A Brief History of Sustainability

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

To learn histroy: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course this is not total freedome - we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better that none.

Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari

As the first article in this Platform, I would like to talk about the history of #Sustainability. Could you remember the first time you aware of the #climatechange? Or the first moment you started to worry whether you can live to see the end of the world?

Walking down the memory lane, let’s see the key moments when it created a great impact on the world:

1990 BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) launched

BREEAM was the first assessment tool, launched in UK, and its first version was assessing the New Office Buildings. #BREEAM sets the benchmark for third party Green Building assessment and evaluation. Thereafter, many other counties established their own version of the green building rating system.

1993 US Green Building Council founded

This was the first Green Building council formed, by Rick Fedrizzi, David Gottfried and Mike Italiano, which begins the global sustainability movement.

As the first #GreenBuildingCouncil formed in the world, this platform grouped like-minded professionals and provided the network for all parties, includes Government Authorities, Clients and Developers, Consultants and Contractors, Products Suppliers, Technology Innovators, Educators and other parties who are close and have interests in Sustainability and Climate Change.

Green Building Council also carries the critical responsibility to fight for #ClimateChange and assist the implementation of the Climate change policies into their own country's development plan.

1995 Conference of the Parties, COP 1

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is a yearly conference to assess the progress in dealing with Climate Change. The first meeting was held in 1995, at Berlin, Germany. As of today, there were 25 COPs (Dec 2019 in Madrid Spain).

The COP was progressed in its best effort and capacity to move the climate change agenda, the significant events were:

  • COP 3 signing of the #KyotoProtocol

  • COP 6, George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol in Mar 2001, and US delegation declined to participate in the discussion relates to the Kyoto Protocol. Despite low expectations, the COP reached agreements includes flexible mechanism, carbon sinks, compliance and financing matters.

  • COP 7 was trying to put Kyoto Protocol into force, and arrived the agreement for international emission trading and meeting emission target.

  • COP 9 agreed to use the Adaptation Fund to support developing countries to better adapt to climate change, and also to use for capacity-building through technology transfer.

  • COP 10 adopted the Buenos Aires Plan of Action.

  • COP 11 was the largest intergovernmental conference on climate change ever. The meeting arrived at the agreement of the Montreal Action Plan to "extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol beyond its 2012 expiration date and negotiate deeper cuts in Greenhouse-gas emissions.

  • COP 15 at Copenhagen caught the biggest attention, but the outcome was more of a disappointment.

  • COP 17 has some progress regarding the creation of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to distribute US$100 Billion/year to help emerging countries adapt to climate change.

  • COP 18 happened in the year of the Kyoto Protocol expiration, the COP 18 produced The Doha Climate Gateway featured a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from 2012 to 2020. However, US and China, being the largest emitter and economy centre, were not even in this commitment list.

  • COP 25 conference venue was planned from Brazil to Chile and finally landed in Spain. COP 25 received minimum commitment and scientists sent warnings to control greenhouse gas emission.

Dec 1997 Signing of Kyoto Protocol

#KyotoProtocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, The effective date of the Kyoto Protocol was 16 Feb 2005.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted during the COP3 after rounds of intensive negotiations. The Parties in the agreement commit the internationally binding Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission (applied for Carbon Dioxide CO2, Methane CH4, Nitrous Oxide N2O and Sulphur Hexafluoride SF6) reduction targets. This agreement recognising that due to the 150 years of industrialisation, developed countries have heavier responsibility for the high level of #GHGemission.

The Kyoto Protocol received more criticism due to the optimistic standard set, and the "not up to expectation" impact on fighting Climate Change, even the carbon trading rational and real impact. However, as the first formal binding agreement set with world leaders, this was a necessary step to bring awareness to Climate Change and to allow the leaders and citizens to reflect the impact and consequences of the Climate Change.

Aug 1998 First version of #LEED launched

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)'s first version was a pilot version, and it can't be downloaded in their webpage anymore. The first version was launched with the help of the Federal Energy Management Program, partnered with the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC).

The LEED was inspired by the U.K.’s Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) as well as Canada’s Building Environmental Performance Assessment Criteria (BEPAC), to create the U.S. Version of the independent, third-party Green rating tool.

LEED assessment is completely online, which allows the green initiative and recognization to reach every corner of the world. The committee and the system open to the project team to contribute the co-create the LEED submission material.


2002 World Green Building Council founded

The World Green Building Council (WGBC) officially founded in 2002 after 3 years from the first founding meeting held in California, US in 1999. The WGBC is the best platform for the Green Building movement, gather professionals and interested parties together to transform the built environment to a healthier and sustainable future.

Oct 2006 Oscar Winning documentary: An Inconvenient Truth.

The former US presidential candidate Al Gore turned a set of slide show into a documentary, reached millions about Global warming and Climate Change. Al Gore presented the discovery of climate change through the shocking numbers and graphics, from then on, everybody was in the known of Global Warming.

Oct 2009 Singapore Green Building Council founded

Singapore, the developed country in the tropical climate, setting its great example to unite public and private sectors through the certification, education and publication.

Dec 2009 COP15, Copenhagen Accord

Followed by the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, the COP 15 at #Copenhagen was a world-renowned conference. And many climate change campaigns and initiatives were formed since then. Unfortunately, the conference did not achieve a binding agreement for long term action. However, a key milestone achieved from the COP 15 is to have US and China included in the "Political accord".

Dec 2015 COP 21, Signing of Paris agreement

The #Parisagreement reached over 55 counties representing at least 55% of the world GHG emission. During the conference, parties admit that every this process to manage the temperature rise by no more than 2 or 1.5 DegC is only to slow down the worst consequences of climate change. Even so, in Jun 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw US from the agreement.




  2. Prof. Yuval Noah Harari’, Homo Deus, (Sep 2018).

  3. Megan Rosa, "Looking back: LEED History". Sustainable Investment Group (SIG), (Aug 2016)

  4. Richards, Jennie. “Green Building: A Retrospective on the History of LEED Certification”. Sustainable Industry Sector Retrospectives. Institute for Environmental Entrepreneurship (IEE). 2012. July 2016.

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