By Clare Bowman, sustainability leader, Broadway Malyan.
It is nearly 40 years since Gro Harlem Brundtland enshrined the view that development and environment cannot and should not be distinguished as separate entities.
Against a backdrop of environmental catastrophes from acid rain to the diminishing ozone layer, the impact of her landmark Our Common Approach paper in the proceeding decades is hard to over-state.
During that period a political resolve combined with a willingness by those responsible for developing the built environment to embrace the essential tenets of sustainable development means we have seen the tide held back under the most challenging of circumstances.
Further engrained by the Kyoto Protocol a decade ago, the development sector has been at the coal face of innovation as the world has striven to drive down carbon gas emissions and reduce waste.
But as 40,000 delegates converge on Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference there is a very real danger of the sustainability agenda, if not going into reverse then veering over into the slow lane.
The construction industry still accounts for half of global energy and water consumption and almost two thirds of its raw materials – as far as the industry has come, it has still not come anywhere near far enough.
The political challenges of reaching a meaningful settlement in Paris are substantial when one man’s self-interest is another man’s aspiration – only those with a loose grip on the industrial history of the planet underestimate the potential conflict between the developing and the developed.
Even in the UK – which has been one of the pioneers of best practice over the past 40 years - we have seen a retreat from the sustainable agenda with the abolition of the Code for Sustainable Homes and Green Deal renewable incentives.
The response to this political wavering is that the industry must take up the mantel and lead the sustainability agenda itself, not because it has to – although the future habitability of the planet kind of depends on it – but because it understands better than anyone the economic opportunities on offer from sound environmental practices.
Operating in almost 40 countries globally, Broadway Malyan is as well placed as any to understand challenges of ensuring that progress and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive positions.
As a company we are already working with our clients and local authorities to re-establish a “Best Environmental Practice” approach to ensure that core values of sustainable development targets are set and that CO2 reduction is a priority on every project.
As political commitment has wavered, Broadway Malyan has set up an R&D Zone to develop a culture that actively challenges and explores new methods of reducing emissions and evolving waste management through adopting RIBA Digital Plan of Works and BIM methodology for asset management on all projects.
As we know the economic imperative will always trump any moral obligation and helping to promote a narrative that articulates the very real long term benefits of sustainable development needs to sit at the heart of any future strategy through data sharing and inter-project collaboration.
For our part, the R&D Zone is currently carrying out a study on affordable housing projects with the aim of tackling fuel poverty through design with the outcomes set to be announced ahead of the Ecobuild conference next March.
And ultimately our commitment must not be just to reducing emissions but also understanding that climate change is already upon us.
Mitigation will be our biggest growth area in the future as the health and well-being of those people occupying our buildings has already become a major priority for our studios operating in some of the worst affected regions around the world.
We know that we are not alone in this endeavour and that many others are committed to forging on against any prevailing winds but we must ensure that sustainability remains front and centre for everyone involved in development – regardless of what is agreed in Paris.
It’s what Gro Harlem Brundtland would want.
This article was originally published www.bdonline.co.uk
and features in Dispatches Edition Twelve