New UK Housing Development to Feature Hemp as a Foundational Pillar Providing Sustainability and Affordability

New UK Housing Development to Feature Hemp as a Foundational Pillar Providing Sustainability and Affordability

The project developers hope the pilot program can serve as a template for the future of eco-friendly, community-based living in Britain and beyond.



While much of the recent news surrounding hemp has centered on issues related to the plant's medicinal and psychoactive attributes, there is an entire hemp-related industry focused on using the versatile plant as an environmentally beneficial and sustainable building material as well. From 'hempcrete' to bioplastics, industrial hemp could be the future of construction for a world in desperate need of materials that reduce or eliminate the massive carbon footprint associated with traditional building methods.


With architects and engineers in countries like Ukraine and Sweden already utilizing hemp to rebuild war-torn neighborhoods and eco-friendly office parks, respectively, a new project in the United Kingdom is taking hemp-based construction to a new and expanded level.


According to multiple international media outlets, industrial hemp will be the centerpiece of an advanced housing development on a 7.9-hectare tract in southeastern England. Designed to address the "whole-place carbon footprint," in the words of its developers, the site, located in a former industrial area in East Sussex, will be the new home for The Phoenix, the UK's most sustainable neighborhood.


The development company behind the new endeavor is Human Nature, based in Lewes and founded by former Greenpeace directors Michael Manolson and Jonathan Smales. Known for creating and promoting projects with "exponential sustainability," Manolson and Smales purposely chose the location within the South Downs National Park to serve as a walkable environment that includes 685 homes, an electric car charging hub, public squares and gardens, community buildings, and a river walk.


Because hemp and its construction material byproduct, hempcrete, sequester carbon during the construction process, Human Nature is seeking to use the plant's unique chemistry to implement a "whole-place" carbon strategy, which reduces "operational carbon" from heat and power and "embodied carbon" from materials and the building process.


As part of their approach, Human Nature's in-house design team, design agency Periscope, Ash Sakula Architects, Mole Architects, and Arup will utilize plans based on circular economy principles, including prefabricated "cassettes" sourced from local timber filled with hemp and other biomaterials. In addition, where possible, existing materials from the location's industrial past, such as bricks, steel trusses, cladding, and buttresses, will be recycled and repurposed.


Along with the aggressive environmental features, the developers also plan to achieve "radical affordability goals" for prospective community members via waste management and composting facilities, on-site recycling, urban farming, and community gardening, as well as a renewable energy system that will reduce residential energy bills by 10-20%.


"The current mainstream model of development is catastrophic, baking in deeply unsustainable fabric, infrastructure, and transport, fueling the climate and nature crises; it also creates social divisions and exacerbates loneliness. We aim to show that living sustainably can be a joy, not an exercise in self-denial, made far easier by the design of neighborhoods," said Smales, Human Nature's CEO.


"The current mainstream model of development is catastrophic, baking in deeply unsustainable fabric, infrastructure, and transport, fueling the climate and nature crises; it also creates social divisions and exacerbates loneliness. We aim to show that living sustainably can be a joy, not an exercise in self-denial, made far easier by the design of neighborhoods."

- Jonathan Smales, CEO of Human Nature


Harkening back to an almost pre-industrial era, Manolson and Smales hope to create a sort of test "utopia" for potential residents. Likewise, if The Phoenix, which recently received planning approval, is a success, the duo envisions similar communities all over the UK and potentially worldwide.


"The result won't feel unfamiliar, rather a return to traditions we've forgotten: a place of elegantly designed buildings made using local materials, streets safe for children to play in, with most daily needs met within a short walk and where it's easy to meet and socialize with your neighbors," Smales said.


"The result won't feel unfamiliar, rather a return to traditions we've forgotten: a place of elegantly designed buildings made using local materials, streets safe for children to play in, with most daily needs met within a short walk and where it's easy to meet and socialize with your neighbors."

- Jonathan Smales, CEO of Human Nature