Years ago, as I sat in class, the professor spoke on the subject of sustainability.
Since that moment it felt like I couldn’t sit through another business course without mention of the term.
Expecting to enter the cut-throat world of high finance, I found this pattern odd. A group often depicted with overly sized money bag bellies were speaking on sustainability. Who would have thought? The reasoning behind this attitude seemed to be explained simply by cost effectiveness.
Having no qualms with this new acceptance of sustainability, the concept floated in the back of my mind. Fast-forward some years and I find myself in Tivaoune-Peulh, a small neighborhood outside of the Senegalese capital city, Dakar.
Now sustainability has become one of my favorite words as well — at first, in its limited definition as durability. If I’m involved in a building project, I want to create homes that will be standing in 50 years or more. If I’m involved in business, I want to put into place systems that can be maintained and will allow my organization to flourish.
It is from this almost surface level approach to sustainability that you eventually dive deeper into what sustainability means for you, your work, your business and your operations.
My experience is only a glimpse into why I believe the developing world is prime ground for those interested in implementing and seeing the results of adopting principles of sustainable business.
Upon arrival, I was working on a project that, on paper, I didn’t imagine being too difficult: turning an abandoned former school building into a food factory to be used for the transformation of some local fruits. The structure was there. What was needed was finish. 21 days and it would be complete.
Two months later I walked into our should-be factory. It wasn’t complete, and work zone waste was strewn about. Not only had we not finished our project, we had created a whole new clean up project in our own backyard.
I decided to now spend my days at the factory surveying the progress and pushing it along as best as I could. I began buying the materials, speaking to the masons and in some cases working alongside the team to move this project forward. Questioning all throughout the day.
‘Why are we resizing every door?’ I asked.
‘The frames were constructed without precise measurements, there’s no one-size-fits-all, so the door-maker adjusts the size after mounting’ was the logical response I received.
‘And the extra wood left over’ I wondered.
‘Do you need it?’ one of the masons replied.
It would either be added to our pile of trash to be burned or, if sizable, given to a handyman for a future project.
‘I imagine we’ll have the same issue with the windows?’
Although seemingly minor, let’s take a step back. In my factory the bottom floor had 12 doors and 10 windows. Each of these were bought, mounted, then readjusted. The leftover wood from these 12 doors was the size of an additional door, and the cement broken to accommodate the windows could easily come to 20 blocks or more.
As the large majority of homes are built with this type of waste, we can only imagine the end result. Similar waste can be seen across the various processes of constructing a home.
The solution is in the planning. What’s lacking isn’t a sustainable mindset. In fact, often times we see the re-use of these ‘extra-materials.’ In the example of doors given, we see a mason reusing the leftovers on a new worksite. For tiling, we very often see the broken tiles repurposed for use within the home.
Areas like Tivaoune-Peulh are prime for adopting principles of sustainability. Because of rapid urbanization and a lack of monitoring, many homes are self-built and done so somewhat haphazardly. This unorganized practice results in inefficiency and waste. These gaps can be filled by inserting a system of sustainable practices.
This solution has many faces, even just within the process of building a home. It can mean taking precise measurements to avoid the waste of wood and cement. It can mean looking to use solar energy to power homes rather than waiting the weeks it may take to hear from the local electric companies. It can mean finding solutions to the issue of water scarcity, rather than counting on often unreliable water companies.
These are small solutions that can and should be implemented, and when done will bring immediate impact.
In more rural areas these systems can be implemented from the ground level. From the start these practices can be adopted and populations can develop with sustainability as the norm.
As blueprints for sustainable construction already exist and have been in place in countries like Singapore for over a decade, we have a very unique opportunity. For those interested in sustainable development, I’ve found that there is no better meeting point than these rural developing areas prime for input, ideas and resources. These are places where a desire for sustainability can result in direct benefit to the community.
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