Sustainability is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as “the ability to meet our needs without compromising the needs of future generations.” This includes not only the environmental considerations, but also the social and economic impacts. The culmination of the social, economic and environmental impacts is referred to as the “Triple Bottom Line”. It requires doing more with less, adapting to constantly changing technology, and updating our outdated buildings; all difficult to achieve – much less maintain – in this economic climate.
The topic of sustainability can be a challenging one, because it forces us to analyze our behavior and choices. It is as much about planning as it is about the Three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle). It brings up several “What ifs”: What if including more contractors in the upfront design and planning phase of a project would allow you to integrate your systems to save energy, increase thermal comfort and air quality, and save on long-term life-cycle costs of your space? What if your design team included vendors that have products that accommodate change in the future and thus reduce the cost and labor that is inevitable with expansions? What if these products made your users happier, more satisfied and helped your business attract and retain the best and brightest? How does your behavior and the choices you make affect the “Triple Bottom Line” and thus sustainability?
A recent paper released by DIRTT (stands for Doing It Right This Time) writes, “This is a discussion about our behaviors: The way we approach buildings and the way the buildings ultimately behave…choosing better materials as a substitute for real sustainability is the equivalent of choosing palliative care over a healthy lifestyle.” Also, Bill Stumpf, one of the creators and visionaries of the iconic Aeron Chair, wrote a book titled The Ice Palace That Melted Away. This book addresses behaviors, virtues and civility and how they shape culture and affect sustainability. “Disposable culture”, consumerism, and “material wastefulness” are also topics in this book. He writes,
“In my lifetime, I will use up nearly 20,000 disposable razors, 25,000 gallons of hot water and 500 six-ounce cans of aerosol shave cream (62 shaving years, God-willing, one shave per day). By comparison, in all his years of removing whiskers, my grandfather used less than half a dozen straight razors, maybe two or three honing straps, at best 100 bars of Ivory soap, maybe a dozen shaving brushes, one ceramic later mug, and less than one quart of hot water per shave (75 percent less hot water than I use). I can’t help wondering if in such simple routines I shouldn’t shun an obvious material wastefulness and indifference to the details of daily life and adopt a less material existence in general, extracting more pleasure from the art of living,”
A renewed commitment to planning is an integral step to sustainable projects. Thus, having an integrated project team and proactively planning for change is essential. Proper planning and strategic partnerships enable synergies to happen and allow sustainability to flourish. Stay tuned for our next Agent of Change post on collaboration!