Redefining sustainability for today and the future

  • 2 Dec 2016

As the definition of sustainability has grown and diversified in recent years, the time is now right to bring together the various disciplines across the built environment to harmonise and redefine sustainability.

In the December 2016 issue of ABC+D Magazine, Martin Hurn, brand director at Ecobuild, discusses how to achieve this, following the show’s recent roundtable on how manufacturers can respond to the changing environment and  help shape the future of sustainability…

The definition of sustainability is becoming increasingly multifaceted. It is no longer limited to low carbon construction and now includes a range of factors such as wellbeing, placemaking and infrastructure.

While the increasingly broad reach of the concept and its continuing prominence can only be a seen as a positive development, the expansion and divergence in the understanding of sustainability across the built environment has begun to create a new challenge in terms of driving the sustainability agenda forward and creating common goals for the future.

To tackle this, Ecobuild launched the Redefining Sustainability campaign. The aim of the campaign is to bring together the various meanings of sustainability from across the construction industry and, ultimately, arrive at a universally accepted definition that is appealing, engaging and accessible to all.

The manufacturers’ perspective

Manufacturers, suppliers, specifiers and installers, as well as academics and policy makers, have all made an impassioned contribution across a range of activities, including blogs, roundtables, ballot boxes and webinars.

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Given that the construction products industry undoubtedly plays a crucial role in shaping the agenda, Ecobuild recently hosted a roundtable to discuss how they can respond to the changing environment and help shape the future direction – and definition – of sustainability. The event formed the second roundtable in Ecobuild’s ongoing programme of activities on the topic, ahead of the 2017 show.

Attendees included Peter Caplehorn, deputy chief executive of Construction Products Association; Michael Sansom, associate director, sustainability, of The Steel Construction Institute; Rob Warren, head of technical for Celotex, part of Saint-Gobain group; Martin Crow, senior sustainability manager, Hanson UK and Rupert Scott, marketing and membership director, Timber Research And Development Association (TRADA), among other experts.

Connecting with the end consumer

Establishing a connection with the end consumer, i.e. home owners and building occupants, was identified as a key challenge during the discussion. TRADA’s Rupert Scott pointed out that “the sector lags behind others in working out what the consumer demands.”

It was noted that while part of the solution lies in exploring ways of communicating directly with the end customer and tapping into their needs and priorities, when considering the built environment, customers are not necessarily bothered by the components of the building but the whole building. Celotex’s Rob Warren suggested that customers are most concerned about living in a building that “does its job, is healthy and comfortable”.

Incentivising green behaviour

This led into an interesting debate about incentivising green behaviour. It was highlighted that, currently, consumers place greater importance on issues such as the quality of local schools and house price, rather than the energy efficiency of a property, creating an opportunity to reward green behaviour.

Rob Warren proposed that if, for instance, people were given an incentive “to link EPCs to council tax band, people might want to do something greener to their houses.”

Key findings

Sharing knowledge and better education across the industry around long-term sustainability benefits – cost savings, building performance and longevity – was accepted as the best way forward and vital in paving the way for a more sustainable future.

Where next?

The sustainability debate will certainly continue well into the future. However, what is clear is that we, as an industry, must push forward to create a single definition of sustainability that applies to and is achievable for all. This means a shift in focus from products and technology, towards people, places and real-life benefits.

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