Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Construction Industry

Eleanor Turner
Climate change is the term on everybody’s lips. We are all aware that we are existing in a climate emergency and in response to that, countries and their stakeholders across the globe have pledged action to tackle the impending crisis.

However, one term we don’t hear as frequently is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a holistic solution to make sure that no one gets left behind. How can we achieve these in Real Estate? On Thursday 5th March, Faithful+Gould hosted a British Council for Office (BCO) Breakfast Seminar for industry experts to look at the opportunities and challenges the construction industry is currently facing.

What are the UNSDGs?

The SDGs are a global agenda to end poverty and pursue a sustainable future by 2030. The agenda, adopted in 2015 by the United Nations, set 17 goals spanning 169 targets and monitored by 244 indicators. The SDGs have been described as ‘the closest thing we have to a strategy for the future’. So, why aren’t the goals more widely known, and spoken about?

More than 8 million people were involved in the development of the goals to ensure that the most prevalent challenges undermining societies worldwide are being tackled at the very root. The first step in addressing the goals, is to first understand them; the goals are universal, interconnected and transformational. To create the change we need, at the scale we need, we must work collaboratively and all pledge to commit to the SDGs through embedding the targets into all our operations.

The challenge

The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint (UKGBC, 2019), produces 40% of UK waste (RICS, 2020) and has significant implications on biodiversity, deforestation and air pollution. The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction predict that the energy demand of buildings could increase by 50% by 2060. As one of the largest contributors to global climate change, the construction industry and the drivers behind it must take responsibility and change the pattern of behaviour that has previously produced these negative outcomes.

The opportunity

One of the first steps to take in implementing the goals is to consider your organisations spheres of influence, and where you could have the most impact. It must be emphasised that to address the maximum number of goals, the buildings whole life cycle must be considered, rather than just the development phase. By implementing the UN SDG goals and targets, it ensures there is consistency, transparency, comparability and trust across the industry.

The SDGs are growing in prominence, and for companies within the construction sector, holistic solutions will be the driving force towards a transition to a more sustainable world.

The SDGs have been canonised by both private and public organisations globally, and a result the concept of ‘SDG Wash’ has emerged. Companies are choosing to use the visuals

without understanding the true meaning behind the goals.  As an industry we should be improving links with educational establishments to upskill the existing workforce to ensure those entering the industry in the future, have the correct skills and knowledge to lead the industry into the next phase of sustainable operations. We should be judging projects on environmental factors, as equals with time and cost and finally, encouraging stakeholders, policy makers and planners to ensure the SDGs are engrained throughout the entirety of the project.

We have 10 years to achieve the goals set out by the United Nations. It is time we are open and transparent about our net negative, in order to work towards meaningful offset and mitigation. Now is the time to realise the Sustainable Development Goals are a lens through which to address climate change and whilst the goals are voluntary, the onus is on everybody to realise their importance and potential towards creating a sustainable, more prosperous world, for now, and for future generations.

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