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In the last few years, the word sustainable has been used almost in the same amount that a human being uses water day by day. All around the globe, amongst all industries and tackling all kinds of issues, sustainability became more than just a concept. It became a bridge, making connections between all disciplines, bringing together Politics, Economies and Technology with Ecology, Environment and Ethics (fig. 1).
In his report, Our Common Future, Brundtland wrote, what now became the most common definition of sustainable development. As such he defined it: the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. One might argue that the statement that Brundtland made is not a basis of theory whatsoever, but however it gives a solid ground for people from different industries to create their own definition based on the specificity of their knowledge background.
What sustainable development came to do was to develop a paradigm shift from the conventional model of development. To be more specific, the conventional model was promoting a sort of modernization around the globe. So we can’t discuss about sustainability, without bringing into discussion his ancestor the modernization theory. According to Pepper this theory is based on the assumption that as long as the society becomes more specialized and differentiated, it will become more modern and innovative. This means up dated technology tools, urbanization, highly competitive markets and so on (fig. 2, 3).
The key issue of sustainable development is creating an environmental model that promotes not just the idea of protecting the nature, but most of all aims at developing a self awareness of people in order to make them more environmental friendly (Baker S., 2006) Ekins in his book Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability, was underling the main pillars on which sustainable development stands. As he acknowledged, these pillars are the social one, concerned on the human interactions, values and norms, the economic one addressing the scarcity of resources and how to make the best out of them and the ecological one, which is a mixture of the former ones, and their impact on the environment and the resources it holds (fig.4,5). The importance of these pillars lies in the fact that they are not standing on. However in The Universal Declaration of Cultura Diversty (UNESCO, 2001), was strongly argued that cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature and thus a new pillar, namely culture was added to the three existing ones. As such we can argue that sustainable development is not a well defined theory, but it develops and matures over time, along with people changing their attitudes and believes and embracing more this concept. Sustainable development is not dependent on one place and one industry, but it runs around all of them interlinking them, making them work together driven by the same scope: a better outcome, a better world, a more responsible and respectful way of treating Mother Nature.
How is the construction industry responding to the subject matter?
The construction industry is just one of the many industries that experienced lots of changes together with associated benefits when it comes to sustainability.
The spread of the sustainability concept incentivized construction players to come up with new solutions that were ready to promote a better understanding of the needs of the environment and to develop at the same time innovative solutions in the building industry. The emphasis here is not only on the construction materials that were improved to deliver a more eco house but also the exploitation of the gifts that Mother Nature provides, which resulted in new energy-efficient solutions that modernized the entire industry. Integrated solutions such as ground-heat and under floor heating systems, huge sites of windmills or solar panels are all aimed at designing an ecological friendly way of living. And whilst living means building, than solutions that use these types of energy and heat generators became a must. Either generating energy using the solar panels placed on the roof of the building or windmills near to it, or using solutions such as under floor heating, systems for heating and cooling the walls with the use of under ground generated heat, the construction in itself became more than just a simple project (fig. 7), it became an integrated project, with a strong emphasis on the sustainable development. The benefits that arose from this way of designing were not tackling just the modernization issues, but they offered the premises to reduce the long term costs of the building’s maintenance. One might argue that the initial costs of building such a futuristic house are high, but thinking on the long run, the benefits exceed the efforts, and given also the continuous progress that is done in the matter, the costs are only going to drop in the next few years.
Dealing with sustainability: the UK case study
However even though, from what was previously mentioned, solutions do exist, it was really hard to implement it in the brains of the developers who were interested more in short term results. They can’t argue however that a single little house in an area won’t make the difference. This is where the government had a strong point in the promotion of sustainable construction. Large government initiatives were launched, incentives and penalties were introduced and thus developers had to consider the environmental issues over their immediate benefits (Langston and Ding, 2001).
The Sustainability Agenda, known as the Agenda 21, was a strong and massive initiative of the United Nations aimed at increasing the awareness in the sectors, that a need is necessary, to shift from the old way of doing business and asking the sectors to interact between themselves as they are all exchanging information in a sustainable development, and to integrate into their processes the environmental issues. Moreover it recognized the major impact that the public sector can have over the implementation of such things.
The UK was from the first who responded to the Agenda 21 requirements and it drafted its own sustainable development strategy in 1994.This was followed in 2000 by a gathering of construction documents concerning the key actions that have to be undertaken with regard to its policy in order to incentivize the implementation of more sustainable procedures in the industry.
Other initiatives were The Strategy for Sustainable Construction which promoted a sort of assurance from the part of the industry that it will reduce its carbon footprint as well as the use of natural resources. This report was followed the next year by a progress report in order to underline the progress that has been made as well as to increase the awareness on the barriers that were still to overcome.
What makes the buildings sustainable?
What makes the buildings sustainable? We do! What keeps them sustainable? We do!
So, who needs to be sustainable after all? The answer is obvious: we do!!
Having said that it is very clear that the first change has to be done on the way individuals think on sustainability. However, many times people tend to see this issue more as a responsibility rather than a way in which they will benefit on the long run (fig. 8). It is the same approach with the developers that are more interested in the short term results. This is why people have to be treated the same, and incentivisation is a good driven force for human beings.
Universities especially promote this type of learning when it comes to their accommodations. Initiatives such as switch off competitions, or electricity saving blocks or courts create actual competitions amongst students, who learn from an early age that being environmentally responsible means having benefits.
To conclude, the theory already exists, the efforts are being made, the industries respond prompt to sustainability issues, so it is just a matter of time until we will all be aware of the benefits as well as the consequences of not acting in a sustainable manner.