Achieving sustainability requires us to live within the limits of the earth’s capacity to provide the materials for our activities and to absorb the waste and pollution that our activities generate. Making best use of all resources (i.e. physical, financial and biological, including human) wisely so they don’t become unusable, run out, die out and/or burn out is at the heart of sustainability. Stirling Council recognises it has an important role to play locally and, in its Sustainable Development Strategy, has adopted an objective to promote sustainable use of resources through procurement, use and disposal.
An Ecological Footprint is a measure of the amount of land and water used in supporting an individual, organisation, community, city or country. It is a way of measuring the environmental impacts of consumption patterns.
Dividing the planet's productive surface area amongst the current world population gives a land 'ration' of around 1.8 global hectares (gha) per person. But the Ecological Footprint of the Stirling area has been calculated as 5.55 gha per person, which is more than 3 times our ration. This means that if everyone in the world were to live like the average Stirling resident, two more planets would be needed to provide all their resources and absorb all their waste. This is clearly not possible.
One of the biggest challenges we face is to develop lifestyles which will make sure that all communities can live harmoniously and equitably on one planet without creating overwhelming problems for the current and future generations.
The construction, fit-out, operation, maintenance, renovation and final demolition of buildings is a huge factor in human impact on the environment due to the materials and energy used in construction and operation over a building’s lifetime. The built environment also has a significant impact on the health and well-being of individuals, communities and organisations. A good building is a delight to spend time in or look at, enhancing the community in which it is located and increasing productivity or the ability to learn. A poor building does the opposite.
Sustainable construction involves use of low-impact materials, such as recycled and non-toxic materials, and measures to increase resource efficiency, such as reducing the energy required to heat and light a property and reducing water use during operation. An integrated design that allows flexibility of use rather than replacement as requirements change is also important, as is a building’s resilience to continue to function under extreme conditions, such as severe storms, torrential rainfall, flooding, extreme temperatures, and other natural disasters.
In order to deal with the challenges of a growing global population faced with limited planetary resources, societies and industrial systems need to mimic the natural world and move from linear to cyclical processes. This means using all materials as efficiently as possible and choosing those materials that can either be returned safely to a cycle within the environment or remain viable in the industrial cycle.
A Zero Waste strategy combines prevention, reuse and recycling with designs that consider entire product life cycles. The new designs strive for reduced materials use, use of recycled materials, use of more benign materials, longer product lives, repairability, and ease of disassembly at end of life. Such a strategy strongly supports sustainability by protecting the environment, reducing costs and producing additional jobs in the management and handling of wastes back into the industrial cycle.
What Stirling Council is achieving, with the support of local people, can be found here.