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Real sustainability 2: Measuring reuse sustainability

Somerset, UK – Why measure the sustainability of reuse? A salvage business may wish to give a customer the sustainability benefits of reclaimed bricks compared to new bricks. A client may need to persuade an architect why it is sustainable for woodwork from the demolition of a church to be adapted for reuse in the new building on the site. A government department may wish to assess how its reuse policies can be justified to the electorate. (Client and architect, government department and electorate, are interchangeable.)

Firstly a decision is taken on the social, environmental and economic factors to include or exclude from the sustainability report (see the list below). A decision is also taken on the boundaries of the study – these could be, for example, from demolition site to installation in a customer’s house. A list is made of the documents or information required for the study.

Added together these give the scope of what may be called the sustainability report, sustainability assessment, sustainability account, sustainability measurement, sustainability metrics or sustainability appraisal.

The stakeholders for the study must be contacted to give their approval.

This is not the end of the story. Sustainability is an iterative process which needs to be repeated periodically. At each iteration the whole process is reviewed and updated, and better data replaces the earlier data. Each iteration should make the sustainability report more accurate and therefore more credible.

A record should be kept of how and why decisions were made. Finally, the sustainability report should be preserved permanently to assist stakeholders in making future decisions. At the end of this process a high quality and accurate report should be obtained.

The report itself may be confidential, but it is considered better to be open, transparent and freely published – even though this might reduce its competitive advantage.

Sustainability covers the environment, society and economy. With respect to reuse of reclaimed building material probably the most important aspect of sustainability is energy – a subset of environmental sustainability. But if a comparative assessment is to be made – for example whether an Indonesian reproduction doorknob is more sustainable than an antique English doorknob – then aspects of social sustainability as well as environmental sustainability may need to be compared.

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