March 11, 2005

Internet Resources

By Korky Koroluk

An evolutionary concept

The idea of progress has been considered and debated throughout history, but especially since the beginning of the industrial revolution in England some 250 years ago. And the business community has long played a key role in the debate.

But the perceived need to focus on economic matters has long overridden the larger idea of progress. Indeed, for many, economic growth has become synonymous with progress.

Now, though, faced with large-scale environmental and social problems, with global climate change and widespread child poverty, we are re-thinking the idea of progress, and it is already leading to some remarkable work.

You will recall that I have written about Storm Cunningham’s concept of the “restoration economy,” and the environmental and social benefits that can accrue from thoughtful restoration of brownfield sites. Now let me introduce you to the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.

The foundation is the brainchild of Holcim Ltd., the huge international supplier of cement, aggregates, concrete and construction-related services. Holcim is based in Switzerland (as is the foundation), but it has a presence in just about every corner of the world. It has several operations in Canada, including St. Lawrence Cement.

The foundation has established a program of awards for sustainable construction with $2 million (U.S.) in prize money. The first round of awards, this year, will go to winners in five world regions, one of which is North America. The second round, next year, will name a global winner.

Why is Holcim doing this? Because, as spelled out on the foundation’s Web site, sustainable construction is “an evolutionary concept,” that needs an international platform for professionals and specialists, young and old, to promote interdisciplinary dialogue. The idea is to promote new ideas and concepts, and take a close look at potential solutions.

“Lessons learned in one context have applicability elsewhere, but may require adaptation and certainly need explanation and illustration,” the foundation says on its Web site.

That’s why the foundation aims to act as an enabler, so that new, exciting and important ideas “can be more widely discussed and assessed ....”

The foundation is committed to what it calls the concept of the “triple bottom line,” which asserts that “sustainable long-term progress requires the balanced achievement of economic development, environmental performance and social responsibility.”

This implies, the foundation says, that “the benefits to society in terms of environmental quality, social progress and well-being outweigh the costs and efforts made to achieve them.”

You don’t have to cast your mind very far back in time to realize what a profound change this is in the way the world has thought for so long. It’s such a basic idea that it’s downright radical, and, I think, extremely important.

The foundation isn’t alone in the awards program. Its partners in the effort are the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tongji University in China, the University of Sào Paulo in Brazil, and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

You can find out a lot more about the foundation and its thinking by visiting its awards Web site. That’s also where you will find everything you need to know about the awards competition should you be interested in entering.

You don’t have to be a big, powerhouse company to get into the act. Your project could be a large new building in the heart of New York City, or a community arena in Manyberries, Alberta.

But time is short for entering the regional phase of the program. If you’re interested in putting one of your projects forth, you only have until the end of the month.

The foundation’s Web site is at www.holcimawards.org

You’re always welcome to comment on anything you see in this column, or suggest topics for discussion. You can reach me at korkykoroluk@rogers.com.

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