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Ecobuild strives to redefine the future of sustainability

While more than two thirds of professionals in the built environment identify sustainability as the industry topic of greatest interest to them, the actual meaning of the term is constantly developing. Martin Hurn, Brand Director at Ecobuild, discusses the evolution of sustainability, and highlights the need for the industry to come together in creating a common definition across the supply chain to drive the agenda forward.

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Martin Hurn is the Brand Director at Ecobuild – the leading exhibition and conference for construction, design and energy in the built environment.

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hen asked what the word sustainability means, built environment professionals rarely reply with the same answer. This is because influences like job role, sector and even location, all shape our perception of the term. At the same time, sustainable practice has evolved significantly over recent years, and no longer refers solely to the products associated with construction. Instead, it’s increasingly about going much further and taking human aspects, such as health and wellbeing and building occupants, to name a few, into account. However, the expansion of the term has resulted in a seamlessly endless and frequently inconsistent definition as to what sustainability actually means.

Undoubtedly, the broadening reach of sustainability and its continued prominence within our sector is only a good thing. However, taking the sustainability agenda forward, greater responsibility than ever falls in the hands of the industry to set new, common goals and take action. This involves creating a universally-accepted understanding of sustainability that is appealing, engaging and, most importantly, accessible to all. The question is: with so many different agendas, is it possible to get everyone, from all areas of the supply chain, onto the same page?

Redefining Sustainability

For Ecobuild, a key step to achieving this is working with partners and stakeholders to provide a platform where the industry can work collaboratively to share their thoughts and ideas.

With a focus on establishing a business case for sustainable construction, Ecobuild has launched its Redefining Sustainability campaign to drive discussion about what sustainability means now, and in the future. Manufacturers, specifiers, appliers and installers have engaged in the initiative to discuss how concepts such as placemaking, green building, wellbeing and infrastructure all fit into a wider and more meaningful definition of sustainability. Blogs, roundtables and ballot boxes at events have all sparked conversation surrounding the issue, and will continue on up to and beyond the Ecobuild 2017 event.

From active social media conversations, the campaign has already seen an extraordinary level of passionate response from the industry. Leading organisations, such as the UK Green Building Council, the Construction Products Association and Saint-Gobain, as well as leading architects and academics, have contributed their research and findings to offer insights into the many nuances and opportunities around sustainability. These responses have not only highlighted the need to bring shared goals and objectives into focus, but also the huge gap in the industry that needs to be closed through greater collaboration, increased communication and transparency across the supply chain when discussing the topic.

By increasingly taking the issue into the mainstream and taking inspiration from industry leaders who are pioneering sustainable developments, visionary solutions can be better showcased, shared and applied across the supply chain. This means moving beyond looking at individual roles and initiatives in isolation, and instead viewing the wider industry as a whole.

Key findings to date

The latest event in the Redefining Sustainability campaign, a manufacturing roundtable held by Ecobuild in September, saw industry-leading manufacturers come together to share their views on what sustainability means to them. During the discussion, a key point raised was the crucial importance of persuading customers and end-users that sustainable construction does deliver a better end-product – one which offers real, tangible benefits. For any part of the supply chain, thinking ahead to how an end-user will occupy a space can influence key decisions at the start of a construction process. However, feedback from attendees showed that this often isn’t the case. As Rupert Scott, Marketing and Membership Director of TRADA, explained: “The construction sector lags behind others in working out what the customer demands.” David Manley, Environment and Energy Manager at Forterra Building Products, agreed: “The biggest issue we have is that we are so disconnected from the consumer who is buying the house.”

To rectify this, it’s important to have open lines of communication that take into account priorities and end goals at each stage of the supply chain. Sharing knowledge and better education across the industry around long-term sustainability benefits – cost savings, building performance and longevity – is a great step forward, and vital in paving the way for a more sustainable future.

Pledging commitment to sustainability

While the manufacturing roundtable was the latest step in the Redefining Sustainability campaign, there are numerous areas of the supply chain to be explored, something which Ecobuild will be progressing in upcoming months. The outcomes of the activity are set to come to life at Ecobuild 2017 (7 to 9th March, ExCel, London) and complement the event’s overarching Regeneration theme.

Alongside collaborators including UK-GBC, Construction Products Association, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), the three-day conference and exhibition will see architects, politicians and other industry leaders converge to discuss the future of housing, architecture and sustainability through the lens of regeneration.

To demonstrate the power of regeneration in practice, architectural collective, Assemble, will also present its award-winning Granby Workshop, telling the story behind the organisation’s Turner Prize-winning regeneration project and impact on the local community.

Looking ahead

The sustainability debate is certainly one that will continue well into the future. However, what’s clear is that we, as an industry, must push forward to create a universal definition of sustainability that applies to, and is, achievable for all. This means a shift in focus from products and technology, towards people, places and real-life benefits.

To do this, each area of the supply chain must be on board – all the way from concept and design, right through to construction, completion and lifecycle performance monitoring.

If the entire industry comes together and works with a collaborative mentality, then the delivery of energy-efficient buildings that enhance the quality of life to those who use them on a day-to-day basis, in a cost-effective way, is an achievable goal.

To be part of this industry changing discussion, share your views, case studies, learning, challenges or successes, join the debate on social media using #SustainabilityIs.

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