Are Your Sustainable Credentials Tied To Your Work?

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Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
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Enlightened property and infrastructure companies have their environmental and social impacts tied to their corporate brand and recognised by consumers.

Business models that have been in place for a long time are changing. For-profit businesses are tackling social and environmental issues, charities are developing sustainable business models, and governments are forging market-based solutions for the delivery of services.

In all of this change, a different model of enterprise is emerging. The ‘for-benefit’ organisation is evolving, and it is reshaping the future of capitalism – in particular the competitive building sector.

Some call it “the end of business as usual,” others name the way business has worked as an “evolutionary hangover” and contemporary innovators call it “disruption.”

Whatever name we give it, we know change is causing the property and construction industry to revisit our traditional business thinking and to reinvent it. Demand will grow for this new model as ‘for-benefit’ organisations prove they can balance economic, social, and environmental performance.

The B Team is a not-for-profit initiative that has been formed by a group of global business leaders.

“Our vision of the future is a world in which the purpose of business is to become a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit. Our mission is to help develop a ‘Plan B’ that puts people and planet alongside profit,” the group says.

“Plan A – where companies have been driven by the profit motive alone – is no longer acceptable. As business leaders, we know that what we’re proposing will be a challenge, or even an affront, to many of our colleagues and competitors. The ultimate aim, with support, energy and ideas — and yes, constant, frank criticism — is to get millions of business leaders committed to a better way of doing business.”

Members of The B Team include Richard Branson and Mary Robinson. It also includes Julie Hill, an entrepreneur who has founded several businesses and has worked for both public and private corporations – including serving on Lend Lease’s Board.

Another member is Zhang Yue, who was born in Changsha, China. After working as a teacher and a librarian for several years, he founded Broad in 1988 and is now the chairman. Broad Sustainable Building is responsible for Sky City, the world’s tallest prefab building. Amazingly, three storeys are constructed on the site per day using innovative building technology and giving us another example of transformative change.

I’m often asked by organisations wanting to know how to authentically stand out from the competition that is good at the “green-wash” or “sustainability spruiking.” My secret-sauce includes aligning your strategy and corporate culture with the consideration of the complex interconnections that exist between the economy, the environment and society. We now have a “trust brand” for corporations to link their culture and purpose to. “B Corp” voluntary standards certify businesses that demonstrate they put people and planet alongside profit.

The B Corp certification is to sustainable business what Green Star certification was to green buildings or Fair Trade certification is to coffee. Their position statement is “That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered. That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all. To do so, requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.”

I am seeing real change in building and infrastructure projects. The US$2 million Holcim Awards is the most significant international competition for sustainable design and takes place every three years. The winners of the fourth Global Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction have been decided – the trophies and prize money went to projects in Colombia, Sri Lanka and the US.

All three prizes recognise interventions that deliver tangible benefits to local communities: turning a decommissioned water reservoir into a park in Medellín, rebuilding social fabric through a community library in Ambepussa following Sri Lanka’s civil war, and creating public zones and flood-protection for the island of Manhattan.

The global award-winning project that turns a water reservoir into public space is a symbol of disruptive sustainability innovation. Traditional infrastructure systems facilitate flows of anything from people and goods to resources and information. An emerging global trend is that infrastructure can no longer viewed as background or be indifferent to social and environmental impacts and opportunities. Infrastructure conventions regarding visual and public amenity, production and use are – rightly – being challenged.

The project for a public park in Medellín, Colombia that creates urban spaces around a series of water tanks to form a “socio-technical” landscape of magnificent beauty won the Holcim Foundation gold prize. The design by Mario Camargo and Luis Tombé of Colectivo720 in Cali, together with Juan Calle and Horacio Valencia of EPM Group (Empresas Públicas de Medellín), all Colombian, opens up hidden infrastructure within the city to create a civic space at the intersection of architecture, landscape, infrastructure, and urban design. The public space and pre-existing elements are transformed to create an outdoor auditorium and venues for a range of community activities that highlight the value of water as an important resource of urban life.

The project was awarded for its focus on improving the quality of life in the city and as a different model for infrastructure that could be emulated by other cities around the world.

Sustainability just grew up! Every day there are more organisations engaging with sustainability and reinventing and transforming their relationship with it.

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