Most of the building sustainability professionals worldwide would agree that currently the focus is on Health & Wellbeing. It is the next trend or fad that is going to prevail probably for the next 5 years to come. It makes good business sense when related to productivity, absenteeism etc., easily grasped by everybody (what's in it for me) and if managed to be measured and create KPI's it looks more promising in economic terms than energy saving and management.
Nevertheless, if one tries to form a more generic and transcending definition for a building, possibly he will end up with "a structure that satisfies human's accommodating needs". Within this context, it is strange how the majority of the green building / sustainability movement (with a few notable exceptions) in the last 20 years did not address, until now, boldly the Health & Wellbeing issue.
It is interesting to observe how opinion leaders, institutions, global influencers etc. in the last 2 years heavily quote and promote the significance of Health & Wellbeing. Why all this buzz and fuss now, after 20 years of buzz for the environment, climatic change, energy saving and management?
Within this developing trend/focus an important integrated approach issue arises within the so called "green" movement/momentum. The green movement addresses issues of resource scarcity, climatic change, energy efficiency and management. But also in marketing terms it is not necessarily associated with human Health & Wellbeing. As a consequence, there it is as an "add on", Health and Wellbeing joining the "green movement".
Whilst undoubtedly climatic change poses a significant threat, soon enough, if not already, the baptised "green movement" will prove insufficient to embrace the world wide focusing trend on Health & Wellbeing which will probably consume resources in expense of others needed to maintain balance (sustainability).
What could realy be needed is a real-life balance practice, within the context of available resources, in order to maintain a sustainable status. This status could address resource scarcity and climatic impact mitigation and energy efficiency and human Health & Wellbeing and pollution mitigation and..... and..... That is it. Welcome to real life. If we find this increasingly complex (especially in business or awareness terms) ... well this is what is real life about. Simplifications (to be appealing and easier to apply) will not necessarily work the problem.
I wish the whole building industry, academia, institutions and professionals agree to a definition for sustainability in the built environment and communicate it boldly. Furthermore, I wish everybody to realise that sustainability is about getting the balance right within a context of limited resources where fads and focuses could undermine the fundamental holistic approach of sustainability.
Can we make the latter our number one (fundamental) priority?
I often come across potential pursuers of building sustainability certification. Initially enthusiastic aiming to achieve a very high certification rating and even flirting with the concept of innovation. Just to find out after the first encounter that their potential rating is well below their unsuspicious expectation. It is at that moment when they surrender and finally opt out.
From my first encounter with sustainability of the built environment, beyond any technological advancements, I was trying hard to find the innovation in it. At a fundamental level it is hard to define “getting the balance right” an innovative concept. The Greeks expressed this as “pan metron ariston” thousands years ago although finding hard these days to implement it.
This obsession or self-imposed barrier of high rating in certification, aiming to the sky, is the primary reason for a stakeholder to opt out before even trying. However, building sustainability is not about the excellence of the 2%.
By default, it does not work like that. To have a significant impact in a larger scale, infinitesimal steps are needed from the majority. That is, these synchronized small steps that can make the difference rather than the quantum leap of the distinguished 2%.
So how do we go about it? How do we convince that sustainability is not only about exemplar performance? Well as we always did in the past. Initially is to inspire. Communicate the why in priority. Then after, make small consistent steps, getting into the culture which can possibly lead towards an exemplar performance through daily small wins. This attitude helps for the solid establishment of a sustainable culture that develops. Beware of the flamboyant exception of the one off project. This does not last and is not able to make an impact in a larger scale. Because sustainability is an ongoing concern for all of us.
Having been the assessor and consultant for a recent certified building in Europe with a relatively low rating I sat back and pondered: Ok this is not the sustainability gem building. Is there value in this act? You bet there is
Last but not least, one might argue why certify at all? The answer lies in the inherent complex nature of building sustainability, where currently, many stakeholders need the guidance and support as well as the recognition. And add to this the necessity of an independent third party intervention in order to avoid “self-complacency” cases such as the VW one.
