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Musing on Sustainability

Blog gwreiddiol | Originally posted: Dec 13, 2011

Sustainability "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Bruntland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development (1992)

Wikipedia defines sustainability as ’the capacity to endure’

Sustainable development on the other hand is defined as ‘a pattern of resource use, that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come!’

The Bruntland commission defined sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

So what has changed?

How have clients, architects and other development professionals and contractors changed their approach or their views of development in the intervening years? I would argue that Sustainability as a concept whilst now engrained into our psyche seems to have had very little impact on our modus operandii. It is at its most visible in the numbers of buildings which now feature timber framed methods of construction and cladding as if this were to somehow represent sustainable development. Other than for this, it would seem to have had very little impact on the way we build or on establishing a way of life which truly reflects the aspirational aims defined for the term! Indeed it could be argued that all we’ve really achieved is some measure of energy saving, some measure of waste reclamation and some consideration of material usage and disposal! Is this really what was intended by sustainable development?

To be truly sustainable, development must be thought of in terms of its cradle to grave impacts which would include consideration of the impact of the development on surrounding forms and landscapes and in particular its social impact, its economic impact on the community which it serves and its visual impact. It is probably true to say that some 70% of projects are constructed by developers whose only motivation is profit generation and who have no real understanding or wish to understand the concept of sustainability! The problem for developed nations is that essentially to be sustainable would require us to downgrade, slow down and share the cake with less developed nations and governments have no desire or wish to do this as was explicitly shown in the recent European summit in which David Cameron laid out his vision of a sustainable society on the lines of ‘I’m alright Jack’. Within the UK itself we see the government increasingly concentrating wealth around the capital cities – London in particular seems to attract all the attention and financial investment it desires as it this were somehow to represent the UK as a whole – the rest of the UK, already well behind London in terms of wealth generation is now falling further behind as a result of the recessionary climate we’re experiencing. The same is now largely true in Wales where the major development is concentrated around Cardiff and the M4 corridor.

The most salutary lesson for sustainable development came when the banks almost went into meltdown as a result of their progressive and increasing greed. Society may have learnt some lessons from this but governments have a short term memory and humanity tends to repeat its errors down the ages.


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