Here is what you need to know about green companies, sustainable development, and why your choices can help to make a real difference...
What makes a company sustainable?
A sustainable or “green” business is one which meets the needs of the present world without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (1), in other words, an organization or company that participates in environmentally friendly or green activities to ensure that all processes, products, and manufacturing activities adequately address current environmental concerns while maintaining a profit (2).
So how do sustainable businesses work?
Sustainable businesses seek to harmonize the "triple bottom line" of people, planet and profit by seeing the world as an integrated system that connects business to society and the environment through both space and time (3). As a result, these companies typically share the same core values (4):
- Create long-term financial value.
- Know how their actions affect the environment and actively work to reduce their impacts.
- Care about their employees, customers and communities and work to make positive social change.
And why should I choose a sustainable business?
Sustainable businesses offer a wealth of both short and long-term benefits to clients, communities and the environment. These range from reduced carbon footprints and less impact on finite resources such as clean water to promoting social equality via policies which empower employees and engage the wider community.
By thinking holistically about their long-term impacts, sustainable companies are also inherently more resilient in the face of setbacks such as recessions, as well as being a potential mediator of economic-environmental relations (5), while still remaining financially competitive with other service providers.
What does CarbonNeutral® certification mean, and why is it important?
Referring to something as carbon neutral means "the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with that entity, product or activity are net-zero. CarbonNeutral® is a certification mark which provides assurance that a company has measured and reduced its emissions to net zero in line with The CarbonNeutral Protocol – the global standard for carbon neutral programmes".
Net-zero carbon status is achieved by a combination of internal CO2 emissions reduction and purchase of carbon credits to compensate for carbon emissions which cannot be avoided through internal reductions. By purchasing carbon credits to offset emissions, businesses are "supporting low carbon sustainable development projects throughout the world and demonstrating their action and commitment on reducing GHG emissions, beyond what can be achieved through internal reductions"(11) in line with the Paris Agreement, which "aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change"(12).
Is the land development industry really that damaging to the environment anyway?
Land surveying is an integral part of the land development/construction industry, which is inherently resource intensive, turning raw materials into the built environment which we see all around us. sadly, many of these resources are finite and non-renewable, and are becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive to extract and process.
These resources fall into six main categories:
- Electricity – construction accounts for 124,031 million kilowatt hours of electricity use per annum [1992 data] (6). the production of which in coal-powered plants ETC can be both highly polluting and an intensive consumer of fossil fuels.
- Fuels – estimated annual consumption of hazardous fuels including gasoline, natural gas and aviation fuel is over 96 million tons [1992 data] (6).
- Ores – the industry also processes around 133 million tons of the ores which contain precious, rare or harmful elements such as gold, uranium, and lead [1992 data] (6).
- Fertilizers - Annual spending on fertilizers based on nitrogen, ammonia and phosphates, which can be a major contributor to degradation of aquatic ecosystems, exceeded 167 million dollars [1992 data] (6).
- Water - Direct consumption of water is estimated at 4,368 billion liters per year, while use of recycled or reused water is around 7,442 billion liters per year [1982 data] (6).
- Building Materials – although difficult to quantify, direct use of building materials such as lumber, concrete, asphalt, steel and plastics accounts for around 28%(6) total expenditure for the construction sector whose GDP for the first six months of 2017 alone is estimated at 1.629 billion dollars (7).
The resulting environmental degradation and loss of habitat caused by the extraction, processing and consumption of these often toxic materials, as well as associated use of fossil fuels etc, is vast.
According to the EPA, the construction industry alone produced 131 million metric tonnes of CO2 in 2002, and almost 2% of its total greenhouse gas emissions (8).
Additionally, construction produced around 10,314 tons of hazardous waste, which requires treatment and may cause long-term contamination of land and water-based habitats, which are also adversely affected by the release of toxic substances including heavy metals and organic fertilizers before and during construction.
So what difference can surveyors make?
Given the scale of resource depletion and pollutant emissions, it should come as no surprise that many industry professionals increasingly feel that both land and buildings should be managed to promote sustainable development (9).
Although the engineering and surveying industries are typically not direct consumers of resources as the construction industry is (6), they nevertheless form a part of the construction supply chain, and as land development professionals, are given a unique opportunity to influence decision making in favor of sustainable goals, both in their own business practices, and in those of their clients.
As Professor Tim Dixon, author of the RICS® Green Gauge report states, “the professional advice that surveyors offer has a huge potential to influence the climate change and low carbon agendas at national, city and building level…[as] new developments will increasingly have to fulfill exacting environmental standards…(and) try to balance what may effectively become…competing pillars of ‘economy’, ‘environment’ and ‘people’” (9).
And how can surveying itself become more sustainable?