While departing from Ecobuild this year my aftertaste was the significant uptake of Health and Well Being initiatives and how these are embedding in the sustainability culture of all building industry stakeholders. From policy makers to builders, from non profit making bodies to the supply chain.It is always useful to remember that sustainability is about getting the balance right. Among other issues Health and Well Being issues do co exist with the Energy ones. While it is easy to perceive the financial benefits from Energy issues, Health and Well Being issues can have a greater financial benefit.
The image above is the Vitruvian man by Leonardo Da Vinci :"The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius". Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture.
Consequently, it is important to be reminded of the anthropocentric approach on the designing of buildings. After all we are not reinventing the wheel. Simply we are assigning priorities on an inherently complex process in order to satisfy our human accommodating needs.
Green buildings are healthier buildings for humans. Green buildings are more resilient.
Green buildings are quality buildings.
Energy buildings are greener buildings.
Green buildings avoid brown discount.
This is what many opinion leaders with global influence claim what green buildings are or can do. Not surprisingly the intended audience can get confused (if not already) of what at the end a green building is.
Is there magic behind this color after all?
Green for the layman is mostly associated with the natural environment for 2 reasons:
1. Vegetation is (mostly) associated with the green color.
2. It is true that the green building movement started with its main (if not entire) focus on impact mitigation and protection of our natural environment.
However, real life proves to be a little more complex in order for a one dimensional solution to work the problem.
From nature’s patterns one can easily observe fauna to team, hunt, nest, give birth, fight, prevail etc. That is, inherent social and economic factors are present and manifested through fauna needs and scarcity of available resources.
Making the analogy, it is evident that in real life situations a green building must provide an equitable solution as well. That is, the green component has to coexist within a delicate balance of human needs satisfaction and available resources. Alter the heading, pitch or roll one of the three interrelated components and experience the challenge of sustaining the balance of the model called real life.
It is true that current climatic change is a global scale threat and its manifestations are experienced through the natural environment component.
However, the word green (with its associated perception) and its use for headers most probably mislead the intended audience whatever the detailed analysis might demonstrate in several pages underneath. With the risk of the intended audience not reading further, not bothered to be aware or misled, the global movement needs to ponder if it has adopted the appropriate “brand” adjective.
Could it be fundamental for global fora, peer review specialist teams and opinion leaders to agree on a more appropriate single adjective?
And could at the end this single adjective prove more effective than global common metrics?
As we embark on 2016 it is always useful to ponder on the very fundamentals.
Happy New Year!
I often come across discussions in conferences, forums, social media etc that sustainability is an interesting movement often though followed by a BUT hesitation. Most of the times this BUT is related to economic viability, low level industry awareness or slow progress in implementation especially from the self declared practical minds. It is true that the biggest challenge in this voyage is to persuade stakeholders to start implementing. On the other hand advocates employ a wealth of information to their endeavor. Climatic change, energy saving, added value, health & well-being, business benefits, case studies you name it. Originating from a country maintaining for a long time an unsustainable course I have come to a conclusion for the invisible nature of the fundamental stable equilibrium that sustainability safeguards. Let us concentrate on this one for a moment and name it first principles. On a mainstream level maintaining stable equilibrium might not be immediately visible of what needs to be done. One can only experience the implications when outside this stable equilibrium. And it is not pleasant. Not only because of the implications felt but mainly due to the difficulties to overcome a chaotic situation. Consequently, what I have learned on living in such an environment is to respect the significance of first principles. These are the foundations or the pre-requisites to develop an enhanced sustainable course. And at the end it comes down to our behavior so to become second nature. Like the clock is always ticking or the sun rising daily from east. It is the first fundamental step. Everybody wants and recognizes stable equilibrium. So the next time the question strikes… BUT how much does it cost? …let us think that we can live in an unsustainable environment…. BUT have we ever experienced it?