Are We Providing Sustainability in Construction and Development?

“Sustainability” is such a hot topic in the marketplace today that the word has taken on a world of different meanings. When asked how they would describe this idea some people would even be at a loss to come up with what they would deem to be a suitable meaning.

In 1987, the United Nations came up with the most often quoted definition of the phrase sustainable development. Their take on this term was development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Now for many of us the focus has been placed on ecology – ‘building green’. Reuse, recycle, conserve energy… all of these terms are associated with sustainability. But is that where sustainability ends?

Metal Building Kits are considered to be an environmentally friendly construction method.  This is partly because there is little waste.  And furthermore, much of the steel used in these buildings is recycled.

However sustainability goes much farther than just the building structure.

At the Global Holcim Awards ceremony that was held in San Francisco recently the topic was addressed by Rolf Soiron. He presented to the audience a much deeper meaning to the phrase.

Soiron is chairman of the board of directors for Holcim Ltd. an international cement distribution company. He is also chairman of the advisory board for the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.

Mr. Soiron is quoted as saying “Sustainability has become a fashionable term for corporations, but the term is so serious, it is critical to understand what it really means”.

He goes on to say “Sustainability goes beyond ecology. It means social equity and the dignity of the peoples of this earth. I hope people will emphasize this part of sustainability. We as business people are children and citizens of the earth.”

So where does that take us? Soiron said that the term goes beyond ecology so ecology is definitely a big part of the equation.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, conservation… are all important in sustainable construction and development. But going beyond the ecological aspect of sustainability to the social equity and dignity aspect can be difficult for many of us to grasp.

I have worked for a company that fabricates light gauge metal framing wall, floor and roof panels for low rise residential and commercial buildings. We had received a number of requests for quotations for buildings to be shipped to Africa and the Middle East to accommodate people that have been uprooted from their homes by earth quakes and other natural or social disasters.

Until I had read the article about Mr. Soiron in the Daily Commercial News – a Canadian Construction Newspaper – it did not dawn on me that we would be providing sustainable shelter for these peoples in a much broader sense than simply providing eco-friendly homes.

Indeed, these buildings would have provided homes to Western standards that in many ways would have been superior to any that these people would have experienced. We would have been providing a form of social equity and dignity for those people who had lost their homes.

This puts a whole new aspect to the planning and pricing of such projects. It could give a greater sense of pride for those companies that are able to supply these residential projects. You would be not only providing an eco-friendly building for shelter but also dignity for the people who would be living there. Social equity would also be a fall-out of this process.

Would the Habitat-For-Humanity program be a part of this sustainable development definition? This project provides new homes for people who could not otherwise afford them. Businesses and average people donate materials and labor to construct the homes. The recipients work on building their homes as well.

Supplying a home for a needy family is providing social equity. And by working on the construction of their home provides the recipients with a sense of dignity as well.

These homes are often built to the most stringent codes with many energy efficient aspects which could classify them as being eco-friendly as well. Under Mr. Soiron’s extended definition of sustainable development this initiative should indeed be considered as sustainable.

Under the United Nations’ definition, this project meets the needs of the present and actually enhances the potential for the future generation to meet their needs.

Of course there are many others factors that should come into play in building sustainably. These two small examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sustainability. We can all do our tiny part to providing a better world for this generation and generations to come. It certainly doesn’t take much if we all pitch in. What seemingly is an insignificant part can amount to a monumental piece of the equation when all of these tiny elements are put together.
 



 


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