OPINION – Sustainability Awareness: What should the construction industry focus on?

As expert consultants promoting sustainable developments across the world, there are a few common themes that seem to pop up quite often in our line of work. Over the years, we have been involved in some of the largest and grandest projects, but whether it is a towering skyscraper, sprawling hospital, or a futuristic museum, we always seem to be involved in a similar sort of discourse, an overarching discussion that touches upon the intrinsic value of applying sustainable design features to the built environment.

This discourse comes down to what technologies would best aid in the pursuit of said sustainability, and, of course, the cost vs value debate of sustainability in a competitive commercial environment—where somehow today’s dollar seems to be worth more compared to the many more dollars of cost saving tomorrow. It is perhaps this short-sightedness that limits us from investing more in our future.

Even though sustainability has rightfully become a buzz word in the last decade, our efforts collectively reduce emissions by 0.5% below 2010 levels by 2030, when a 45% drop is needed by 2050 to avoid climate catastrophe.

The missing link between the promises and any actionable change brings to light the importance of awareness. Do we truly understand the path we are on? Are we aware that every day we progress, we damage the environment we live in more and more? Is it not important that the construction industry, who contribute so heavily to climate change, commit to the sustainability principles that aim to provide for them, as well as future generations?

Not All Awareness is Born Equal

While the topic at hand is a monumentally important point of discussion, it is critical, that we preface our discussion with a sombre disclaimer; not all awareness is of good kind, nor of the “true” kind; the term “greenwashing” comes most pertinently to mind.

A rule of thumb to go by to identify if any corporate commitment is Greenwashing is to understand whether the proposal actually cuts emissions, by a significant amount, and soon. Additionally, does the commitment make the climate emergency worse elsewhere? Anything else is simply not acceptable.

Sustainability, for all the preconceived notions and advertised practices, must fulfil its most basic meaning, providing for current generations without jeopardizing the same for future generations; keep that in mind whenever next you hear the word. Not all that is advertised as green is sustainable.

As consultants, we constantly feel the need to stick to facts, to scientifically supported and empirically proven data that has been generated before. We constantly strive to highlight misconceptions about sustainability and convince the industry to invest more than just the required minimum to building greener communities.

Our Commitment is Key

The success of any project has always been the commitment of the key stakeholders. Resistance of course is expected from one avenue or the other, but sustained success is only possible if there is a majority in consensus that the outcomes of this endeavour are worth the input. We can apply this principle to the simple concept of saving our planet;

  • first, we must be in consensus that our planet is at risk.
  • second, we must be in consensus that it is humanity’s actions that have put the planet at risk.
  • third, we must be in consensus that we, as a species, need to take action to save the planet and keep it a hospitable place for future generations.

Our resources are not infinite and nature is impacted by our actions. These are simple yet profound truths that when accepted by the majority of stakeholders (i.e. humanity), will spur action that will lead to sustainable living. There are ideas that many of us have been reminded of time and time again. Yet, they only seem to be words upon our ears. What actions are we taking to implement this knowledge of our wilting future?

Why do we want to turn off the lights when leaving a room? Why do we want to turn off the tap when we are not using water? All of these are actionable steps that some of us take everyday but it is not enough.

We are past the point of sustainability being an individual effort

The questions we should be focused on should answer the problems of the future. Moving forward, our designs and construction should be able to withstand independence from fossil fuels.

‘Why do we want to design more buildings that are net-zero in carbon emissions?’

‘How can I reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in my projects?’

That is the path that leads to the most impactful actions in the construction industry. Our base structures need to be green. That is what the collective community needs to be in consensus with and that is the path that requires the most awareness.

At Alpin, it is our ethos to be passionate about sustainability. We do not rely on simply ticking boxes for sustainable construction certifications, we provide answers that add value to our projects.

Understanding is Key

Committing to saving the planet is great, but what is the intrinsic value of our actions towards the achievement of that goal? Does turning off the lights alone save the planet? Does the removal of plastic products save the planet? The answer, as you would of course expect, depends on the summation of a multitude of our actions.

One of the most disheartening things I have experienced through my time in this industry is to see bright-eyes and enthusiastic individuals who had a passion for saving the environment wilt against the seemingly unmoving pendulum; having put heart and soul towards trying to make a change, they are discouraged by not seeing actual tangible results.

Here we address the other facet of awareness, not the perspective of why we need to care for the environment, but the awareness of how our actions are impacting the overall balance in a good way, we just don’t have an accurate enough or immediate enough reading on the health of the planet to give people a quantitative response on how each and every action is saving the planet.

For a task as arduous and difficult as saving our planet and creating a sustainable ecosystem that balances people, money, and the environment, we need to have enough of a foresight and enough of an awareness of the impacts our actions have not to despair at the first obstacle nor to rejoice at the smallest achievement.

This is a multigenerational endeavour that will take decades if not centuries to repair a crunching damage, and for us here at Alpin, we are proud to be contributing our knowledge and experience to better equip new and existing projects such that they reduce their carbon footprint.

It is an endeavour that we hope will turn out to be a success; we can ill afford it not to be.