Sustainable Construction 10 years on – plus ca change?

Sorting through old papers over the holiday break, I came across this call to action from 2004

So why is the construction industry so slow in adopting sustainability principles?  There is more than enough sustainability knowledge in the marketplace to help organisations become more innovative, save costs and deliver a better product for their customers.

Business leaders and individuals are just not sufficiently engaged or enthused.

New entrants to our industry are beginning to expect high levels of ethical environmental and social performance. Clients are also beginning to expect higher standards and suppliers too are waking up to a better way of working. Organisations that do not adopt a sustainable approach will find it increasingly difficult to attract employees, clients and suppliers.

Now is the time to make the change and become more sustainable in everything we do.

The 2004 drivers for sustainability were based on risk management, driven in the main from client requirements (recall for example the influential MaSC – Managing Sustainable Construction programme launched that year) and we still ask the question if Business leaders and individuals are sufficiently engaged or enthused.

We have seen many strategies, targets and new drivers in the world of sustainable construction, the significance and danger of carbon wasn’t on the agenda back in 2004, the climate change wasn’t the issue as it is now, we barely understood CSR and social sustainability and we didn’t have social media as the powerful communication, learning and sharing tool.

And yet the approach to sustainable construction from contracting organisations remains the same. All too often I hear that “we only do it when the client or project demands it” And I notice increasingly that BREEAM (Very Good) projects seem to be losing the drive to change the way we sustainably construct – its business as usual for many working on such projects.

Going into 2014  we need to remain optimistic. Over the holiday period I have also been browsing some of the works of Richard Buckminster Fuller and struck by his quote

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

we need that new model now in construction, not one that challenges the existing – but makes a new way of doing things far more attractive and compelling on all counts. We can see a hint of this new model within the Living Building Challenge, Circular Economy and Restorative Sustainability thinking. For many reasons the built environment is known as the 40% sector, consuming 40% raw materials, producing 40% of total waste, contributing 40% traffic on roads, using 40% energy generated and so on.

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Lets flip these negatives into positives and heal the future.

We can only describe what we do as sustainable when we take less from the environment and when we contribute more to society than we take.

(We will be discussing this theme in our monthly Sustainable Leadership Conversation tweetchat on Tuesday 7th Jan at 7pm UK / 11am PST – follow the #sustldrconv hashtag on twitter)

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