Sustainable agriculture. Sustainable economy. Sustainable bags, buildings and boots. In today’s ‘environment’ sustainability seems to sound like an overused and wide ranging term which can be applied to almost anything, yet how many people can give a precise and concise definition as to what it actually means?
The broadest definition of sustainability is “the ability to keep in existence or maintain”. In its broadest sense sustainability is a concept – in other words, an idea or a notion which is on its way to being or has not yet been fully feasible. The goal or potential for long term maintenance and well being of human life is heavily dependent upon the maintenance and well being of the natural world as well as the use of its resources. To achieve overall sustainability (on all fronts) or the definition of ideal sustainability (long term maintenance of human life) is theoretically made up of the reconciliation of 3 pillars or areas of sustainability to maintain human life’s dependence on) these are social, environmental and economical.
For the purposes of this article we shall say environmental sustainability is the most widely connotated aspect of sustainability, when we hear sustainability, we immediately think of global warming, pollution, renewable energy and the likes thereof.
Natural resources are being used by all industries, some more than others, the way in which they are used and also the amounts they are being used in will determine the potential and the extent to which this goal can be achieved
In the 1970’s it was widely becoming obvious that there is a fanatic limit to the earth’s resources and since then vast amounts of scientific research and evidence has proved that sustainability is still only a concept, a potential term and has not yet been achieved, therefore we are living in a state of unsustainability. At present, the earth cannot continue supporting human life as it is known to us, on a long term basis. Once sustainability is achieved in all areas through collective effort, it is not to say the earth will be able to continue supporting human life without compromise. It is important to note that although thinking sustainably will generate innovative approaches and solutions to the challenges we face, it will not eliminate these challenges, unless we eliminate on non renewable natural resources.
Rather than defining sustainability as a concept or a potential goal, I would say sustainability is a journey. The destination is the almost complete and total elimination of our dependence on inevitably non sustainable resources, and sustainable development is the route to our destination. The element of not knowing exactly how long the journey is and the compromise of forsaking resources along the way should not hinder us in travelling sustainably. Having said all this, the concept of sustainability is what it is, its goals and how these should be achieved, (e.g. sustainable development) is a different variety now to what it was twenty years ago from now, in other words, the terms and concepts of sustainability are open to interpretation.
“I don’t know whether we’ll ever see the end of the age of oil, but I can tell you this…the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones!” — Sheikh Yamani 1973, former CEO of OPEC
Over 35 years ago, one of the senior executives who formed OPEC predicted in his statement to the press that the oil age isn’t going to end because we run out of oil. He probably knew we would develop and reach a stage where in some instances a wind generating turbine will be (as is now) cheaper to run and create kilowatt hours than burning natural gas, i.e. it will be more cost effective to make renewable energy rather than burn non renewable fossil fuels.
Sustainable development has fast become a buzz word in recent times. It is a notion which came about after growing realisation that current models of development were not sustainable due to the depletion of non renewable resources. The term itself is like the word ‘sustainability’ varied and open to interpretation. It can mean simply taking steps to live more sustainably or managing (controlling) resources to meet our present needs as well as future needs. Effective sustainable development would occur when we replace the resources we rely on heavily with renewable ones.
The most recognised and widely used definition of sustainable development was coined up by the Brunt wood commission presented at the United Nations conference on environment and development held in 1992 Rio. They too loosely defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” However, the fact that resources are being depleted and future generations may have to hear the words ‘nothing ran as good as it did on petrol’ whilst using alternative renewable sources, clearly screams out compromise. The UN’s definition has attracted much more hard hitting criticism such as that from Joan Veon, a businesswoman and international reporter, who covered 64 global meetings on sustainable development
“Sustainable development has continued to evolve as that of protecting the world’s resources whilst its true agenda is to control the world’s resources. It should be noted that agenda 21 sets up the global infrastructure needed to manage, count and control all of the world’s assets”.
Regardless of the criticism, it is worth nothing that since the UN conference on environment and development, all the countries present have organised sustainable development commissions within their own countries, some advising their respective governments on living sustainably i.e. sustainable agriculture, sustainable investments, sustainable construction etc.
The application of sustainable development as defined in the section above to the construction industry is known as sustainable or green construction. Sustainable construction is relatively concerned with reducing the environmental impact of building or running a building long term. In order to achieve this, there are various strategies, initiatives and techniques in place.
An ideal or efficient green or sustainable building is versatile and has a long life, the way it is built as well as the way it consumes energy resources is efficient and has low negative environmental impact. Principles of sustainable/green construction i.e. Ways to build sustainably include using natural and recycled materials or even using local materials to cut down on carbon emission involved in transporting the materials. Construction techniques that aim to save energy and also waste during the build process will also make the development more sustainable.
There are various joint government and industry initiatives which are in place to increase awareness of the importance of sustainable construction. Often cost effectiveness and long term lower running costs are cited to promote sustainable construction. Waste management is often seen to be costly and a cost effective way of recycling waste is in place with many companies. Right down to grassroots level energy efficiency certificates are required when selling a domestic property.
Low energy houses, zero carbon emission buildings and also the use of more sustainable materials such as recycled materials are already also the rise. The presentation in task 2 will highlight in the form of a case study how an organisations actions impact on the environment, it will also discuss the environmental targets in place that shape a companies sustainable policy and practice.
There has definitely been a shift of perspective within not only jus construction but all industries be it manufacturing or agriculture, whereas traditional development in every sector was more about delivering economic benefits at the expense of both people and the environment, modern sustainable development does generate innovates and cost effective solutions to the challenges we face with detrimental issues such as petrol.