Carbon Neutral, Carbon Offsetting, Net zero, rewilding, green roofs, wellbeing, single use plastic: the list of things to be aware of, to cut, to manage and recycle could be seen as bewildering. But we have to see headlines, targets and the call for businesses to be seen to be responding to the climate emergency not in cynical terms. Ignore the media headline and marketing hype. Cut to the chase. We have no choice. We have to act now. Our planet; our house is burning up. There’s a need for action and it is right now. What’s more as custodians of the built environment we are probably as well placed as any profession or discipline to make a major impact to drive change.
In previous blogs we have discussed how those of us that work in FM and the built environment more generally have a huge role to play in energy and carbon usage, both in the assets we operate but also more importantly within the operations we run. The danger of this singular focus on the environment though is that the importance of delivering on wider sustainable targets are lost or ignored.
The wellbeing of our planet is not just about the carbon we burn, its about the societies we create, the economic environments that are engendered and the opportunities that we provide through development activities. The ambition for businesses should be to take a more holistic view of our impact and look to become Net positive, which ultimately means that we put back more into society, the environment and the global economy than we take out.
The obvious conflict between the development of our planet and the mass consumption this creates versus the need to sustain the environment is not a new issue. The current focus on the climate emergency and the growing instances of extreme weather has brought our thoughts on the planet to the fore, but it was back in 1982 that the United Nations established the world commission on Environment and Development culminating in their report in 1987 entitled ‘our common future’.
The need to balance our development needs with the needs of the environment has eventually led to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, which provided a common set of objectives to help deliver peace and prosperity for people and the planet both now and well into the future.
At the heart of this new agenda for 2030 are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals balance the need to end poverty or to deliver safe drinking water with initiatives that reduce inequality, provide access to good educational opportunities or act as a catalyst for economic growth, crucially though, whilst also tackling climate change and protecting our natural environments.
The best businesses are addressing this challenge and pursuing a Net positive approach whereby they do not just concentrate on their effect on Climate through carbon usage. The leading businesses look at the positive effects that development can bring in terms of the long-term wellbeing of our planet and all those that inhabit it. The United Nations report back in 1987 concluded that ‘the “environment” is where we live; and “development” is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable’.
When we begin to look at the Sustainable Development goals through this Net positive lens we are then truly becoming a sector that is wholly sustainable and working for the overall wellness of our planet. The SDG’s may appear academic, aspirational or even obscure but translating them into simple language, building them in to business strategies and setting sensible long-term targets should be at the very heart of any responsible business.
The 17 SDG’s are broad and clearly global in their nature and it is impossible to credibly argue that in our role as experts in the built environment that we could influence them all. As professionals though we have an obligation to raise the profile of the key ones our sector effects and drive those agendas as hard as we are driving the climate emergency tactics right now.