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Sustainability Simplified

Updated: May 21, 2023

This article aims to address a commonly asked question: "What exactly is #sustainability?"

Firstly, let's delve into a widely accepted definition of sustainability.


Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social—also known informally as profits, planet, and people.

- UN world commission


You might be intrigued as to why sustainability is so critical. Who is driving the sustainability agenda? Why is it such a trendy and popular topic? Is it just a passing fad or here to stay? How can we aid in the battle against global warming? How is sustainability implemented, and what does it signify for every stakeholder in the industry?

Historically, our ancestors constructed dwellings that coexisted harmoniously with nature, a practice that could be considered an early form of "sustainable design". Today, sustainable design strategies often draw from such traditional wisdom, like the kampong house design in tropical climates, which optimizes the use of natural resources.

In tropical climates, sustainable design prioritizes low-energy air conditioning systems, abundant natural light, good ventilation, noise minimization, water conservation and recycling, pollution reduction, convenient transport infrastructure, and innovative, flexible design that caters to users' needs.

In temperate climates with distinct seasons, a sustainable design project should consider features suitable for a tropical climate during summer, maximize comfort during spring and fall, and minimize energy use for heating during winter.

Looking at the evolution of sustainability, it seems like the impetus has primarily come from a top-down approach. This is largely because implementing sustainability has associated costs and demands commitment from governmental and organizational leaders. Sustainability is not a mere trend; it's a response to global emission commitments and our collective responsibility to protect the Earth.

Implementing sustainability necessitates a "Sustainable" Plan. In the built environment, sustainability plans are executed through government funding and incentives, regulations, rewards, certifications, and innovations. Data collected over the years help refine and update these implementation plans to cover everything from master plans and infrastructure to new and existing buildings, interior design, and individual products.

In the built industry, your involvement might fall into one of seven broad categories:

  1. Government, Regulatory body

  2. Developer, Investor

  3. Project owner, operator

  4. Consultants, Educator

  5. Contractor, builder

  6. Technology/product provider

  7. User, Customer

Let's now explore what sustainability means for each stakeholder and how it can be made more tangible:

1. Government and Regulatory Bodies:

In the contemporary context, these entities are no longer just policy-makers but also facilitators of sustainable practices. They are implementing policies that encourage renewable energy use, reducing emissions, and improving waste management. They also provide incentives such as tax benefits and grants for individuals and companies that adhere to sustainable practices. Moreover, these bodies have the role of ensuring accountability by establishing benchmarks and monitoring progress through regular reporting and audits.

2. Developers and Investors:

In today's economy, this group has started to recognize the long-term financial benefits of sustainable investments. They are increasingly funding green buildings, renewable energy projects, and other sustainable ventures. These initiatives not only yield financial returns but also enhance the investors' reputation as socially responsible entities. Recognizing that sustainability can also lead to cost savings in the long run, developers are increasingly incorporating energy-efficient designs and materials in their projects.

3. Project Owners and Operators:

Those in charge of maintaining and operating projects have begun to realize the benefits of running their operations sustainably. They are adopting energy-efficient technologies, improving waste management, and encouraging sustainable behavior among their occupants. This not only reduces operational costs but also makes their projects more attractive to potential users who are increasingly conscious about sustainability.

4. Designers, Consultants, and Educators:

These professionals play a crucial role in driving sustainable practices by staying informed about the latest trends, technologies, and innovations. They advise other groups on implementing sustainable practices and also play a key role in disseminating knowledge about sustainability. They blend traditional knowledge with new technological advancements, keeping the industry updated and evaluating the feasibility and readiness of new sustainable practices.

5. Contractors and Builders:

While traditionally slower to adapt, contractors and builders have started to embrace sustainable practices. They are being trained in sustainable construction methods, using sustainable materials, and complying with sustainability standards. They are also adopting technologies like Building Information Modelling (BIM), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve productivity and enhance the quality of their projects.

6. Technology/Product Providers:

This group has seen a surge of entrepreneurship and innovation aimed at sustainability. They are developing new materials, technologies, and services that make sustainable practices easier and more cost-effective. They are also collaborating with other groups to ensure that their products meet the sustainability needs of the industry.

7. Users and Customers:

The role of consumers in promoting sustainability cannot be overstated. Today's consumers are more conscious about the environmental impact of their choices and are demanding more sustainable products and services. They are also playing a role in reducing their own carbon footprint by adopting sustainable behaviors such as reducing energy use, recycling, and supporting businesses that prioritize sustainability.


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