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


Time to rethink (not re-tinker with) sustainability #BAD09

Oh what a web we have weaved on our route to sustainability. And while we seek sustainable construction and head towards zero carbon homes, are we not in real danger of creating an industry that is in itself not sustainable or resilient?

We have spent a huge amount on sustainability technology, on green marketing, of time and energy in defining zero this or that, sustainable ‘everything’, and yet carbon emissions from buildings have increased, we do not have a workable definition or solution to existing bldgs, and despite site waste management plans DEFRA recently claimed that one third of solid materials arriving at the site gate are not used for the ordered purpose.

Given the opportunity  to blog for Blogging Action Day (BAD09) on climate change, we need raise the call to rethink construction, rethink facilities management and rethink design. Not in the now overused and redundant ‘rethinking’ as in tinkering with, hiding behind a thin veneer, but as in the Einstein “we can not solve todays problems with the thinking that got us here in the first place.”

25 years ago the Brundtland Commision definition of sustainable development called for actions that would not compromise future generations. Here we are a generation or so on, and I would bet that nearly every sustainable policy or statement echos or repeats the Brundtland definition. And yet we have compromised todays generation and continue in our actions that will compromise future generations.

Many sources have stated that our built environment sector consumes 40% of materials and contributes 40% of carbon emissions and waste. Not a record to be proud of.

Worst: we think we are addressing sustainability because we have greenwashed our products, our services and our actions.

We are on the cusp of needing radical actions to met forecast climate changes, being neutral may no longer be acceptable,. We may look back and regret the investments and industry we set up to manage and recycle waste, rather than investing in eliminating waste. We will regret our inactions on really moving the sustainability agenda forward since Brundtland.

Positive development, not neutral or zero, needs to surface as the new mantra on our sustainability agenda.

And stealing the words from construction excellence blog yesterday.

“If current leaders are not up to the task, they should as a minimum support the next generation who appear to understand the issues”


Be2camp Manifesto: Towards an open resilient sustainable and collaborative built environment

Positive Development

Understand and Preventing Greenwash

carbon trust standard

The Carbon Trust new certification acknowledges organisations that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without using offsets.

The Carbon Trust Standard certifies that an organisation has genuinely reduced its carbon footprint and is committed to making further reductions year on year.

“Our research shows that not only do consumers currently mistrust business’ climate change claims, but that business thinks existing carbon award schemes are confusing and lack credibility,” said Carbon Trust Chief Executive Tom Delay. “What business and consumers both share is a desire for one, credible way to prove an organisation has not only measured, but actually reduced their carbon emissions year-on-year without the use of offsetting.”

The 12 case study organisations who have acheived the standard are Abbey Corrugated, B&Q, Crown Prosecution Service, Dept. of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dept. for International Development, DSM Nutritional Products – Dairy production site Scotland, King’s College London, London Fire Brigade, Morrisons, Thames Water, Trinity Mirror and University of Central Lancashire.

is ISO 14001 working?

I picked up a copy of the Patagonia outdoor apparel catalogue over the weekend.  In addition to the photos and products, these catalogue are always a good read to see how a leading organisation is approaching and communicating their environmental and ecological ethos.  A link to their website allows you to track the impact of specific Patagonia products from design through delivery, through interactive mini-site Footprint Chronicles™

What caught my eye was a comment on ISO14001, and on how Patagonia, to ensure that our (leather in footwear) leaves the smallest possible footprint, we only use (tanneries) with an ISO14001 registration. This strict set of environmental standards measures how efficiently a company uses natural resources, how its process impact on the environment and how closely it adheres to local and international environmental regulations.

Wow, if only this were the case in the built environment. Although I often make the link between effective ISO14001 application and reducing the carbon and ecological footprint but its not often I have seen others make the link.  Of course this needs much much more than just achieving and maintaining with a tick box mentality.  The concept of ISO 14001 remains good, but from experience of taking organisations through the assessment process it is far too easy to attain with tokenism and without really addressing real change on environmental and ecological issues.

As we are now head long into reducing the impact of the built environment may be its time to tighten up on ISO14001 accreditation and requirements.  What difference would a project with the entire supply chain working to ISO 14001 achieve?   I am aware that customers and clients believe this is what they get when in procurement they insist on ISO 14001 of the main or prime contractor.  In reality it may be just the main contractor who holds the standard, who conducts the impact assessment, who then takes the do-as-little-as-possible-in-the-hope-we-are-not-audited approach.

Or, as the example given for greenwash Sin of Fibbing -being certified ISO 14001 compliant (“ok, its our holding company actually, not our business unit”)

We have seen a number of fast track and 14001 made easy programmes for the sector recently – I question if this no more than a bandaid, get-the-badge to get through tenders approach, or a real contribution to improving environmental performance.  Often these are process based, web based, electronic approaches with pre-written templates that ignore the hearts and mind, people element so crucial to implementing the systemic change in ethos required.

Within the built environment we need, the strict set of environmental standards measures how efficiently a company uses natural resources, how its process impact on the environment and how closely it adheres to local and international environmental regulations. That covers ALL aspects of the sector and is continually improved.

Related isite links:

Responsible Sourcing to BS6000

isite’s Guide to Effective ISO 14001

Developers accused of pursuing gadgetry instead of saving planet

The Guardian reported on Saturday on the CABE criticism of architects and developers who are, according to CABE ignoring the threat of climate change and failing to address concerns over sustainability, (Based on design reviews of more than 700 large construction projects over the last two years that concluded that fewer than 10 made sustainability a priority)

Thats less than 2% !! Why has it taken two years and 700 project reviews to highlight such failings?

“painfully slow, piecemeal approach to sustainability” and a focus on
superficial “green gadgets” is threatening efforts to build green towns
and cities.”There are some architects and developers who really get climate
change, but most don’t or choose not to. As a result we get a lot of
greenwash, such as green gadgets and microtechnology stuck on to
buildings, rather than a proper approach to sustainable design.”

I am intrigued as to the review criteria used by CABE and will report more here when I can track down and read the report.

corus system – carbon zero, neutral or greenwashed?

I couldnt let the Corus ad on the Building website go without comment.

Is the Corus Confidex Sustain® zero carbon, cradle to cradle, building envelope systems nothing more than elaborate greenwash? It would appear the claim of being carbon zero (and occasionally zero neutral in the same marketing) is based soley on carbon offsets.  A case of doing nothing different that paying others to handle the damage caused through production and transport, rather like the medevil indulgences?  Or is there something more here and Corus have truly been able to design, manufacture, transport and construct a zero carbon building envelope?

Comments invited as always

bloggers greenwash kit

Thanks to Mel over at Elemental for pointing out the Greenwash Guide (pdf) at Futerra – very timely as I prepare for a workshop today. 

Three even easier steps for
communications agenci

Now we have the 10 signs of greenwash, Six Steps to avoid Greenwash, a Greenwash Healthcheck  and 3 even easier steps for communication agencies, the original  six greenwash sins,  and greenwash misleading adverts regulations.