Isn’t it funny how success and smart solutions give rise to more questions and vexing problems?

In the case of sustainable architecture, the question is undoubtedly: “how green is green, really?”

While our industry can claim many sustainability success stories, our supply chain is still something of a ‘grey’ rather than a ‘green’ area.

For decades, many questions about the products and processes used to create our buildings have remained unasked, but a truly sustainable built environment demands that we not only ask these questions but answer them too.

As any architect or quantity surveyor knows, the construction shopping list is seemingly endless. And as any project manager knows, the pressure to reduce capital outlay on raw materials, labour and time is relentless. It’s easy to let specifying become a tick-box exercise, but taking the time to investigate a product’s sustainability credentials more closely can make all the difference.

Let’s look at an example outside our industry. While bamboo fabric has been much lauded in the clothing industry as a fast-growing, super-sustainable way to keep the environment happy while keeping us all in t-shirts, the process by which bamboo is transformed into a wearable material is energy-intensive and relies on a range of harmful chemicals, such as carbon disulfide and lye.

Not only that, bamboo textiles are manufactured in some developing nations where laws to protect the environment (and workers) from the effects of these chemicals are not in place or not enforced. Sustainable? Sort of. But is that really good enough?

We have more tools to support holistic decision-making around sustainable products than ever before. More life cycle assessment data is being gathered and the list of products with environmental product declarations (EPDs) and third-party certifications is growing day-by-day. It is up to us to take responsibility for finding, understanding and choosing them. To borrow a line from Global GreenTag’s David Baggs, we must create the conditions where “Environmental Product Declarations become the ‘LCA currency’ for products.”

Green Star now rewards projects that specify building materials with verified EPDs.  At the same time, whole-of-building life cycle analysis – which encompasses products with EPDs – is also rewarded.

My colleagues are fond of saying that “partnership is the new leadership.”  No company or individual can do it alone.  We must not only educate our own employees, but also our suppliers, our contractors, our occupants and our politicians about what being green really means.

Lend Lease has taken up the challenge at Barangaroo South, scoring Green Star ‘Innovation’ points last year for a sustainable supply chain framework that encourages suppliers to engage with the sustainability issues that the precinct is trying to avoid and address. Lend Lease is committed to partnering with other companies across its supply chain as it strives to make Barangaroo South a carbon neutral, water positive, zero waste community.

This sets an important signal to industry. Big business is doing it. You need to do it too.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. By demonstrating transparency and accountability for the sustainability of the buildings we design and construct – and by demanding it of others – we can create a ripple effect.

By taking the time to understand the origins and inputs of the products, we specify and creating clear signals to suppliers up and down line about what we will and won’t accept when it comes to sustainable products and processes, we will remove the question mark at the end of the phrase, ‘sustainable supply chain.’