What's in a word?

Sustainability is becoming one of the most talked about subjects in construction, says Angela Giuffrida.

COMMENT, Human Resource

There's a word in the dictionary that's in danger of being banished to the 'over-used' bin.

That's not because it's a buzzword borne out of the necessity to define a certain trend or era, but the word 'sustainability' is one that people could get bored of using, simply because of the ambiguity that surrounds its actual meaning.

Whatever the word's fate, it will certainly lend credence to the legacy of one of the most talked-about subjects in construction during 2007.

So far this year, sustainability has formed the essence of a number of events: conferences have debated the issues that surround it, Oscar-winning documentaries have been made and global concerts held.

The main aim of these has been to promote ways of conserving the world's finite resources and raise awareness among industry and the public alike about the effects of climate change and the need to implement changes now.

And the industry at the centre of most of the debate is construction. High-profile projects around the world are laying claim to building with sustainability in mind, such as the London Olympic Park for the 2012 Games.

Developers in the Middle East have also started to form teams to focus specifically on incorporating sustainability into the construction of their projects.

But what exactly do they mean by sustainability? Is it about adopting 'green' building practices, using renewable energy sources, or building a structure that will last and one in which people will want to live for a long time?

Or is it really about marketing? In a region where some developers are giving cars to the first set of newlyweds who buy one of their apartments, it makes you wonder whether sustainability is simply being used to embellish a glossy brochure to promote sales, and project an image of environmental concern.

Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of investors in property development aren't too concerned about sustainability. They'll simply finish their project and take the same winning formula with them onto the next emerging property market, without much care for whether that project is eco-friendly, or even has people still wanting to live in it come 2020.

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