Defining social value in a greener built environment

Buro Happold supports new UKGBC Task Group convened to define social value

For too long we have viewed social, environmental and economic concerns as competing for the same pot of limited resources. Under this traditional market approach, social and environmental needs almost always lose out to economic interests. However, as overconsumption and the concentration of wealth in an ever-smaller number of hands now places enormous pressure on our social and ecological systems, a more nuanced assessment of resource division has become critical.

As has been laid bare in excruciating detail by the Covid-19 pandemic, we can no longer justify tackling these issues indirectly. It is unrealistic to hope that general economic success will create prosperity for all or reverse environmental damage. Instead we must tackle these issues head-on.

Calls for a green recovery from this crisis have been put forward by a diversity of voices, which includes Architects Declare. This UK network is part of Construction Declares, a coalition of built environment practices facilitated by a steering group on which I sit together with Buro Happold Partner, Mike Cook. Buro Happold, too, has called for a green recovery that is healthy, sustainable and fair.

All these recovery proposals demand a recalibration of priorities towards social and environmental justice. Essential to tackling these aims directly is the development of a shared language to explicitly discuss and communicate our strategy.

In 2019, the UKGBC developed a framework definition for net zero carbon buildings to provide the industry with clarity and a definable milestone in the journey towards decarbonising construction. Now, the UKGBC, together with Buro Happold and others, is turning its attention to the complementary mission of social value.

The new UKGBC Task Group created to define social value in the built environment.

This week, the inaugural meeting of the UKGBC Task Group to Define Social Value brought together architects, developers, engagement specialists, engineers, sustainability experts, representatives from institutions and community activists.

Together we have embarked on a six-month project to develop a common language, shared principles and a roadmap for delivering social value across the lifecycle of a project. This will be used by a range of built environment stakeholders, from impact investors to contractors’ supply chains.

Since the Social Value Act of 2012, the term “social value” has appeared more frequently in both procurement documents and conversations about what constitutes good design. However, without a clear and agreed definition of exactly what constitutes social value, the principle of embedding holistic wellbeing into the way that we shape the built environment is a challenge to discuss, let alone implement.

This work forms part of the UKGBC’s Social Value Programme that Buro Happold is proud to support. It follows on from the success of the UKGBC’s Framework Definition for Net Zero Carbon Buildings, which we also contributed to.

Recognising the intersectionality of social and environmental justices is vital to achieving progress in either movement. I am looking forward to working with colleagues on the UKGBC Task Group to champion the complex interaction between social and environmental concerns. Developing and sharing this understanding has a critical role to play in enabling a green recovery from Covid-19 while delivering long-term prosperity for all.

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