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A click on the search engines and you can find many articles on better asset value, increased rental or sales prices, lower operating and energy costs related to certified ‘Green Buildings’. Whilst these are all true benefits of independent certification and more, the value of buildings and communities to people also needs to be assessed and quantified. It seems that we have pretty much mastered the art of creating energy efficient, environmentally friendly built environment and now is the time to focus on what has been missing: socially sustainable places that can deliver value to people.

One of the first things we teach about sustainability is its three pillars; environmental, economic and social informally referred to as planet, profits and people.

The Environmental Pillar

In most industries and sectors, the environmental pillar often gets the most attention when it comes to sustainability. The construction industry is no exception to this rule. Reducing energy and water consumption, waste management and overall impact of the construction process and the building on the environment are the main focus of most green building rating systems and methodologies in the market.

This most often aligns with most governments’ UNFCCC commitments, where there may be regulatory obligations, incentives and best practice standards in place to help achieve certain CO2 reduction targets.

The Economic Pillar

The economic pillar of sustainability is where most developers feel they are on firm ground. To be sustainable, a development must be profitable. Activities that fit under the economic pillar include compliance, proper governance and risk management. It is the inclusion of the economic pillar and profit that makes it possible for developers to come on board with sustainability strategies.

From a masterplanning point of view, considering the economic aspect of sustainability can provide a counterweight to ensure that the development will not result in employment reduction and may even create employment, earning and/or productivity gains in the local area.

The Social Pillar

Despite the universal acceptance and understating of the concept of sustainable development, the meaning and associated objectives of the social pillar remain vague. There are four widely distinguished perceptions of the social pillar; Equity, Awareness, Participation and Social Cohesion.

‘Equity’ refers to the distribution of welfare goods and life chances on the basis of fairness and it applies to national, international, and intergenerational contexts.

Raising public ‘Awareness’ of sustainability issues with view to encouraging alternative, sustainable consumption patterns and triggering behavioural change is another key concept of social pillar.

‘Participation’ is the notion of consultation and refers to the goal of empowering as many social groups as possible to influence the decision-making processes.

Promoting happiness/well-being; minimizing social strife, reducing crime, promoting health (mental and physical), combating bullying, and antisocial behaviour are some of the element that define ‘Social Cohesion’.

Social Sustainability encompasses the four concepts of the social pillar and more. Empowering the communities, consultation and engagement, designing for the demographic needs and priorities, creating vibrant, walkable and inclusive developments are amongst the elements that constitute Social Sustainability and can add social value.

BREEEAM Communities as an independent, accredited sustainability certification can help implement Social Sustainability and measure its value. The scheme looks at all aspects of Social Sustainability at design and planning stage where the opportunities to increase Social Sustainability across the entire site are far greater through economies of scale, public consultation and site-wide solutions.

Sustainable development generally refers to achieving a balance among the environmental, economic, and social pillars of sustainability. BREEAM Communities is a holistic approach to sustainability with a focus on the three key pillars and integrates this with strong links to regulatory principles with a view to ensuring that a community functions as a whole.

Rose Pourmatin
About the Author
I started working at BRE as a QA auditor and then moved to the technical support team. I now lead the BREEAM Communities scheme both in the UK and International markets.

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