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Changes in attitude

The changes in attitudes, and consequential changes in policies

and legislation, have been prompted by a range of factors,
• the disturbing results of research into climate change,
depletion of the ozone layer and widespread chemical
pollution of the environment
• the increased awareness of these and other environmental
issues and their increasing presence and importance on the
political agenda – locally, nationally and internationally –
especially since the UN Conference on Environment and
Development in Rio, 1992 and its Agenda 21 declaration
• increasing concern about the adverse impact of typical
construction activity on neighbours and on the environment
• the action of individuals and environmental groups in
challenging norms about consumption of resources,
generation of waste and damage to biodiversity
• increasing concern about poor indoor air quality and other
adverse factors within buildings
• increasing concerns about the type of developments that are
being permitted and the imposition of development projects
on communities, resulting in disaffection, rather than
development that meets the identified needs of communities
• increasing recognition that achieving a high-quality built
environment can be a major contribution to improvements
in our quality of life, as well as delivering productivity and
health and financial benefits
• challenges to conventional arguments about the cost of
construction and embracing the cost of externalities, leading
to better understanding of the inter-relationship between a
high-quality environment, productivity, education and
health, in turn leading to financial benefits and
improvements in quality of life and business performance
• increasing focus on the corporate responsibilities of
businesses, leading to greater emphasis on good business
practice and fair trade.
Whilst there is uncertainty about the extent of the action
required, it is clear that in recent years legislation and policy,
including economic policy, has been moving to reverse
unsustainable trends.
Policy integration
The holistic nature of the sustainable construction agenda and
the fact that the built environment affects the quality of our lives
so fundamentally, and in so many diverse ways, means that the
built environment has the potential to be a focus for a wide
range of policy. This increasingly appears to be the case.
Policy on architectural quality, planning and community
participation, pollution prevention, biodiversity and animal
habitats, transport infrastructure, the relationship between town
and hinterland, health at home, crime in communities, energy
use and generation, and developing appropriate new jobs and
skills are all intrinsically connected to the environments in which
we live and work. The integrative aspects are increasingly
apparent and interesting, and the development of overarching
indicators of sustainable development have much to do with the
quality of construction per se.
Policy responses
Sustainability policies represent the stated priorities, aims,
aspirations and objectives of international bodies, national
governments, professions and companies. They are increasingly
used by a wide range of players in the construction scene as a
means of communicating commitment to improving practice
beyond the regulatory standard and to show evidence of
improving their sustainability performance. They are fast
becoming a requirement on construction projects and are
increasingly used to raise standards beyond a legislative
There is now a lot of knowledge and great opportunity to
develop improved buildings and built environments. In order to
move forward the industry needs to commit to firm deliverables,
but also requires education on product and process issues.
Clients have the opportunity to look at models of best practice
and to recognise the benefits that can accrue from it.
Governments need to take a more forthright role in raising the
policy commitments and the legislative requirements, linking
policy and legislation to the available knowledge at an ambitious
pace commensurate with delivering much needed changes.