Conceptual understanding of sustainability in the Australian property sector

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Journal Article
Property Management, 2013, 31 (3), pp. 260 - 272
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Purpose: The built environment is responsible for around half of total greenhouse gas emissions and the majority of emissions are produced during building lifecycles. As such the property sector has considerable potential to reduce lifecycle emissions and can contribute in mitigating global warming. However our existing conceptual understanding of sustainability is variable to the point of being disjointed and ambiguous and this could imply our efforts to realise reductions may not reach their potential. This paper seeks to address these issues. Design/methodology/approach: Adopting a qualitative paradigm, this study used published information on property company websites regarding sustainability in a content analysis to address the questions: What is the conceptual understanding of sustainability within the ten leading Australian property firms? and What is the implication of this level of conceptual understanding with regards to delivering sustainability? Findings: There are distinct differences between the conceptual understanding of sustainability within the firms, indicating a different worldview exists across these firms. It is probable that this information is published without a conscious decision to represent a technocentric or ecocentric worldview, and as such it reflects the lack of breadth and depth of understanding in the current discourse regarding sustainable development in some property firms. Some elements of the sustainability discourse are omitted from their conceptual understanding. Academics have a responsibility and an opportunity to widen the discourse so that current and future generations are able to make informed decisions in respect of the degree of sustainability it is necessary to adopt. Research limitations/implications: The limitation of a content analysis approach is that there is no opportunity to explore the underlying reasons for what is found. Thus the researcher is unable to ascertain whether omissions regarding the discourse of sustainability issues are conscious or sub-conscious. Originality/value: There is now a growing body of work around property and sustainability. Most of this work is focused on ways in which to implement sustainability or how sustainability is being integrated in the built environment. Little work is centred on the fundamentals of sustainability and understanding of the principles and how this impacts on the degree of sustainability practiced by those firms. The underlying hypothesis is that a weak conceptual understanding will only ever deliver weak sustainability at best. Weak sustainability is insufficient to avert the project climate change outcomes forecast by the United Nations. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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