Sustainability Simplified

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

This post aims to help you answer one of the frequently asked questions:” what is #sustainability?”

We usually begin with the definition of sustainability, I have selected the most relevant and commonly used definition below:


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 may wonder, why sustainability is so important? Who is pushing the sustainability agenda? Why this is such a fancy and popular topic? Is it here to stay? How can we help to fight #globalwarming? How is sustainability implemented and what does sustainability mean to each party in the industry?

Please leave a comment below if you have other questions.

When our ancestors build houses to fit into nature, it was already considered as "#sustainabledesign". Today's Sustainability design strategies are learning from examples like kampong house in the tropical climate - making the best use of nature.

In the tropical climate, a sustainable design project should consider features like low energy used for air conditioning system, good daylight, good natural ventilation, minimise noise, use less water and recycle more water, minimise air and water pollution, more convenient transportation infrastructure and more innovative and flexible design, at the same time, without compromising the users' need.

In a tempered climate with clear four seasons, a #sustainabledesign project should consider the #tropicalclimate features in summer, maximise the natural condition in comfort condition in Spring/Fall, and low energy used for the heating system in winter.

According to the history of sustainability development, the drive of sustainability seems like a top-down approach, mainly because pushing sustainability requires some cost, and it needs government and leaders' commitment to drive and showcase through the sustainability projects. Sustainability is not just being fancy, it responds to the global emission commitment a country had made, also our responsibility to save the planet.

Driving Sustainability also requires a "Sustainable" Plan. In the built environment, sustainability plans are implemented through government fundings/incentives, government regulations, rewards, certifications and innovations. Through many years of data collection, the sustainability implementation plan is constantly refined and renewed to cover from #masterplan, to #infrastructure, to #newbuildings, #existingbuildings, #buildinginterior and individual products.

In the built industry, there are 7 broadly categorised roles may describe your possible involvement:

1. #Government, Regulatory body

2. #Developer, Investor

3. Project owner, operator

4. #Consultants, Educator

5. #Contractor, builder

6. Technology/product provider

7. User, Customer

Next, let's discuss what sustainability is meant for each party and how to make sustainability more tangible in your area:

1. Government, Regulatory body

In response to the global climate change and sustainability movement, the regulatory body and government implement sustainability into workable solutions. They drive sustainability from top-down. In this role, they implement sustainability through policy, standards, benchmark, reports; they also encourage the implementation of sustainability through incentives in cash, rewards, benefits.

In this group of organizations, they also engage other groups regularly and effectively to collect data and feedback to verify and update what has been implemented. The industry should continue its engagement across different groups to share information and learning points to enhance their service and deliverables.

2. Developer, Investor

This is the group more sensitive to money. And they usually believe going green is expensive. The convincing factor for this group is to present the effective return of investment (ROI). However, do acknowledge that some features don't generate direct ROI, like outreach and education, air quality enhancement, but those features will fulfil corporate social responsibility and enhance productivity. It's advisable to work out a clear ROI and execution plan to implement the proposal.

Another factor in attracting investors and developers is the policy, incentives and social impact. Which directly and indirectly bring the project to publication and social awareness. It's encouraging to see more and more developers and investors putting efforts in sustainability projects in their own initiative to drive the new technology and innovation.

3. Project owner (none-developer), operator

This group refer to those need to maintain and operate the projects (usually a building or a cluster of buildings). They look at monthly utility bills, they also deal with occupants' complains. They aim to brand the project as a sustainability project to attract more occupants, and they aim to operate the project with lower utility bill and meeting occupants' need at the same time. There are guidelines for maintaining the existing buildings, and there are certifications available to certify the existing projects.

4. Designer, Consultants, Educator

Designer, Consultant and educators have a critical role in bridging the gap of sustainability awareness and implementation. They are also the group regularly update themselves with the new trend, technologies and product innovations. Supporting the above groups in implementing sustainability, they are also effectively making it work in the projects.

They are combining the existing traditional knowledge with the new technology, keeping the industry updated and objectively evaluated the feasibility and readiness.

5. Contractor, builder

In the traditional industry, the contractor and builders are slower in change with consideration of high-risk factor and workforce change management. New technologies and methods are implemented through the government, client and consultants, keeping the building industry updated.

It's also pleased to see many organizations propose new methods and tools, bringing tech gears, BIM, VR, even some AI in the construction industry to improve productivity and performance quality.

6. Technology/product provider

Easier to change, lots of opportunity for entrepreneurship and innovation. This is the key group to reshape conventional practice in the traditional industry. Thanks to the innovation drive and the governments/organization support in innovation and technology transfer.

7. User, Customer

Despite which group you work in, you always belong to this group. We live in the city, in the building, use building material and experience the technology. We are the best person to determine what sustainability brings to our daily life, and what can we do in our own capacity to support the fight for climate change.

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