Building a New World

26 October 2023
Johanne Gallagher, VinZero Sustainability Development Advisor, ANZ

World Sustainability Day is an opportunity to reflect on what sustainability in the Built Environment means. It is also a good time to be reminded of the impact of sustainable development in the Built Environment and the principles that drive it towards sustainability.

In 1987, the 29th Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland published the Brundtland report entitled Our Common Future and defined sustainable development as ‘‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’’.

‘Business as Usual’ is unsustainable

In the Built Environment, the global construction industry is expected to reach an estimated $12.9 trillion USD by 2028, and it is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR)of 4.2% from 2023 until 2028 according to the Global Construction Industry Report Analysis 2023-2028. Matthew Black from World Green Building Council contributed to the VinZero Think.Future podcast and pointed out ‘’there are 255 billion square meters of buildings existing in the world and a city the size of Paris is constructed every week’’.

New construction is expected to add an estimated 180 billion square meters of building floor area worldwide by 2050, according to the Global buildings sector Net Zero Scenario.

With the global population expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, doing business as usual means that our natural resources cannot possibly keep up with our growing demand. It is clearly unsustainable to continue in the linear model of take, make and waste. The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction run by UNEP estimates that in 2022, buildings accounted for 37% of our global greenhouse gas emissions from building materials such as concrete, steel, aluminum, glass and bricks. The Built Environment is responsible today for over 34% of our global energy demand which includes manufacturing of materials used to construct new buildings, and emissions released due to operating existing buildings.

Tipping points

According to the Global Footprint, we are close to the planetary tipping points. Professor Johan Rockström proposed that the planet has planetary boundaries that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth System. His research from the Institute for Climate Impact shows there are tipping points and if you push the system too far, you risk crossing the tipping points which lead to self-amplifying drift in the wrong direction. This means that if we push the earth past these tipping points, we will not experience earth’s cycles and patterns as we did before. Scientists say that the planet will try to stay in equilibrium or balance resulting in the uncharacteristic swing in weather patterns we are witnessing on a regular basis.

Professor Rory Nathan explains the changing patterns in simple thermodynamic terms, ”the air gets warmer, and the atmosphere has the capacity to store more water’’. Essentially that means there is more rainfall and all the extra heat in the atmosphere is changing the weather patterns.

”In fact, storm rainfalls that pose a threat to life and property are expected to increase between 15% to 40% by the end of this century. Projected increases in rainfall are heavily dependent on the rate at which we can reduce our emissions in the near term.”



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