. Hence, the demand for CPD in the areas of climate literacy, net-zero, and sustainable practice is increasing,

CPD does come in a variety of forms, from a wide range of sources and training packages (internal and external to the professional institution), and can range in quality and quantity, and covers many areas of technical and professional competence.

When carrying out discussions with the built environment professional institutions, of those that mandate CPD, members are often required to complete CPD in the following forms:

  • Self-directed and self-reflective learning and development
  • Specified hours of CPD
  • Specified format of CPD (where the professional institution sets hours for both formal and informal CPD)
  • Professional Institution specified topics

Where CPD is mandated, it is often audited in some form (be it spot-checking of records, regular audits or for each and every member), where non-compliance is found, all professional institutions can and may take action against individual members. This ranges from initial and prompting reminders to complete CPD returns, often at the time of annual membership renewals, right through to disciplinary procedures and ultimate strike off of professional membership and qualification.

The introduction of mandated CPD and its reporting has been a significant step change and challenge for both members and professional institutions themselves, with guidance developed, CPD content being made available, digital learning platforms, and now the availability of digital reporting.

CPD programmes and digital capabilities to ease reporting and ultimately monitoring and assessing the quantity and quality of CPD has, and remains, a high cost to professional institutions, for which membership subscriptions and the marketing and selling of specialist and technical CPD, all require resourcing and significant investment. For many smaller professional institutions, this remains difficult to fund and resource.

At the time of writing, no professional institution sets specific CPD mandatory requirements in relation to sustainability, climate literacy and net-zero, but many are now considering how they might introduce this. A number of institutions, including RIBA, RICS, IStructE and CIHT, are now in the process of engaging with members and seeking routes forward, via their task groups, panels and Boards, to implement changes that will seek to introduce mandatory CPD in the area of climate literacy, understand the level needed by the wide range of members and qualified professionals, be that knowledge and understanding, or experience, and how the institutions will themselves assess this competence through member CPD records and the institutions recognised CPD courses.

Case Study: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA): An approach to making CPD Mandatory

RIBA is a professional institution that already requires professionally qualified members to carry out 35 hours of mandatory CPD.

At the same time, professional institutions, whilst many do offer climate related CPD for members to access, are seeking to identify how they can improve their CPD offer, how they might make such content mandatory, and how they might record the uptake and impact in terms of competence.

There is wide support for mandatory CPD across the built environment profession, but it remains complex, and can be costly, to deliver.

There are also real risks which professional institutions need to consider, including loss of professionally qualified members (particularly where there is no licence to practice in operation), a reduction in income from fewer professional members, which could mean reduced funding for ongoing investment in the professionalism of the workforce, in building safety compliance, and in ensuring the wider workforce is climate literate.

It is here where the professions must engage and work with employers and the Government to ensure they understand the value of professionalism to industry, and to co-invest in a professional workforce that welcomes and embraces climate literacy for all of the built environment workforce.

Activity 5: What to consider when mandating CPD including requirements for sustainable practice and climate literacy

The purpose of this activity is to help your institution to consider how you can move towards mandating CPD and specifying mandatory CPD content and testing of sustainable practice and climate literacy. Your institution should work through the questions below, which will enable your organisation to assess its current position, and where the institution might move towards

Learning Points

When you gather and gain feedback from members this should be considered an initial success, but you need to be sure that you treat the member body with exceptional care and attention.

It is important to build methods to collect all feedback from members as you go along as this may prove useful to your institution in the future.

When engaging members as a part of your institutional activities, it is important that the activity is sustainable in the long term. To achieve this, it is crucial that you have detailed records of costs, timings and effectiveness of all the activities your institution undertakes. Allied to this, it is evident that any developments and communication goes through due diligence and supports processes to enable desired outcomes.

Professional Institutions offering CPD

Of those institutions that do offer their own forms of sustainable practice, climate literacy and net-zero CPD (often contextualised to the profession/discipline area), it often comes in the forms of:

  • Regular journal pieces
  • Web materials including articles, blogs, webinars, with some professional bodies offering a dedicated climate hub
  • Guidance on sustainability
  • Short courses
  • Specialist courses, some with qualifications awarded
  • Dedicated conferences and meetings in relation to climate change and sustainable practice
  • Themed promotions running through a range of professional institution activities.

Case Study: The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE): Launch of a Sustainability Route Map

In 2019, the ICE launched a three year plan, known as the Sustainability Route Map, to support its (and broader) global engineering community to better engage with the UNSDGs and demonstrate the impact of engineering projects.

Where net-zero challenges and sustainability are covered in these CPD means, there is often little on embodied carbon, safeguarding biodiversity, the circular economy, or improvements to efficiency/new ways of working, particularly using digital and information management. Modern methods of construction and so on are covered in terms of broader enabling skills.

