Monthly Archives: June 2012

We have no business applying the word sustainable to business activity until …

Much has been written and discussed around the use of the word ‘sustainability’ and indeed, within the built environment has become over an used term, we are seemingly littered with sustainable construction, design and fm, with sustainable products, techniques and technologies. It is as though the pre-fix ‘sustainable’ has become to mean little more than the way we now do things. Business as usual?

And yet in a world of transparency we increasingly run the risk of greenwash if we claim ‘sustainability status’ (or indeed ‘zero carbon’) for our activities and are really called to account.

I was reminded of this debate on reading the excellent The Responsible Business by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley

“A word about a word we have chosen to use as little as possible: Sustainability.  Its a legitimate term that calls us not to take more from nature than we can give back. But we do take more than we give, we do harm nature more than we help it.

We have no business applying the the word sustainable to business activity until we learn to house, feed, clothe and entertain ourselves – and fuel the effort – without interfering with natures capacity to regenerate itself and support a rich variety of life.

We are a long long way from doing business … and no human economic activity is yet sustainable”

What do you think? Let us know if you think the word sustainability has become over used and hence lost its meaning

Related Links:

Construction CSR Makeover: can construction learn from Patagonia?

Constructing CSR iTransparency

… on what makes a building green

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Construction CSR Makeover: can construction learn from Patagonia?


CSR and Transparency seem to be linked buzz words in the world of sustainability at the moment.

Fuelled perhaps by an increase in CSR generally, a growing awareness of social media ‘whistleblowing’, the potential of the Social Value Act and a desire to improve or differentiate sustainability offering in bids and delivery on contracts.

Our Green Vison tweetchat last night concluded construction is ready for and in need of a CSR make over. But where to start? One of the suggestions was to listen to and learn from other sectors.

As if on cue, this  morning I was aleretd to Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles update.  A grand example of merging CSR, Supply Chain Management, Transparency, Storytelling and using social media to stitch it all together

For our tenth season we have completly revamped the Footprint Chronicles to show a world map of every factory that makes Patagonia clothing and gear, profiles of the social and environmental of key suppliers and fabric mills and profiles of key  independent partners who vet  social and environmental practices throughout our supply chain

The Footprint Chronicles® examines Patagonia’s life and habits as a company. The goal is to use transparency about our supply chain to help us reduce our adverse social and environmental impacts – and on an industrial scale. We’ve been in business long enough to know that when we can reduce or eliminate a harm, other businesses will be eager to follow suit.

View the map 

A great place to start learning where CSR in Construction can go …

Indications that this is possible are emerging. With similar end game intentions, our own constructco2 which maps construction phase carbon emissions, transport and the project supply chain foorprint and Sourcemap a crowdsourced directory of product supply chains and carbon footprints – see for example CITRIS Builing

Your comments are most welcome, engage in the CSR debates on twitter @fairsnape or get in touch to discuss further.  We are helping many construction organisations measure their carbons and re-evaluate their approach to CSR.

What will Rio Plus 20 mean for construction?

It’s 1992, five years after the Brundtland Commission launched the now well accepted  Sustainable Development definition. Heads of State and environmentalists convened in Rio to agree, or attempt to agree, a strategy to implement the sustainable definition globally.

At that time I was changing role from Project Management to Business Improvement Management, taking an interest in improvement issues and wondered then at the relevance of Rio and ‘sustainability’ on construction.

The impact was to be slow burn. Sustainable construction was then a very rarely heard expression, if at all. However Agenda 21, the global national and local strategy from Rio ’92 would go on to kick start and shape our Sustainable Construction agenda in so many ways, from strategy to standards to winning and delivering work. It would also shape our sustainability thinking linking economic, social as well as environmental aspects.

And continues to do so. Only last month I had a call from a contractor looking for help in understanding a Local Authority PQQ question “How do you meet our Local Agenda21 principles”

20 years later it is worth reflecting on progress in sustainable construction. Undoubtably a mixed bag, we have moved a long way in some areas, but we are still debating the some same 1992 issues a generation later.  And have we avoided compromising the current generation? No

With design, construction and the way we use buildings (the “built environment”) Accounting for 40% of energy use, waste and resources we have a profound impact, but where in Rio +20 is the voice of the built environment? (Follow the hashtag #Rioplus20 and an embyronic Rio twitter list for those with a built environment interest)

Whatever the outcome the Rio+20, with a (perhaps flawed) focus on a Green Economy we can expect significant impact on the way we approach sustainable construction, not least in the financial accounting and price of ‘nature’ (biodiversity, carbon emissions, waste)

Green Economy growth would in many ways be good for the construction sector, but to be good for the planet, good for a sustainable and resilience sector, growth has to be tempered with effective corporate social responsibility, collaborative working and appropriate sourcing. That is doing more with less.

Interesting days ahead…

link – 10 things you need to know about Rioplus20

link #GVischatCSR in Construction Tweetchat – will explore what Rio Plus 20 could mean for construction. 8pm 20 June.

10 Things you should know about the Rio +20 Earth Summit

Will we turn environmental protection into a game of profit? What you need to know about the global gathering.

