June 14, 2021

Ramboll launches report on social sustainability in the built environment

In a new report commissioned by the Laudes Foundation, Ramboll uncovers how the pressing decarbonisation of the built environment can be both fair and inclusive.

By Martin Christiansen
As the corona pandemic weakens, Europe begins rebuilding its economies. This happens in a situation of a looming climate crisis and a growing awareness that the social contract of society itself needs to be revisited.
More specifically, the buildings sector, policy makers, financial stakeholders, and the civil society align to build back better and decarbonise the built environment. To fertilise this development in a study for the Laudes Foundation, Ramboll now investigates social sustainability aspects to see if the transition is not only green but also just and inclusive.
In the report made available today, Ramboll’s cross-sector experts perform an initial field scoping of social equity in decarbonising the built environment. For instance, decarbonisation may increase costs of housing, meaning that low income residents have less access to buy and keep their own property – particularly in attractive cities. Also, actors need to ensure that the workforce grows and develops in a way that supports a just and inclusive transition.
Working alongside each other, not together
The new report fills a void, says Christine Lunde Rasmussen, social equity expert at Ramboll Management Consulting. She explains that social equity in this context is about making sure that the decarbonisation of the built environment is just and that it benefits the many, not only the few:
- Social equity is not a new thing in the sector, but we clearly need to ensure a stronger awareness and actions towards the challenges at stake and to strengthen accountability of financial stakeholders and others. We see that actors are working alongside each other, but they lack a common understanding of the issues and lack awareness of knowledge and practices that work. We hope our work can help narrow these gaps.
Concerns of social sustainability in cities, for instance, have been examined before. Zooming in specifically on the decarbonisation agenda makes sense as this process is vital to deliver on the EUs 2030 and 2050 climate and energy objectives, given that buildings are responsible for 40% of total energy consumption and 36% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.
An opportunity-space
Efforts on advancing the climate transition indicate that doing so may have a negative impact on social equity, if social equity is not addressed as an integrated dimension of the decarbonisation of the built environment. But there is an opportunity-space as well, says Christine Lunde Rasmussen:
- On the positive side, we have found that the decarbonisation process may actually entail an opportunity to advance social equity in the built environment in Europe, if issues of social equity are identified and addressed alongside decarbonisation. The aim should be to create socially equitable European societies where all citizens, on equal footing influence, shape, and have access to a decarbonised built environment.
Future focus on social impact
Andreas Qvist Secher, a sustainable buildings specialist from Ramboll, backs this view and points to the fact that the increased need and demand for decarbonation in the built environment challenge the way the sector builds.
- This report clearly demonstrates the challenge to not solely look at decarbonation but also consider the potential diverted effects such as the social impact in communities and ensuring social accountability in the supply chains just as you look at the environmental impact in the building life cycle, says Qvist Secher.
With the report in mind, the Ramboll expert suggests one concrete action going forward:
- I believe we must include social impacts in life cycle assessments for each building and enhance focus on social equality when planning the future decarbonised built environment.