I think sustainable has three pillars of implications. In board terms, people talk about the 3P’s: people, planet, profit. As for the built environment, I think they translate to a project’s social, environmental, and economic impacts, respectively.
The Economic Aspect
To me, this is the most straightforward. An economically sustainable project should:
- be a sensible investment that can generate enough financial return for the stakeholders.
- act as a stimulus for local, even broader, economic growth in the long run.
The Environmental Aspect
This mostly involves the physical elements. An environmentally sustainable project should:
- have minimal negative impacts on the natural environment (including material and resource consumption, energy use, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.) LEED is a good example of rating systems that focus on environmental sustainability.
- when possible, contribute positively to the natural world. In the words of the Living Building Challenge, it is to “[restore] a healthy interrelationship with nature.”
The Social Aspect
I think of this as the “people” side of things. A socially sustainable project should:
- promote physical and psychological health and well-being of people within and around the built environment.
- be an accessible and inclusive space that supports community and inspires creativity.
Admittedly, people have different interpretations of sustainability and it’s hard to achieve all of them. But it is not impossible. Take Singapore’s Changi Jewel as an example. It is a transport-oriented development (TOD) that integrates commercial space into Singapore’s Changi Airport. It employs a very biophilic and sustainable design and provides a welcoming, relaxing space for visitors. On one hand it reflected Singapore’s branding as a “City in Nature”; on the other hand it also helped promote tourism in Singapore and generate more profit for the airport.