Previous post:

Next post:

The politics of sustainability

by Mel Starrs on January 11, 2010

in Psychology & Marketing

One would have to be living under a rock (or at least, abroad) not to have noticed that there will be a general election in the UK sometime in the next 6 months. What will this mean for the construction industry? Plenty of speculation about, but not much talk about actual political and economic schools of thought, especially when it comes to sustainability.

First things first. There is no standalone discipline of sustainability. Basically, you have to be sustainable at something. Like sustainable construction. But even if you are committed to sustainable construction there is no ‘one correct way’ to practice sustainability. What is one man’s medicine is another man’s poison. Often what differentiates ‘flavours’ of sustainability is the economic and political beliefs and drivers of the actors involved.

Bill McKibben in a post about global warming says:

Most political arguments don’t really have a right and a wrong, no matter how passionately they’re argued. They’re about human preferences…

He does then state that we can’t afford to depend on current political processes to fix global warming, which I agree with, but I’m talking here about sustainability in it’s broadest sense rather than singly focussing on the carbon and global warming issues (the environmental leg, which we have broad consensus on). When it comes to sustainability, there really is no right and wrong. Looking at social and economic factors will inevitably bring in political beliefs.

To illustrate what I mean, and for those who haven’t come across it, there’s a lovely graphic called the Political Compass which plots both economic and politic beliefs on it. Below is the graphic for the main political parties in the UK in 2008.

The Political Compass owes more than a nod to the Nolan Chart which plots personal freedom against economic freedom. The idea of both of these is to expand the old fashioned political notions of left and right.

The usefulness of this when looking at sustainability (think of those 3 legs – social, economic and environmental) has to be huge? If we recognise this now, we will be able to have much more informed conversations about sustainability in construction over the next decade.

My hope for 2010 would be that economics and politics will no longer be neutral factors (or worse, taboo), but rather explicit within sustainability strategies. Any comments?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
  • http://www.trailblazerbusinessfutures.wordpress.com Derek Deighton

    Hi Mel

    You are aware of my thoughts here, but just to restate.

    Sustainable Construction is an Oxymoraon – it’s not a destination we can reach using a set of tools or techniques.

    Construction Sustainability is a journey of integrated continual improvement towards perfect quality. A learning process and virtuous circle.

    We abandoned Egan’s recommentations about construction quality, thinking that environmental and social failures were separate issues, rather than part of the cost of poor quality that they are.

    Derek Deighton

    Course Tutor, BSc(Hons), Business and Consrtruction Sustainability

    see http://www.trailblazerbusinessfutures.workpress.com

  • http://www.trailblazerbusinessfutures.wordpress.com Derek Deighton

    Hi Mel

    You are aware of my thoughts here, but just to restate.

    Sustainable Construction is an Oxymoraon – it’s not a destination we can reach using a set of tools or techniques.

    Construction Sustainability is a journey of integrated continual improvement towards perfect quality. A learning process and virtuous circle.

    We abandoned Egan’s recommentations about construction quality, thinking that environmental and social failures were separate issues, rather than part of the cost of poor quality that they are.

    Derek Deighton

    Course Tutor, BSc(Hons), Business and Consrtruction Sustainability

    see http://www.trailblazerbusinessfutures.workpress.com