The following article written by Janet Redman appeared recently on Yes Magazine and is reposted under the magazines creative common share licence

In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit brought world leaders together around the frame of “sustainable development” and launched global agreements on biodiversity, climate change and desertification. Two decades later, the environmental and economic crises they had hoped to stave off—global warming, record extinction rates, depleted fisheries, vast economic inequality—are upon us. And so political leaders and grassroots activists are gathering again in Rio in late June to take up the planet’s most pressing issues. Here are 10 things you should know about the Summit:

  1. What, if anything, will be decided? Rio+20 won’t produce a legally binding agreement, but the outcome document will lay out a so-called “Green Economy” agenda as a new roadmap for sustainable development.
  2. Beware of the slogan “Green Economy.” This might sound nice, but many who are using the slogan in the Rio+20 context are just trying to use the environmental crisis as an opportunity for corporate profits. They say the answer to our environmental woes is to allow corporations to buy and sell our forests, water, and other natural resources, as if they were just another widget.
  3. Value versus price. A big idea being revived for Rio is that if we put a price on natural resources and environmental services (like filtering water), we can manage them more efficiently. But this means the people with the most money get the biggest say in decisions about common resources.
  4. Nature as a new asset class. Wall Street is hoping the Rio+20 leaders will endorse their efforts to ‘financialize’ nature by creating derivatives based on underlying ‘natural’ assets. The biggest experiment so far is the carbon market, which has tanked while failing to deliver the climate pollution reductions or clean technologies promised by its architects. And yet for investors looking for the kinds of high returns they got used to before the financial crash, this is a new frontier.
  5. The risk of turning nature into a casino. A fundamental question our world leaders face is this: Does it really make sense to put the future of our remaining common resources—forests, genes, the atmosphere, food—into the hands of people who treated our economy like their personal casino? The financialization of nature might generate a whole lot of paper wealth for a few powerful people, but it’s unlikely to pull billions of people out of poverty or protect the planet.
  6. Rio needs a reality check. The problem that plagues Rio+20 is a fundamental flaw that underlies most development discussions—that infinite growth is possible on a finite planet. We need to return to serious strategizing about limits to growth and ways to meet people’s needs that are consistent with ecological boundaries.
  7. All people are created equal. The fact that the 20 percent of humanity living in North America, Europe, and Japan is gobbling up 80 percent of the planet’s resources means that there’s little left for impoverished countries to meet basic needs without trashing the planet. Rio+20 should reinforce the need to reduce consumption in industrialized countries.
  8. Democracy deficit. The fact that the draft outcome document doesn’t even mention the rights of poor people to land, forests and other commons shouldn’t be surprising. Civil society has had less inputinto the official process than 20 years ago, and most of the important deals are being brokered in the hallways, where poor people have little to no access.
  9. The real action will be at the alternative People’s SummitPeople from movements all over the world are coming to Rio armed with practical ideas to solve the ecological crises. These include commons management of the Great Lakes, keeping oil in the soil in Ecuador, taxing financial speculators to fund green jobs, and getting rid of subsidy handouts to oil, coal and gas companies.
  10. Build the movement! Be a part of the global day of action on June 20th to defend our common future and reject the commodification of life by hosting or joining an event or activity in your community.

The Rio Earth Summit is presenting us with a false choice between environmental protection through private profit on the one hand and state-sponsored green growth on the other. What we really need is a multilateral process that supports local living economies, and public institutions to democratically manage the commons.

Improving Bid success through construction #CSR

Is your PQQ or Bid success rate dopping? Are you loosing out to competitors and not sure why? You could do no better than to get along to one of the numerous best practice or knowledge exchange events such as the excellent Green Vision programme from CKE in Leeds.

Last night the focus was on CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility, which has moved a million miles away from just doing good, volunteering and charity donation, important though as these are. No, supply chain CSR approaches in the words of Bob Simpson (Walmart/ex ASDA) have to be ‘contemporary’ and demonstrate value to clients.

Bob went on to emphasis how the supply chain has to demonstrate “a point of difference” through CSR, when bidding for work, that includes:

  • Design Problems out (through BIM for example)
  • Improving site efficiency (maximising considerate constructor scores?)
  • Embracing localism
  • Hating waste in all its forms including energy, carbon, transport
  • Exceeding safety standards
  • Taking the initiative. The supply chains are the experts in construction.

Paul Connell E.on consultant reinforced the same message describing how supply chains adding value to E.on to help them deliver their ambitious Cities Programme of collective intelligence, enabling large organisations to engage with individuals on a meaningful level.

Setting the scene, my CSR presentation focused on the changing world of communications and transparency, and the need for construction not only to be solid and reliable but also innovative in CSR. Particularly in the public sector, where the newly minted Social Value Act will require construction to start to really understand and demonstrate the value of CSR approaches.

There is a storify record of the event here.

How contemporay is your CSR approach? Is it helping you demonstrate value to your clients and winning you work? Maybe now is the time to re-evaluate. We are helping many organisations review their CSR, PQQ and Bid approaches.  Do get in touch to discuss.