How do we look beyond the sustainability of our current existence and towards the optimal health of our environment and the humans living within it?
To do this we need to bridge the divide between humans and the environment.
‘Sustainability’ is the current widely accepted approach for finding a balance between human existence and environmental conservation.
The birth-place for this term was within the 1987 document published by the UN Brutland Commission, Our Common Future. Here, the UN defined ‘Sustainable development’ as:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Originally, the widely accepted approach to achieving this was based on the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ Theory - Made up of three factors: The Environment, Society, and The Economy with each factor playing an equal part in achieving a ‘sustainable’ outcome.
As this theory evolved the discourse now places emphasis on the environment as the most important factor within the equation, acknowledging that society and the economy can only exist within the environment and therefore environmental health is paramount.
This notion of sustainability, however, has become widely recognised as an out-dated approach to environmental conservation - given the current climate and environmental change that has resulted from years of industrialisation and human impact. The idea of ‘sustaining’ what is, is no longer an adequate solution for taking care of the environment or caring for future generations. It is a complacent way of looking at our responsibility within the built environment and construction industry - a sector that contributes almost 40% of the global energy-related carbon dioxide (C02) emissions.
The way forward is a responsible approach. It is based on the recognition that we are a part of nature and not separate. It is a holistic approach based on the idea of a thriving ecosystem. A healthy environment supports the health of the organisms within it and those organisms play their equally important role in keeping the ecosystem balanced.
It is a human and environment centric approach.
What we design and build should place an emphasis on health - health of the environment and the health of people - supporting the fitness of an entire ecosystem.
As the cultural historian and scholar, Thomas Berry wrote;
“A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans… if there is to be any true progress, the entire life community must progress”.