Testing assumptions and attitudes towards sustainability in water
A recent Institute of Water South West Area seminar, held in support of World Environment Day 2012, jointly hosted by Halcrow and CH2M HILL saw a range of key industry speakers play ‘Devil’s Advocate’ for the day, and challenge the notion that sustainability was achievable and deliverable.
The speakers and chairpersons alike were tasked with convincing the audience that sustainability was unachievable and at no point during the day were they permitted to derogate from their “sustainability is a utopian ideal and cannot be achieved” perspective; and most admirably, none did.
First to take the challenge was keynote speaker Sarah Murkherjee (Director of Environment, Water UK, and ex-BBC Correspondent for the Environment). Sarah mused of her experiences at UN conferences and none too subtly reminded the audience that Copenhagen resulted in a worse deal for the environment than the Kyoto protocol. If the world’s super powers could not decide on a solution to climate changes, how were we the technical workforce of the world supposed to…?
The speakers then enlightened and entertained the audience in two sessions titled “Sustainability in water & innovation – an oxymoron?” and “The mythical world of sustainable buildings & consultancies”.
Ian Walker (Innovations Director, WRC) went on to prove that sustainability drove creative minds out of the UK therefore hindering innovation; Dr Paul Conroy (Associate Director, Water Asset Management, Halcrow) wondered why we spend money on asset resilience (considering we cannot agree on what it means, we have no means of measuring it and we probably cannot afford do anything about it), and Mark Fenton (Sustainability Advisor, Halcrow) explained that although the focus of BREEAM was on minimising environmental impacts but it was not a guide to defining sustainable buildings.
Dr Mike Keil (Climate Change and Resilience Manager, Severn Trent Water) adamantly proved that boardroom discussions regarding sustainability were only about greenwashing slogans. Similarly and Peter Braithwaite (International Leader for Sustainability, CH2M HILL) implied that corporate decisions regarding sustainability were more successful when linked with a sustainable triple bottom line and Mark Wray (Technology Strategy Board) wholly embraced and encouraged the notion of climate change adaptation (rather than mitigation), as we were a determined species who have faced floods and droughts in the past, and survived.
The speakers and two random audience members were then split into teams and battled it out in the name of sustainability with the “Myopic Distopics” (lead by Paul Conroy) supported the motions that “sustainability is a utopian ideal that will never be achieved” and the “Sustainability 4” (lead by Peter Braithwaite) argued against the motion, and emerged the victors.
Organiser Mandhy Senewiratne (Sustainability Advisor for Water and Buildings, Halcrow) explains:
“A passionate argument pinpointed our failed attempts to define; quantify and locate sustainability, and the direction we should travel in order to reach “sustainability”. But those arguing for sustainability shot back with vindication arguing that the complexity of sustainability was by no means a reason to give up on achieving it. Like any other problem we need to journey through this problem and set up milestones to achieve along the way. Points were awarded and the sustainability ambassadors won the debate.
The day’s activities had also unwittingly generated a platform for open and honest discussions, allowing a critique of the issues we all face when attempting to integrate sustainability into our various industries.
Halcrow’s sustainability team leader Dr. Jon Atkinson added:
“This was a very refreshing format and approach and I believe it broke down barriers and allowed people to offer honest opinions. Sustainability is one of the key issues facing the world. We need to be open to and continually testing our assumptions against new thinking and best practice to ensure that they are relevant”
The seminar achieved its motive to highlight that unless we strive towards sustainability development we will struggle to develop at all.”
Related categories: Water conservation and supply