WorldGBC calls for action on social impact of the built environment

WorldGBC launches innovative new framework, which outlines scopes for building and construction sector to prioritise social impact.

Health & Livability

Today (4 December 2023) the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) launched an influential and timely new publication, which provides a framework for how the building and construction sector can address social impact across the entire building life cycle. The position paper, ‘Social Impact across the Built Environment’, is supported by the UN Climate Change High Level Champions (HLCCs) and sends out a global call for the sector to define, measure and take action on social impact to support an equitable and decarbonized built environment.

Through this innovative position paper, WorldGBC is making a provocative statement to the industry – presenting a framework based on the terminology of ‘scopes’, which mirrors the well known language of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. In the same way that global markets recognize and measure scope ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’ carbon emissions, WorldGBC’s global network is calling for the building and construction sector to adopt an aligned framing of social impact, which is also based on three scopes (plus a new scope 0).

By arranging these considerations for the first time into ‘scopes’, the sector can define the diversity of social impact across the built environment as part of their first steps in this journey. Additionally, the framework takes this further: it tackles the lack of alignment of social considerations by creating a centralized scope of action across the entire building and construction industry, then lays out the action steps for stakeholders to take forward. The industry can therefore use this as both a guide and an action plan to truly address social impact.

Furthermore, the paper aims to invigorate the industry’s engagement with both the social and environmental elements of sustainability in the built environment; to revolutionize decisions being made at the investment, design, construction, operational and end-of-life phases. It also has the potential to dramatically restructure environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting, bringing structure and alignment between the ‘E’ and ‘S’ in this critical sector.

The publication will be showcased on 6 December 2023, during a flagship event at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai, UAE, called ‘Buildings and Cities: Pivotal solutions for shaping our future’.

To ensure a just and equitable transition to a decarbonized and resilient future, it is critical that we protect and enhance the lives of people at all stages of the building and construction life cycle. We need to ensure that no one is left behind.

WorldGBC’s innovative publication provides a unique framework for the key stakeholders across the value chain to consider how the built environment impacts people, place and planet. It reminds us that we must ensure social impact becomes a requirement, not a consideration, across the global building and construction sector.

– H.E. Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High Level Champion from the COP28 Presidency

The paper further ties into the Building’s Breakthrough, which calls for ‘near-zero emission and resilient buildings as the new normal by 2030’. This is an official call to all countries to address the built environment and accelerate the transition to sustainable buildings for everyone, everywhere. Tackling the environmental and social elements of the clean energy transition is also a key priority of the Buildings Breakthrough, for which WorldGBC’s new paper provides innovative support.

A framework for industry to implement now

The built environment is responsible for 37% of global carbon emissions, representing a huge sectoral contribution to climate change. While often considered an environmental challenge, the climate crisis we face is also a social one. It affects every aspect of our lives, from the homes we occupy to our food and water supply. Those individuals and communities who are living in circumstances of poor shelter, areas susceptible to natural disasters caused by climate change, as well as those living on low income, will be the most affected. With studies indicating that the impacts of climate change, which are attributed to human causes, are already affecting the majority of people – a staggering 85% of the world’s population – this is an inherently social issue for everyone.

This means that the built environment has the potential to shape people’s lives – and vice versa. The framework in this paper sets out a clear definition and lists considerations of the key social issues related to the building and construction life cycle, organized for the first time into ‘scopes’. This is to support the industry in developing both understanding and engagement.

The four scopes, which mirror the language of the greenhouse gas (GHG) protocol, are:

  • Scope 0: Entity and internal practices (which would include factors such as corporate governance and diversity and inclusion).
  • Scope 1: Building users and site (which encompasses issues on an individual asset scale, including indoor environmental quality, affordability or adaptability).
  • Scope 2: Community and surroundings (considering the broader neighbourhood, community or city scale, including factors such as social value or climate resilience).
  • Scope 3: Supply and value chain (expanding the scale of consideration across the full life cycle, to consider indirect issues such as worker rights and modern slavery in the construction and material supply chain).

An action plan for the sector

The sector has a responsibility to reduce negative social impacts at all stages of the building and construction life cycle, to increase engagement, reporting and action around the ‘social’ criteria to unite and align efforts on the environmental elements of ESG. In other words – to action the ‘S’ in ESG.

Defining the scope of social impact is the first step for industry to recognize the action needed, which will support the creation of a built environment that secures a just and sustainable future, prioritizing people, as well as the planet. That’s why, as well as outlining the framework for scope, the paper sets out a clear action plan called ‘the five ‘A’s’, which industry can implement now to drive real and lasting change to address social impact at every stage. They are summarized as follows:

  • Awareness: To understand all social impact issues relevant to organizations across the built environment value chain.
  • Assessment: Undertake a systematic assessment and audit of current practices, policies and outcomes.
  • Accountability: Take responsibility and ownership of decisions, actions and consequences that impact people and communities throughout the value chain.
  • Action: Implement social impact strategies into organizational or project work to achieve specific goals, objectives and outcomes.
  • Advocacy: Change mindsets and influence decisions through real-life impact on communities.

People are not just a part of the solution – they are the key to it.

Social value is about the impact the built environment has upon all of its inhabitants, as individuals and communities. It can be overlooked in many ways, yet it is fundamental to creating high quality buildings and surroundings which can affect all aspects of people’s lives. The built environment has a critical role to play in the transition to zero carbon and sustainable development, as both a contributor of 37% of global carbon emissions and an employer of 7% of the entire global workforce. It is time for the sector to action the ‘S’ in ESG by putting people first. I am proud to launch this industry position paper, which outlines the scope and framework the built environment sector can use to do just that.

Thank you to our Green Building Councils, partners and wider network for showcasing their leadership in this paper, which will be spotlighted at COP28. It is a powerful resource to advocate for a built environment that is totally decarbonised, supports the planet on a course to meeting the 1.5°C target and creates an equitable and resilient future for everyone, everywhere.

– Cristina Gamboa, CEO, WorldGBC

This paper has been developed by WorldGBC’s global programme Better Places for People (BPFP) in collaboration with a network of 15 Green Building Councils around the world, as well as our partners Buro Happold, Expo City Dubai, GHD, Multiplex and Shaw Contract, and a network of 22 industry and knowledge partners.

Read the full paper here and follow the campaign at #BetterPlacesForPeople.

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