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Sustainability: What it means in general and in surveying.

Updated: May 16, 2022

Welcome to my new sustainability blog series. This series aims to share what sustainability is, what it means, why and how sustainability must become a core consideration in surveying, and where sustainability lies for me and my business. For the first contribution, I want to share the absolute basics of what sustainability is - so lets get started!

What is sustainability in general?

When you think about 'sustainability', you might think it's about being 'green' - for example, recycling more or eating less meat. Perhaps you think sustainability is a process or indeed a framework like SDGs, GRI, PRI, GRESB, 5 capitals. Sustainability is ultimately a broad term without a universal definition and can therefore mean different things depending on context.

However, a quote I like to consider comes from The UN Brundtland Commission, which defines 'sustainable development' as:

meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Sustainability therefore depends on ensuring there are plentiful resources that can adequately replenish - for humans and all life, i.e all future generations.

Sustainability can further be understood by using the 3Ps. At a basic level, this reflects the idea people, planet and prosperity are key to establishing sustainability:

  • people - human rights, necessities and resources are available to all

  • planet - earth's systems are balanced and all resources replenish

  • prosperity (the term used within the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs) - everyone has access to resources needed, financial and otherwise.

What is clear, is that people, planet and prosperity are not independent of each-other. That's why sustainability, for me, is an attitude and purpose-driven approach toward the vision of a better future for all; one that connects people and places through equity; one where economy doesn't take precedent, but rather, forms part of a system that supports us to make decisions and choices that enable us and the planet we live on to flourish.

What is sustainability in surveying?

As stated by the RICS:

Surveyors shape the way we live. From our towns and cities to our streets and homes, they help create safer, better, happier communities.

Consequently, surveying automatically requires surveyors to think about the definition of sustainable development, consider the 3Ps and take action to support ''meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs."

Sustainability in surveying, therefore, in my view is a duty to consider and take action to provide people and places with an environment that has equity at the heart. Whatever your specialism, surveyors have the ability to influence sustainability, through aspects such as; inclusive design, reduced climate impact, access to nature, education etc.

On a personal note, I worry that historically I have contributed to ongoing inequity and inequality in my previous professional roles. This is not something to dwell on, but does offer me a sense of perspective to support a more sustainable profession for the future.

As a previous estate agent and as a chartered surveyor, I have always been interested in what we 'value'. If you are interested in how 'values', and what humans value, have changed over time, then I highly recommend listening to Mark Carney's Reith Lectures, starting with 'From Moral to Market Sentiments':

When it comes to sustainability in the context of surveying, I believe progress is being made. This has been helped by; seemingly a more climate conscious society; increased legislation around emissions and regulations in property such as MEES; an increase in 'green' financial products; a UK Green Building Council and Green Finance Institute that support the drive toward more positive progress.

These developments perhaps drive stronger:

‘Consideration of matters such as (but not restricted to) environment and climate change, health and wellbeing and corporate responsibility that can or do impact on the valuation of an asset. In broad terms it is a desire to carry out activities without depleting resources or having harmful impacts’

- RICS Valuation – Global Standards Effective from 31 January 2020

In terms of valuation, while sustainability does not automatically have a financial value, it does form part of a thought process undertaken by valuers who are experts in the markets in which they operate - I believe (and hope) that this thought process will develop quickly as the surveying industry further aligns itself to a society which seems to be more and more 'sustainable' conscious.

Final thoughts

To recap, sustainability is in my view:

  • a purpose driven approach toward a better future for all

  • harmony between systems (living and otherwise), environmentally, socially, economically

  • a duty for surveyors to support equity through the built environment and its natural landscapes

  • a consideration during a thought process for valuers that may or may not have financial value

It is up to us to consider the 'butterfly effect' of our choices upon which sustainability depends - both in our personal and professional lives. After all, the choices we make and the actions we take have profound knock-on effects all around the world.

Sustainability is balance - a mutually beneficial relationship between the world we live in and everything that lives on it. Therefore sustainability does not mean being more 'sustainable', it means connecting to a common purpose where all have opportunity to thrive.

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