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Social Sustainability in Construction

When it comes to building construction, we most often read about environmental sustainability. But the UK’s 2012 Social Value Act (PDF overview from Social Enterprise UK) highlights one way construction touches upon social sustainability.

The Act requires public bodies in England and Wales to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area.

The Guardian reports that Wates Group, one of the UK’s largest construction companies, is forming a brokering service that will help it identify and hire social enterprises.

The public sector accounts for 70% of Wates turnover, making it one of the major public sector contractors in the UK. Andy Hobart, of Wates, commented, “The construction industry offers great opportunities for major contractors and suppliers to work with social enterprises to achieve positive social and economic impact on communities. We are totally committed to increasing social enterprise as an integral part of our procurement process.”

An example of a company that will benefit from Wates’ approach is winning Brighton and Hove Wood Recycling Project.

The Guardian reports, “This project aligns to Wates’ commitments under its Reshaping Tomorrow initiative  (PDF ) to create 5,000 employment and training opportunities for disadvantaged groups by 2015.”

What are some other ways social sustainability touches upon construction? I’ve reported on some of these issues before over onthe design activism blog, in terms of the ethics of using exploited workers in construction. In positive terms. Lance Hosey points out, in his article “The Ethics of Brick” (2005), that at least one architect has chosen material specification as a way to address social sustainability:

“Max Bond of Davis Brody Bond has illustrated this for years in his work with African-American communities and organizations. Researching the membership of construction unions in New York City, his team learned that masonry unions include a relatively large percentage of minorities from Harlem. Accordingly the architects specified brick for projects such as Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Bond says, ‘I have tried to make it as likely as possible that people of color would work on the construction of our buildings.’ The project reaches out to its constituent community not just through the end product but also through the acts of specification and construction. Call it material justice.”

I find that architecture students rarely come up against these issues in school, but they really deserve some awarness–and advance warning– of these elements of social sustainability in construction.

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