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Sustainability isn't a luxury, it's a must

Agenda

if YOU ask a cross-section ofpeople in construction what they think about sustainable construction, the chances are most will agree that it is a hugely important challenge.

Trying to get them to agree exactly what sustainability means is a dif ferent issue. The chances are there will be as many answers as people questioned. This week's special feature on pages 30-34 illustrates the problem perfectly. For some it means whole-life costing; for others it's about going green and reducing waste. A few see it as a worthy subject but largely a dream that is incompatible with the economics of the real world.

of course sustainability is all these things and more. It is about creating a built environment that will improve everybody's quality of life, cause minimal damage to the environment and minimise the use of resources.

A close look at the fortunes of the huge Greenwich Millennium Village project in London reveals more. This grand, environmentally friendly project was supposed to embody the values of current sustainable development theory. But it has been beset with problems.

One of the main issues has been how to balance what is desirable with what is economically achievable. This is at the heart of an acrimonious split between architect and developer, which saw Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott order an inquiry into the running of the project.

Nevertheless, academics and architects have tended to be the key drivers and innovators - and they have come up with many excellent ideas.

But these have to be put into practice and sold to homebuyers. And for that to happen, the whole of the construction team has to support the concept. Totally.

This is the main lesson to be drawn from the troubles experienced at the Millennium Village project.

Sustainability requires all parties involved to share the same vision of what can be attained.

Materials producers need to evolve in step with designers, ensuring that modern mass production methods bring costs down. Contractors have to ensure buildability and cut out waste. Developers must sell the virtues of sustainability to the public.

This needs to come together. Because sustainability is not a luxury. It is about time construction was seen to be contributing to the environment, rather than damaging it .