Laying the right foundation for sustainable development

12 August 2002
A UCT based research team from the Departments of Construction Economics and Management (CEM) and Environmental and Geographical Sciences (EGS) is developing a sustainability assessment method for buildings in South Africa.

The seven-member team is headed by Professor Paul Bowen of CEM and Richard Hill of EGS, and includes staff members of CEM, Winston Shakantu and Lara Opperman, and PhD student Ewelina Kaatz. Also included in the team are Dr Theo Haupt and Toni Stringer of Peninsula Technikon.

Bowen says that considerable effort has been put into establishing research links and collaborations with leading practitioners and researchers in the field from various institutions internationally and locally, to enhance the effectiveness of the National Research Foundation (NRF) funded research and to explore the relevance of social and economic dimensions of sustainability in developing countries.

The multi-disciplinary project will examine, in addition to issues of biophysical sustainability, the social, economic and technical dimensions of sustainability. In addition, the research will draw on the theory and practice of environmental impact assessment techniques and waste logistics.

According to Bowen, the reason for undertaking this research is that first-world international sustainability assessment methods are highly focused on environmental factors.

"Such an approach ignores the other dimensions of sustainable development, the social, economic, technical and process-orientated considerations. The focus of sustainability issues in the built environment of northern and southern hemispheres are different," explains Bowen. "While it may be easy to overlook crucial dimensions of sustainability in a developed country, these issues are glaringly obvious in poorer nations," says Hill, adding that, "contemporary international assessment methods for the performance of buildings are deficient, particularly for developing countries, in that they focus on biophysical issues only.

"This shortcoming is particularly significant in the South African context where the explicit goal of the National Environment Management Act of 1998, is the attainment of sustainable development," he adds.

According to the team, real sustainable development in the construction industry requires a completely new way of looking at the built environment, one that not only considers the environmental impact, but also the social impact of its activities and how it can address the challenges of developing nations in a sustainable way.

"This research project has the potential to have a positive impact on sustainable development and construction in South Africa because construction is occurring on a daily basis and at a rapid rate to meet the needs of the South African population," says Bowen.

"If construction is not sustainable, the ability of future generations to meet their needs will be compromised."

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