April 22nd, 2020
Around the world, COVID-19 and its implications have changed our entire way of life in a matter of months.
As we aim to flatten the curve with physically distancing measures, global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could fall by a record 2.5 billion tonnes this year. In this unique moment, the importance of balancing the three pillars of social, financial, and environmental sustainability feels more tangible than ever.
However, these environmental improvements are not yet a result of policy, government action, or fundamental cultural shifts that could sustain the change. Instead, this pandemic has revealed how much emphasis our world places on social and financial success, often to the detriment of our natural environment.
Now is the time to seize the opportunity to take climate action, finding a greater balance between all three pillars of sustainability. Having prioritized sustainable design for nearly 25 years, we know this is a delicate balance, but even more possible in a moment of great change as we chart a new path forward.
After over a month of enforced physical distancing measures worldwide, the true value of social interaction has become very apparent in its absence. However, as remote work is suddenly more accessible, we have adapted and become accustomed to virtual teamwork. Our reliance on printed material has reduced exponentially. The daily commute is gone.
These changes will undoubtedly render themselves into our workplace environments long-term, with more integration of technology, connection and flexibility, and less emphasis on the need for travel. Our next challenge will be how this impacts our energy use, how we track it, and where we source this energy from.
As we reintegrate back into a fully functioning business environment, the potential next step for governments to take includes stimulus programs to kick start the economy, regaining the financial stability so essential to our wellbeing.
We know from our experience with Mohawk College and The Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation, or Endress+Hauser’s new Client Experience Centre, that sustainable design does not require significantly more capital outlay, but provides a long-term return on investment and more resilient, healthy environments. Moving forward, investing in highly sustainable buildings will positively impact the integrated balance of the three pillars of sustainability; financial, social, and environmental.
By 2050, Canada intends to reduce GHG emissions by 80% (relative to 2005 levels) as part of our commitments under the Pan Canadian Framework. Globally, about 78% of GHG emissions from human activity are from the production and consumption of energy. This includes activities such as using gasoline for transportation, non-renewable electricity production, oil and gas production, and heating and cooling of buildings. Now is the prime opportunity for reinvention and renewal in the wake of COVID-19.
The building sector will be a key part of that strategy. Architects, healthcare professionals, scientists, academics, indigenous land defenders, the youth, and non-governmental organizations have all spoken up in petitions, such as one circulated by Architects Declare. Their call is to incentivize Net Zero projects or renewal programs that aggressively reduce GHG emissions, action we believe could jump-start a fundamental shift in how we evaluate the financial viability of the projects we undertake and set us on a path to meet or exceed our goals in the Framework.
At this pivotal moment, we have the rare and immediate opportunity to take these lessons in sustainability and apply them to a long-term, more balanced approach. They give us hope, but tangible and swift action from our municipal, provincial, and federal governments is needed to maintain this approach and become leaders in creating a smarter, financially responsible, just, and sustainable world for all.