The Meaning of Sustainability to Society and the Construction Industry

What is the meaning of sustainability? Does it mean to same to everyone?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines sustainability as “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level” and give the example “the sustainability of economic growth”. (Sustainability | Definition of Sustainability by Oxford Dictionary on also meaning of Sustainability, 2020)

To many, economic growth is at odds with sustainability if considered from an environmental perspective. However, growth and progress are fundamental aspects of our capitalist society, and the sustained rate of these aspects is a driver for governments, businesses and most individuals.

Even though it is clear by the definition provided above that sustainability can be applied to many aspects of life, it is understood that society would describe sustainability in terms of climate change, energy conservation and carbon emission reduction.

For construction, however, sustainability can take many forms other than just energy conservation. In fact, if energy conservation was the major driver, then there would be no construction.

A construction projects primary driver is to satisfy the need of a client who requires a place to live, work or a facility to produce goods that are needed or wanted by society.

The challenge is to achieve this in a sustainable way.

For smaller developments, such as houses, sustainability is achieved by choice of building materials, method of construction and maximizing natural resources to be used for initiatives such as solar power, natural ventilation, and insulation

In terms of larger developments, such as major Hospitals, sustainability can mean, future proofing. As in designing and building with ability to incorporate upcoming technologies and population trends. For example, obesity is a “growing” problem in Australia, so to future proof would be to make hospital rooms with the dimensions suitable for bariatric patients. This saves major refurbishments later.

All large building construction companies now have a sustainability or environmental policy which enforces that their operations are undertaken in the most sustainable way possible. For instance, Laing O’Rourke state in their Environmental Policy “Laing O’Rourke is committed to the protection and enhancement of the environment. High environmental performance is an ongoing priority and is achieved by our actions in line with this policy.” (Environment | Laing O'Rourke, 2020)

The table below is intended to provide a summary of two meanings of sustainability. ‘Reduction’ being how society can often regard sustainability and ‘Production’, how the construction industry tackles it.



Switch of appliances

Use local materials

Water conservation

Harvest and re-plant timber

Turn down air con/heating


Take fewer journeys

Solar energy

Use car less

Water re-use

Eat less meat

Re-cycle waste



Waste less



Lexico Dictionaries | English. 2020. Sustainability | Definition Of Sustainability By Oxford Dictionary On Lexico.Com Also Meaning Of Sustainability. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 31 July 2020]. 2020. Environment | Laing O'rourke. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 2 August 2020].

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