5th June 2018

Sustaining the built environment

Planet Earth is our home that we share with 7.6 billion human beings and zillions of creatures great and small. Our planet is essentially one giant zoo that we’re all living inside of, and currently rather dominating.

My generation grew up in this zoo without understanding all the consequences of our ‘throw away’ culture. Don’t want that? Bin it then. And it was gone as if by magic. But now we can see it, all of it. We’ve filled the holes in the ground with rubbish, the sky with smoke (carbon) and the oceans with plastic.  It’s time for all change now else it’s ‘game over’.

On a personal level, there are changes we must make. The first step is to say no. No to flying so much, using so much petrol, eating so much meat, to consuming anything that isn’t naturally renewable. No to plastic. Then the second step is to say yes. Yes to walking, yes to local shopping, yes to green energy. Yes to “reduce reuse recycle” but also yes to rethinking everything.

For those of us working in the construction industry, we want the built environment to complement and enhance our natural surroundings. We need to think of that not just in terms of how it looks, but how it’s treated. As professionals we have a responsibility for the survival of this beautiful world and the future generations. Globally, our industry and our product, the built environment generates 30% to 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions. We also use 32% of the world’s natural resources. We therefore, in this sector, have another step to take. That also begins by saying no.

Sustainability can seem daunting in our sector but it shouldn’t be, it can be seen as a critical friend. By being honest about the challenges and opportunities, our critical friend can be a huge asset - to improve the industry - rather than a burden that hinders it. We’ve already come far and attitudes are changing. But it is time now to question every norm.

We need to always ask ourselves, and each other, why do we do things the way we do? Do we need layers of plastic around materials? Do we need to transport resources great distances when they exist locally? We need to view these questions as opportunities to change how we interact with each other and the planet and to respond enthusiastically to the new challenges, not bury our head in the sand. We all need to be ‘leaders’ who ask good questions and who ‘make the change’ - showing there are alternatives and collectively encouraging one another to raise our game and lower our impacts.

At the CIOB we have a Sustainability and Environment Special Interest Group, which I’m proud to be the chair of. In this group we have a passion and a drive to imagine a carbon-free world with greatly improved resource efficiency in our built environment - to combat the global environment challenges dead ahead. We recognise that, as well as asking questions, for this to work we need to also encourage a bold listening culture.

We’re all in the same boat and global organisations, like the CIOB, can all come together regardless of country and sector to focus on that shared interest – our planet. We can share best practice guidance with each other. We’ve seen some cities take big strides, but it’s also in small communities, in rural villages and towns where we’re seeing populations empower themselves, learning from their neighbours and introducing a culture of reducing, recycling and reusing. Rethinking.

We are an ambitious sector and we like to leave our mark. That ambition needs to be channelled into creating a sustainable, planet-friendly and species-friendly industry. Our legacy… well it could be one that future generations will thank us for. 

“Tread softly because we tread on their dreams.”
WB Yeats
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