Survey professionals and companies of all sizes can utilize a number of pathways to make their practices and policies more sustainable. These include the following:
Pursuing professional accreditation through LEED®, Green Globes© et al allows surveyors to participate in the Green Building process in a meaningful way as part of a project design team:
LEED® Professional Credential requirements: https://new.usgbc.org/credentials#ap
Green Globes© Professional Certification requirements: https://www.thegbi.org/professional-certification
Environmentally preferable products are available for many field-survey applications (please note that the following are for informational purposes and are not product, vendor or manufacturer recommendations and that SLS is not compensated in any manner for the inclusion of products and services herein):
Recycled plastic survey monuments: https://www.berntsen.com/Surveying/Specialty-Markers/EcoStake & http://www.green-moxie.com/land-surveyor.html
Water-based utility marking paint: http://www.hittmarking.com/category/eco-stripe-aerosol-field-marking-paints
Recycled steel nail products: https://www.mazenails.com/resources/hot-dipped-galvanized-nails
Non-hardwood survey stakes: https://www.lowes.com/pl/Landscape-stakes-Weed-control-Fertilizer-weed-control-Outdoors/4294612871
You can also make your office environment more eco-friendly by implementing strategies such as going paperless, encouraging alternative transportation, offering recycling collection and conducting a water/energy use audit for your building.
Even when potentially harmful options like paper-based deliverables are essential, environmentally preferable choices often exist (again, the following are presented as options, not recommendations):
Cartridge-free printers: https://epson.com/ecotank-super-tank-printers
Sugarcane-based paper products: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1/143-9564737-2524233?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=sugarcane+paper
So how can I make my building project more eco-friendly?
The development of green building certification programs such as LEED®, Green Globes© and BREEAM® have made the incorporation of sustainable ethics and practices into new development and renovation projects a reality, and the decisions of each client and individual can make a tangible, real-world difference.
In addition, the availability of environmentally enhanced products certified by Energy Star®, WaterSense, Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) and other programs make good choices possible throughout the design, construction and occupancy of your project.
U.S. Green Building Council LEED® program: https://new.usgbc.org/leed
Find an accredited LEED® professional or member organization: https://www.usgbc.org/profile
Green Building Initiative™ Green Globes© Certification Program: https://www.thegbi.org
Building Research Establishment BREEAM® program: https://www.breeam.com
EPA Energy Star® program: https://www.energystar.gov
EPA WaterSense program: https://www.epa.gov/watersense
Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®): https://us.fsc.org/en-us
And how about sustainable choices in other areas?
Many local jurisdictions, state organizations and federal agencies offer a wealth of resources to help you make informed, environmentally friendly choices. Use the links below to get started, and well done for making it this far!
General Tips for Sustainable Living (10): http://www.dummies.com/education/science/environmental-science/ten-ways-to-live-sustainably
Sustainable DC initiative: http://www.sustainabledc.org/
Small Business Energy Efficiency Guide: https://www1.fsgi.com/energy-efficiency-guide/
Green Living DC organization: https://greenlivingdc.org
Sustainable NoVA organization: http://sustainablenova.com
Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture: http://arcadiafood.org
Resilient Virginia group: https://resilientvirginia.org
EPA Reduce, Reuse, Recycle program: https://www.epa.gov/recycle
Ceres sustainability organization: https://www.ceres.org
How can I support other organizations in the community?
There are many ways that you can get involved with groups and organizations who provide vital services to your community. Your participation through voluntary work, financial support etc allows these groups and their work to continue, so get out there and make a difference!
We are proud to support the following non-profit organizations, all of whom do amazing work to help make our communities and the environment more connected, equitable and resilient:
Bread for the City: https://breadforthecity.org
Doctors Without Borders: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org
Friends of the Earth: https://foe.org
Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia: https://www.legalaiddc.org
Martha's Table: https://marthastable.org/
Mary's Center: https://www.maryscenter.org/
Thrive DC: https://www.thrivedc.org
World Wildlife Fund: https://www.worldwildlife.org
Citations & further reading:
- United Nations General Assembly (1987) Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. Transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Co-operation: Environment. Retrieved on: 2009-02-http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm
- Caprotti, Federico. “Environment, Business and the Firm”. Geography Compass, 6. (2012): 163-174. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00478.
- Hendrickson, Chris and Horvath, Arpad. “Resource Use and Environmental Emissions of U.S. Construction Sectors”. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chris_Hendrickson/publication/228537407_Resource_Use_and_Environmental_Emissions_of_US_Construction_Sectors/links/5531181a0cf20ea0a070c826.pdf
- Spooner, Alecia M., "Ten Ways to Live Sustainably" http://www.dummies.com/education/science/environmental-science/ten-ways-to-live-sustainably
- Tara (last name unknown), "50 Ways to Make Your Life More Environmentally-Friendly" https://biofriendlyplanet.com/nature/environment/50-ways-to-make-your-life-more-environmentally-friendly/