Sustainable development

It has been estimated that if the rest of the world were to consume like the developed world, we would need the equivalent of four extra Earths.
Sustainable Consumption (SC) is about finding workable solutions to imbalances – social and environmental – through more responsible behaviour by everyone. In particular, SC is linked to the production, distribution, use and disposal of products and services and provides the means to rethink their lifecycle. The aim is to ensure that the basic needs of the entire global community are met, excess is reduced and environmental damage avoided.

SC is part of sustainable development, whose most widely accepted definition today is “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The total area of our planet covers around 51 billion hectares, of which less than 15 billion hectares are global landmasses. To simplify the complex classifications of data available on the different types of ‘Earth’ use, we find that the biologically productive land per capita world-wide is 0.25 hectares for arable land, 0.6 hectares for pasture, 0.6 hectares for forest and 0.03 hectares for built-up land, totalling 1.5 hectares per global citizen and 2 hectares if we also include sea coasts.
Not all that space is available for human use, as room has also to be given to the 30 million fellow species with which humanity shares this planet.

Considering that world consumption has expanded at an unprecedented pace over the 20th century, with private and public consumption expenditure reaching $24 trillion in 1998, it is easy to conclude that the average footprint is more than 35 percent larger than the space available, humanity’s consumption is exceeding what nature can regenerate.

The building and construction sector is one of the largest resource consumers and waste producers in the economy It is therefore imperative that sustainable building & construction becomes a major focus in the global sustainable development debate.

Buildings largely contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in their construction phase but it is the energy consumed for their use and maintenance that has the biggest impact on the environment. The design of buildings and planning of cities thus have a major role to play in the mitigation of climate change. Conversely, urban design must adapt to the impact of climate change, such as extreme changes in weather. A balanced interaction between buildings and environment through, for example, the appropriate use of natural light and ventilation, would considerable reduce energy consumption.

Sustainable building refers to those buildings that impact least on the built and natural environment both in terms of the building itself, its immediate surrounds and the broader regional and global setting. It also involves the evaluation of the entire life cycle of buildings, taking environmental criteria, functional utility and future values into account.
To construct in a sustainable way, some basic rules should be followed:
(a) minimisation of non-renewable resource consumption;
(b) enhancement of the natural environment;
(c) elimination or minimisation of toxic emissions

According to the recent United Nations report “Population, Environment and Development”, today’s inhabitants of urban areas are the 47% of the total world population, by 2030 that figure will rise to 60%. Practically all population growth expected between the 2000 and 2030 will take place in cities.

Today more than ever, building and managing urban areas means being able benefit from aggregation while reducing its negative impacts at local and international level. In a sustainable and ecologically healthy city, called an ecocity or green city, the efficient use of energy resources, the prevention of pollution, the reduction of waste, through re-use and recycling, are essential. For example, thanks to a careful rethinking of sustainable waste flows, the production of solid waste can be reused, recycled or composted by a minimum 60%.

Until the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the adoption of Agenda 21, local authorities had little input into the international environmental policy process. Things have changed since then and the mayors of many cities, of all sizes and on all continents, are participating more and more in global decisions. This is another sign of the important role played by cities in the local/global debate and their potential to shift (or stall) development policies towards sustainability.

Market prices only partially provide accurate information about the ecological and social impacts of products and services. This makes it difficult to generate purchasing decisions consistent with a conservation economy. Through more responsible purchasing choices, consumers, citizens, enterprises and public bodies can guide the market towards products and services with a reduced impact on the environment (and, subsequently, on the economy and society).

The public sector has a determining role in setting the trend towards sustainable development for at least two reasons. First the value and legitimacy of accountable public bodies are, in the eyes of citizens, strengthened by examples of ‘good practices’ through which the public body carries out its activities. Second, public procurement generally provides suppliers with a solid economic basis that can help reduce business risks linked to innovation.

Ecoprocurement means environmentally and economically responsible purchasing (green purchasing). It aims at helping governments/organisations to achieve their environmental policy goals while meeting their set budget. The prefix ‘eco’ combines the principles of both economy and ecology.

Ecoprocurement requires a company or organization to carry out an assessment of the environmental and social consequences of a product at all the various stages of its life cycle. This means considering the costs of securing raw materials, and the subsequent manufacturing, transporting, storing, handling, using and disposing of the product.

Ceramic tiles have a lower impact on the environment today than other finishing materials. Over the past thirty years, the Italian ceramic industry has worked extensively to develop innovative technology, plant and production techniques, significantly contributing to this result. The Italian ceramic industry leads the world not only in production excellence but also in maintaining the ecological balance.

Initially this commitment focused on policies aimed at ‘limiting the damage’ (end-of-pipe) to the environment, however in the last ten years the focus has shifted to adopting an integrated and wider approach towards sustainability. It is within this framework that we find the most ‘progressive’ producers joining various environmental certification schemes like the ISO 14001 and EMAS, and the setting up by Assopiastrelle of an innovative environmental certification process for the district.

Currently the final consumer is not aware of these important certification measures to protect the environment and so their impact on the customer’s decision to buy greener tiles is limited. How can these certificates become emblems of sound eco-friendly tile purchases?

The establishment of the Community eco-label for ‘hard floor coverings’ is the answer to this need: it encapsulates in a single, easily recognisable symbol, a set of technical standards that certify a tile’s environmental impact along its entire life cycle (LCA).