The Social Impact Across the Built Environment position paper marks a significant change in thinking

Words Abi Godsell, GBCSA IMAGES WorldGBC

Beyond sustainability: social impact across the built environment

The Social Impact Across the Built Environment position paper marks a significant change in thinking around the scope of a green project’s sustainability reach.

Authored by the World Green Building Council’s Better Places for People programme, the Social Impact Across the Built Environment position paper – to which the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) is proud to have been an active contributor – aims to recentre our understanding of sustainability on the people who design, create, occupy and visit green buildings.

Already, the GBCSA is responding to an observed need to hone, adapt and update its own tools (see +Impact issue 26 – V2 People Category Deep Dive) that give a voice to the silent “S” of ESG (environmental, social and governance) pillars. Because of this, we are excited by the lenses and frameworks that this report offers to start the work of people-centered thinking in other spheres of the green building space.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without focusing on social impact. – Social Impact Across the Built Environment position paper – page 14.

This is not an area of green construction where there are existing pathways that we must simply commit to walking, or where the tools and techniques for effecting transformation must simply be applied. We are all partners in the development of the map towards a sustainable future where green buildings are developed through processes that support and actively increase: Diversity and Inclusion; Health, Comfort, and Safety; Privacy and Security; and Positive Climate Impacts.

This position paper offers two sets of tools for beginning this map-making:

The first set of tools, as shown above, are a series of scopes – which may feel familiar to the community already engaged in Carbon Emissions Reporting – that frame how different scales, timelines and theatres of operation can impact social equity, and therefore help increase the positive contribution of green projects.

These lenses range from Scope 0, which examines the implementing organisation’s internal practices and protocols (so that the values that green projects intended to champion in broader society are lived and practised by those champions), through Scope 3, which examines details of supply chain, ethical and accountable labour and construction practices and life-cycle environmental risks of buildings. They serve to break down green construction into distinct systems that have different characteristics and require different kinds of responses.

The next set of tools deals more explicitly with those responses that will be assistive in the different systems:

The 5 As (below) are less a list of specific actions that can be taken, and more a recipe for organisations to begin crafting an action plan that is responsive to their contexts, needs and resources. Like the scopes, these are ways of thinking about bringing about a positive social impact, and pro-actively taking steps towards increased social equity.

The GBCSA is excited to be part of the ongoing exploration of how green buildings can be at the heart of strong, inclusive and empowered communities. We are weaving some of these principles, framings and values into our existing work and programmes to produce tools, leadership and recognition of, and guidance towards, a socially sustainable future, where the built environment is rapidly and robustly transforming for people and planet to thrive.