Weekly Editorial

Building a Sustainable Commercial Interiors Community

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, officeinsight • April 17, 2023

Flat lay top view of outline of house on green background, sustainable living concept. Copy space.

The idea of building sustainable communities has lots of meanings. And those definitions shift and change along with the latest research and thinking.

Sustainability itself means different things to different people. To many, sustainability focuses on traditional environmental metrics, such as carbon emissions or water pollution. To others, sustainability must include measures of equity, such as the access of people of color and lower-income populations to neighborhoods with good schools and jobs.

Regardless of what meaning you place on building sustainable communities, it is a trend that continues to gain steam. Around the world (and chances are, in your hometown), folks are considering innovative ways of investing in sustainable developments that will require fewer resources, protect the environment and support strong economic growth.

So what principles guide building sustainable communities? Again, it depends who you ask. But for the rest of this column, we’ll look at a few aspects of building sustainable communities.

According to the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, created by President Barack Obama in 2010, six livability principles should guide our development of sustainable communities:

Provide more transportation choices. Develop safe, reliable, and affordable transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce energy consumption and dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.

Promote equitable, affordable housing. Expand location and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

Enhance economic competitiveness. Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers, as well as expanded business access to markets.

Support existing communities. Target federal funding toward existing communities—through strategies like transit-oriented, mixed-use development, and land recycling—to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public works investments and safeguard rural landscapes.

Coordinate and leverage investment. Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.

Value communities and neighborhoods. Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods—rural, urban, or suburban.

World Bank’s Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice (GPURL) includes four key elements for building sustainable communities.

First, sustainable communities are environmentally sustainable in terms of cleanliness and efficiency. Second, they are resilient to social, economic, and natural shocks. They are well prepared for natural disasters, which are increasing in intensity and frequency due to climate change. Third, sustainable communities are inclusive communities. They bring all dimensions of society and all groups of people — including the marginalized and vulnerable — into their markets, their services, and their development. Finally, they are competitive communities that can stay productive and generate jobs for members of the community.

Based on these two important descriptors from the World Bank and Partnership for Sustainable Communities, we can really see what is important: bringing people together in community to work toward common environmental, social and economic goals. Hopefully you’ll notice that you can (and should) participate regardless of where you land on the political spectrum as well. This isn’t a “tree hugger” issue. It affects everyone. And it is worth noting that all of these ideas about sustainable communities address not only the environment and social concerns, but business and economic issues as well. Protecting the environment and addressing social issues does no good if no one has a job.

I would argue that building sustainable communities applies to the commercial interiors industry as well. The industry has seen its share of upheaval in the last few years and we need to come together to address problems related to the dealer network, lingering supply chain woes, shifting customer needs and opportunities, an aging executive workforce and the need to attract young talent to the industry, diversity and eliminating harmful chemicals from our products.

Consider this a call to action. It’s time we build a sustainable commercial interiors community as well. Perhaps we need an industry summit to discuss these issues and think about how we can work together. Maybe. But let’s start even smaller than that. I’m going to work on building sustainable communities in my neighborhood and hometown. How about you?

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