What has been raised as a concern is the need to ensure that the CPD offered by PIs and others can:

  • Be kept up to date (which takes expertise and funding)
  • Be delivered in a format that members and non-members alike can access
  • Be easily recorded by members as evidence of completion of appropriate CPD, with records accessible to enable checking and verification readily by professional institutions
  • Offer a means of income generation for many of the PIs to develop (often more in depth) materials, that can be offered to members (free/low-cost), or non-members for a higher fee

Case Study: The Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT): Supporting the delivery and recording of climate literacy CPD

The CIHT offers a range of professional qualifications, including those regulated by the Engineering Council (EngTech, IEng and CEng), and the Chartered Transport Planning Professional (CTPP). In all cases, CPD is mandatory, with annual returns required, for these qualified professionals, and the broader membership of CIHT.

The resources involved in identifying, developing and offering CPD can be costly and time consuming for an institution, and where resources are limited, other options to recognise the short courses, technical programmes, and highly specialised learning and development can be an option. By reviewing, assessing and formally recognising others’ content and delivery mechanisms can be a quick win, promoting to members where high quality CPD can be found.

However, other options for sharing and updating the profession wide ‘Climate Framework’ could be of most benefit to the entire construction and built environment sector, and not just for professional body members and qualified professionals.

The Climate Framework: A collaboration opportunity for the built environment sector

The CIC’s climate action plan is also set to determine, develop and drive forward the cross-industry climate framework – this being a curriculum that professional institutions can utilise and offer their members covering a variety of high-quality resources covering a range of UN SDGs (bite-sized chunks of learning, from an introductory level, through to more in depth and highly specialised technical content). The aim is to enable and encourage access to professional institution’s own CPD or endorsed CPD from other organisations, for members at all levels and points in their professional careers.

Case Study: The Climate Framework

The Climate Framework initiative was started in 2020 to address the many challenges we face with climate change to social inequalities and health. With a focus and alignment on the skilling and upskilling of the built environment workforce, The Climate Framework is now responding to the need for consistency and collaboration across this sector, defining a common language, and focusses on bringing together the professional institutions with employer and higher education partners.

With The Climate Framework pointing members to sources of high-quality materials in a manner that those members can access should offer consistency and reduce duplication of efforts across the built environment profession and support a means to ensure materials remain up to date.

Whilst much material will be free to access for members, there is also the opportunity to offer detailed technical and paid-for content, where professional bodies and other organisations could work in partnership to design, develop, and deliver CPD.

One such example, is the short course offered by the University College of Estate Management (UCEM) titled ‘Energy and Carbon in the Built Environment’.

Case Study: University College of Estate Management (UCEM): ‘Energy and Carbon in the Built Environment’ Short Courses

The University College of Estate Management (UCEM) aims to become the world’s most sustainable university, offering a range of education and training products for the built environment, all of which are underpinned by sustainability and climate literacy.

With a wide range and variety of CPD now on offer to professionals across the built environment, capturing and recording competence remains a focus for the profession. Many courses offer multiple choice questions as a form of assessment of sustainable practice and climate knowledge but it is important to consider that the ongoing application and testing of such knowledge ensures competence in these areas. Access to professionals from all across the built environment sector, with professional qualification and registration, complete with ongoing CPD, is the ultimate goal.


In considering each of these sections, either independently or in full, there are significant opportunities for any professional institution to reflect on current practice. For example, offering a variety of routes for members (existing, potential or stakeholder) involving entry to, registration of, and maintaining ongoing competence through lifelong learning in relation to sustainability and climate literacy.

Having your institution define its aspirations and how realistic they are, in terms of meeting outcomes, ensures more robust plans are put into place in a timely, effective and efficient manner. These opportunities, if considered carefully, allow processes to be reflected upon, collaborative activities coordinated to leverage resources, thereby addressing any challenges that professional institutions may face in terms communicating or engaging individuals and boards.

Using existing relationships with members, boards, key stakeholders and other professional institutions will help to gain an understanding of the processes and outcomes sought, with well-defined outcomes achievable. Communication, engagement and acting on feedback will support the professions to engage and embed positive change, with members feeling part of the community and offering solutions needed now and in the future.

That said, investment is needed to achieve many of the aspirations and activities set out in this toolkit. Investment in people and upskilling, providing guidance, improving processes, and even implementing IT systems to offer, track and audit CPD can be an expensive outlay. However, returns on investment need to be considered over the life span of typical members and the professional institution’s business plans, with sustainability and climate literacy as part of a broader offer to support this sector and its professionals to comply with incoming building safety regulations.

Working as a coordinated and collaborative built environment profession, good practice and resources can be utilised and efforts shared; this also offers the benefits of consistency of approach and language across the sector, with industry now seeking leadership and solutions from the professional institutions, and capturing the means to ensure their staff are, and remain, competent.