Insight

Global Goals are levers for making ambitious demands on buildings

Timber buildings Niras

The 17 Global Goals must be recognized as levers for making ambitious demands and supporting a sustainable development in the building sector. Photo: Colourbox

Lone Hedegaard Mortensen

Lone Hedegaard Mortensen

Civil Engineer, PhD

Using a Danish industrial giant as a case study, NIRAS is in the process of developing a tool that can help make the UN Global Goals a reality in building projects. Experience shows that it is important to prioritize goals in order to achieve the greatest effect throughout the whole life cycle of a building project.

May 15, 2019

At NIRAS we have for some time been working to find a way of helping our clients, both internally and externally, to work with and implement the Global Goals in their building projects. At one of the first internal meetings regarding this matter that I attended, I brought a pile of post-its and writing implements along. I challenged all attendees, myself included, to write the name and, if possible, the number of each of the 17 Global Goals.

Unsurprisingly, no one was close to remembering all of them. That seemed to me to be a sign that we must prioritize our efforts. Instead, however, we started a journey of understanding the goals' relevance to our company and as an opportunity to encourage our clients to join the same journey within sustainable building development.

"We must recognize the 17 Global Goals as levers for making ambitious demands and supporting a sustainable development."

Lone Hedegaard Mortensen

We started asking ourselves: why? Well, because our planet is overloaded which is why we need to do something. This can, however, be considered as a crisis or an opportunity. Fortunately, we, as engineering consultants, always strive to improve our services to have the lowest possible environmental impact. So this is work in progress.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels, but we must recognize the 17 Global Goals as levers for making ambitious demands and supporting a sustainable development.

Be careful not to choose too broadly

During the process, one of our clients (a Danish industrial giant) evinced an interest in allowing us to use them as a case in order to develop a process of discussing Global Goals with our clients. This led to an exciting, yet also a fumbling process of how we can talk with clients about setting objectives for projects that support the Global Goals. We were very open and started to look at the potential for aligning with all 17 goals.

This opened the door to further discussions about relevant issues within building projects as well as other issues that could be useful in other parts of the client’s organization. Looking back, we might have taken a too soft line in terms of selecting our areas of focus. We should have been more incisive instead of choosing too broadly.

Although the client’s building project team had shown great interest, a decision from higher levels of their organization meant that they could not proceed with setting ambitious goals and actions for reporting on their alignment with the UN Global Goals. Who knows, though, how the next project will develop? The first seed is already sown; now we just hope that it grows.

A long-term and life-cycle perspective must be included

The process with the client showed the need to prioritize our efforts. Therefore, we continued our journey towards making it a reality by now focusing on some of our clients. Were they already taking the 17 goals into consideration?

If so, which and how did they do? Fortunately, many clients had already considered the goals, and some had even set objectives and had started reporting on how they have achieved them. It seemed as if much had already been put into action. The only thing missing was a common thread running through our way of making the goals a reality in building projects here at NIRAS.

Consequently, we took a look at what lies behind sustainable development in the building sector. Generally speaking, there must be an equal balance between the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability. We must keep a long term perspective and include a life-cycle approach as well as make thorough considerations regarding the local, regional and global impact.

Going back to basics, we now focus on the entire life cycle of a building project when working with the 17 UN Global Goals.

At NIRAS, we have adapted that to our process for building projects. First, we prioritize on which of the 17 Global Goals the client can have the highest impact in relation to the life-cycle phase of a given building project.

First, we prioritize on which of the 17 Global Goals the client can have the highest impact in relation to the life-cycle phase of a given building project.

After this, we set ambitious objectives but are also aware of what we discard. Which objectives do we not aim to achieve, and may this have a negative impact?

"The goals are universal, meaning that we are obliged to leave no one behind. In other words, a country has only fully achieved all goals once every other country has. Therefore, we must all contribute."

Lone Hedegaard Mortensen

The important thing in the process is to focus on the goals that we can influence in a given life-cycle phase and at the same time look at how we can measure the effect. For this part of the process, we are currently developing a tool that can help support specific integration of the Global Goals for building projects.

We have used an external focus group to test our ideas, and that has paid off considering that we have already received feedback that they would like to provide a test case where we can use the method of working with the 17 UN Global Goals on an actual building project.

The great feeling of contributing to sustainable development for buildings

Unlike in the past, it is no longer enough to focus on the third world countries. The goals are universal, meaning that we are obliged to leave no one behind. In other words, a country has only fully achieved all goals once every other country has. We have to make great efforts in order to save our planet as we obviously cannot get a new one. Therefore, we must all contribute.

Those are very big words, but in principle I believe that most people want to contribute. We have all seen examples of climate changes and inequality between countries, and in the hope that we are all committed to contributing, we must simply find a way of doing it together. Besides, it feels good to go to work knowing that you can contribute to sustainable development.

In 2015, world leaders were gathered at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York to adopt a new sustainable development agenda defined by the 17 UN Global Goals, replacing the former eight Millennium Development Goals.

Lone Hedegaard Mortensen

Lone Hedegaard Mortensen

Civil Engineer, PhD

Allerød, Denmark

Lone Mortensen works with sustainability, SDGs and implementation at NIRAS. She has a MSc in Engineering, PhD from the Technical University of Denmark and has worked with sustainable buildings since 2007, first at ALECTIA and later as senior researcher at the Danish Building Research Institute, she worked with mapping of sustainable buildings in Denmark and project management in InnoBYG – the innovation network for sustainable buildings. She is active in adapting the DGNB certification scheme to suit Danish conditions, and contributes to the development of  voluntary sustainability class which is expected to become part of the Danish Building Regulations from 2020.

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