Image of the earth at night time being held in human hands

In his book, ‘A Life On Our Planet’, Sir David Attenborough, says:

“I fear for those who will bear witness to the next 90 years, if we continue living as we are doing at present.”

It’s a foreboding sentence which is followed by stark warnings of ecological breakdown at a scale we can barely comprehend – a catastrophe “immeasurably more destructive than Chernobyl or anything we have experienced to date.”

Despite the apparent gloom, Sir David Attenborough remains hopeful, laying out a series of actions humanity might take to prevent further damage and actually reverse some of the impact we have had on the natural world. He says:

“There are those who hope for a future in which humankind globally detaches itself from its addiction to growth, moves on from GDP as the be-all and end-all, and becomes focused upon a new, sustainable measure of success that involves all three Ps.”

What are these three P’s you might ask?

People, Planet and Profit.

When these three performance measures are put together (in terms of businesses, governments or in fact any decision-making entity), they amount to what sustainable economists call the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ (TBL). First created by John Elkington in 1994, it’s a concept that couldn’t be more relevant to the world we live in today.

Here’s how it works

Looking at this from a business perspective, rather than measuring performance by profit alone, the TBL offers a framework that looks like something this:

  • Social value (people) – A measure that takes into account the organisation’s business practices as they affect its employees, consumers and the community in which it conducts its business (e.g. adopting fair employment practices or contributing to improved air quality).
  • Environmental value (planet) – A measure that looks at the organisation’s performance/ actions as they relate to and impact on environmental concerns (e.g. reducing waste and pollution, or making greater use of renewable resources).
  • Economic value (profit) – A measure of the organisation’s economic performance and integrity (e.g. the organisation makes profit while economically benefitting its employees and the surrounding community).

How can construction embrace this?

To embrace the TBL approach, construction companies will have to do more than talk about sustainability and look at every process or action they take through the lens of the three Ps. That means everything from the ways in which a company uses raw materials to the design process they take in any built environment project to company practices around people management and their supply chain.

Let’s imagine you’re attempting to achieve a sustainable construction project. This is how that might look using the TBL:

Social value (people) – Using this metric, your building project might score well if it is safe and secure; easily adaptable to suit a diverse range of user needs and abilities; is aesthetically pleasing and thereby reinforces a sense of wellbeing in the community; provides good air quality and green space; and helps to strengthen social networks. Additional social value might be gained if your company’s labour practices support things like diversity, health and wellbeing, volunteering or share plans.

Environmental value (planet) – Here you would need to look at all the costs and benefits the project might have on the natural environment – both locally and globally. Score your project in relation to its efficient use of resources (materials, water etc); energy efficiency and levels of greenhouse gas emissions; waste reduction; use of green technologies; how the design synchronises with the landscape; and other features like solar panels or insulation. Remember that, if your building will offer the people using it benefits like comfort, that’s an added ‘social’ value and, if it helps to reduce long-term running costs in the home, that will also be an ‘economic’ value.

Economic value (profit) – When taking an economic measure, be sure to think about the costs and benefits to all stakeholders – the company, client, employees, residents, community etc. Consider the local market when selecting building materials to reduce freight costs; look at where cost efficiencies can be made over the long-term by selecting low maintenance materials; install appliances with high energy star ratings so as to reduce costs for residents; and incorporate features like solar panels that could add value to the property. It’s been reported that ‘green buildings’ benefit from almost 20% lower maintenance costs than their typical commercial counterparts so go green and save money!

A more sustainable future

It’s clear that the challenge presented by climate change and loss of biodiversity in our natural world cannot be solved by any one person, company or country alone. It must be a collective effort and today’s businesses need to think beyond pure financial profit and take an approach that intertwines economic prosperity with human health/happiness and environmental impact.

For the built environment, the three Ps offer an opportunity to switch from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution.

Here at Sheriff Construction, we already prioritise many of the measures mentioned in the sustainable construction project example above – for instance making efficient use of resources; taking steps to reduce energy consumption; installing effective insulation and green roofing on buildings; and designing safe, secure, adaptable and cost-efficient property developments. However, we know there is more we could do and will therefore strive to take greater account of how our decisions and actions impact on people, planet and profit.

Let us know if you have any ideas as to how we, in construction, can tackle this issue together.


Feature image: Freepik