Understanding Sustainability in Design, Construction, and Manufacturing

The emergence of unprecedented changes in the climate has underscored the relationship between people and the nature, it has exposed fundamental tenets of the trade-off we consistently face highlighting the paradox of having unlimited needs, but limited capacity to satisfy them. A thorough reflection in our production and consumption patterns has become essential to understand the limits to which we can push our environment. As building units consume crude substances more and more, ecological reserves have depleted, and ecological shocks like CO2 emissions have increased across the environment. Steel and concrete are being heavily utilized in the construction industry, which has been causing a substantial negative impact on the environment. A greater understanding has been developed about the integration of sustainability into business processes for the construction, manufacturing, and design industries to not only lead them to be profitable businesses, but also to anchor an organization’s personal growth by being a part of a purpose that is for the larger good. To gain perspective on sustainability in design, construction, and manufacturing, it has become indispensable to rethink the existing frameworks used by the industries to define their sustainable efforts. The following article attempts to define how has the definition of sustainability changed with the changed environment.

Role of Corporate Social Responsibility and ESG in Sustainable Businesses?

US Environmental Protection Agency has defined Corporate Social Responsibility to include the prolonged commitment of the businesses to incorporate ethics of contributing to the society and improving quality of not just their employees, but the entire social environment. It encompasses maintaining economic value while addressing both environment and its people. The reason why Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) became the widely accepted standard through which the businesses enhance their sustainability prospects is because of them being inclusive of the environment, society, and the governance structure.

On analyzing ESG in the context of manufacturing, design and construction industries, metrics such as energy emissions, waste generation, philanthropic initiatives undertaken, diversity, ethical governance codes have become essential to ascertain penetration of sustainable values into the business processes and determine the accountability of the companies towards the planet.

Built environment which can be best understood as human developed environment to undertake human activities requires sustainable integration for its longevity to reduce negative impacts of the changing climate. The opportunities that are now being realized to make it more enticing for increasing investments in sustainability includes green building certifications, preconstruction for making building greener, engineered solutions for making renewable energy generation cost effective, and accessible, passive energy products, construction waste reduction etc.

Corporate sustainability actions: how are corporates driving the change?

Numerous research studies have time and again pointed out the impact a corporate that cares about the environment creates in the mind of the consumers. CSR pledges have become a great tool to showcase the commitment an organization makes in building a secured, greener, and pollution free future. Brand loyalty has shown to improve for the corporations that are actively building their human and material resources to further enhance their philanthropic efforts through community engagement.

The potential that exists in increasing customer retention for a brand by increasing its efforts in sustainability has been realized by the corporations like Amazon, Google, Apple, Dell, etc. Some of the initiatives that the earlier mentioned corporations have undertaken include pledging to increase recycling programs, utilizing more renewable energy resources throughout the business processes, donating a considerable percentage of the profits directly to environmental causes, and a lot more. This shows that there exists a consensus among the most economically dominant brands to consider environment as one of the key stakeholders in their sustainability initiatives, however, there exists enough space in the corporate ecosystem to make room for more opportunities to invest in more innovations and refine the existing sustainability programs and frameworks making them capable in turning ideas into solutions, and eventually making those solutions easily replicable and cost effective.

Systems thinking in Sustainable efforts

Systems thinking in sustainability encompasses a comprehensive understanding of circular economy, life cycle assessment, environment management systems, and green buildings. The interrelationship among the aforementioned aspects shows the strength of a sustainability program, it helps organizations to leverage the connection between their business decisions and their consequences on the environment. This approach makes it easier to comprehend the opportunities climate change risks have brought in to sustain profitability in businesses.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 has set a great example of showing commitment towards protecting the environment by correcting human induced disruptive changes and confronting
the impacts of climate by setting up micro and macro scale actionable targets for 2025 or 2030 by the countries around the globe. IPCC has defined climate change mitigation to be the know-how to reduce greenhouse gases in the nature through bona fide human interventions. Why have these commitments and strategies to induce climate change mitigation and adaption to new sustainable technologies became paramount is due to the reason of construction and manufacturing sector being the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emission (Global status report for building and construction, 2019).

This has made a strong case to reflect upon carbon emission reduction throughout the operational aspects of businesses by energy efficiency and optimization, and gradually progressing to increase the penetration of renewable sources of energy into businesses operations, and carbon offsetting to report and reduce the embodied carbon emission.

We have now come to the terms that the definition of sustainability has involved, it is not just limited to energy efficiency or resource optimization for the built environment, but has expanded to integrate values pertaining to social inclusion, health and wellness, social justice, equity etc. Building a sustainable corporate DNA now demands rethinking business processes from procurement to manufacturing to supplying of finished products by making sure to increase the company’s carbon handprint and examining profitable businesses through a climate change lens.

Authored by

Umang Vats, ET Edge

Edited by: Queenie Nair

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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