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Insights What do the three pillars of sustainability mean for the built environment?​

When facing a challenge as mighty as sustainability, it's logical to break the topic into more manageable subtopics - like economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility. However, they do not exist in silos and should not be treated as such. Together, the intertwined pillars provide a holistic framework for addressing complex sustainability matters by applying a solutions-oriented approach. When all are considered and balanced, we can achieve true sustainability.

As a leader in the design and delivery of the built environment, at AtkinsRéalis , we have a tremendous opportunity to have a positive impact on society. To do so, we need to work in partnership with our clients and assemble teams who are passionate about embedding sustainability into the core of every built environment discussion.

If you’re interested in the journey that we’re on, read on to hear how we believe the three pillars of sustainability have the power to build a greener built environment.

Economic sustainability

The natural environment is our planet's greatest asset. It provides us with the air, water, sun and food that we need to survive. As with any asset, there's an economic gain when you tap into it. However, as the natural environment shrinks and makes space for the built environment, we're depleting the earth's natural resources. This is not sustainable, and it's forced investors and companies to rethink their economic objectives

Economic sustainability focuses on:

  • Balancing profits with ethics
  • A circular economy
  • Job creation and stability

Before the design phase of a construction project, there's the question of investment. Being a profitable and resilient industry, the built environment hasn't faced the investment challenges that other industries have. However, investors are increasingly looking towards ethical investing, also known as ESG investing, and green bonds. There's mounting pressure for companies within the built environment to show that they're operating responsibly.

Meanwhile, circular built environments tackle the challenges of space sharing, refurbishing old buildings, and reusing and recycling construction materials. This practice protects biodiversity by slowing the urban sprawl and creating more compact environments.

Environmental sustainability

According to the United Nations, two-thirds of the population will reside in cities by 2050. As the global population continues to grow and the urban sprawl ramps up, there's greater pressure for sustainable development. Sustainability can't be an afterthought. Regardless of the project, whether it's upgrading a section of a highway, building a new terminal at an airport or constructing commercial buildings, green practices must be embedded in the design.

Environmental sustainability focuses on:

  • Responsible use of natural resources
  • Better management of waste
  • Minimising carbon footprint

When combined with the other pillars, the built environment can reduce environmental stressors. However, the journey towards a Net Zero future isn't exclusive to the built environment because to protect the planet, we need all industries to work together. 

Social sustainability

We know that cities consume 75% of the world's natural resources. The built environment, therefore, has the chance to greatly reduce its impact on the world and can do so in a way that benefits society.

Social sustainability focuses on:

  • Environmental justice
  • Employee wellbeing
  • Education

When addressing complex issues like environmental justice, companies need to be meaningful in their actions, taking a measurable and impactful approach. By helping to build communities that have adequate transportation, safe housing, and are safe from air and water pollution, we can ensure the fair treatment of all people.

A recent Globescan study found that six in ten people under the age of 30 believe that the priority post-pandemic should be "restructuring our economy so it deals better with challenges like inequality and climate change". Taking a strong stance on these matters is key if companies want to attract the top future talent. Also on their agenda must be ensuring they invest in their employees and give them the power to make a difference.

Build your sustainability career with AtkinsRéalis

At AtkinsRéalis , and our Atkins and Faithful+Gould businesses, we understand that when looking for your next job, you're not just searching for a place to work. You're looking for a company that delivers what's right for people and the environment. Not only that, but you deserve to be a part of an organisation that invests in you and gives you the tools and training you need to build a career for a sustainable future.

Explore our latest cities and development jobs, transportation jobs, or view all our markets to see if there's a job for you with AtkinsRéalis .