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Unsustainable sustainability – EP.2

By Tomas Ghisellini

The building industry and the construction industry have shown a perfect aptitude for absorbing and metabolizing presuppositions, contents and conceptual intentions, reworking them in a communicative and content language functional to the widest possible dissemination; have in some ways proceeded to a gradual and systematic simplifying deconstruction of the conceptual and ethical heritage of the beginnings, synthesizing it in a more or less articulated series of slogans, recurring phrases and proclamations aimed at transforming the inherent issues into monetary terms, so to speak “exchangeable” the protection of environmental contexts and, more generally, the responsible consumption of natural resources.
In activating this process, a significant responsibility seems to be ascribable to the chronic weakness of the public actor, unable, after the great season of post-war reconstructions, to manage a concrete impact in the logic of intervention on the territory and, in this, of critical consideration and proposing the role of architecture. Financial institutions and builders’ holding companies have been managing for decades, in a regime of substantial and unchallenged duopoly, the transformations of our cities, the face of residual landscapes, selecting the terms of shared value communication on environmental sustainability as a simple addition of housing volumes “a low consumption “or high” energy classification “.
In pursuit of primarily commercial and economic logic, the issues of environmental effectiveness through the construction of responsible architectural organisms have increasingly conquered a position of absolute dominance in the panorama of information and not only specialized publications.
More easily identifiable in the context of the tools for real intervention on environmental contexts and more directly correlated to the reflections on the effective “conscientiousness” of building and construction processes, the timely compliance with criteria and requests for sustainability has been identifying more and more closely with the complex of technical and performance values ​​of buildings, with the propensity of buildings to save energy, with the greater or lesser ability of the designer to select incorruptible building materials for which to exile as far as possible the terrifying spectrum of maintenance.
Thus it happened that in the confusional euphoria of the neophyte, in the vaguely compulsive anxiety of colonization in the name of environmental protection, we fell into a dangerous misunderstanding, practicing the insidious and yielding terrain of speculation: sustainability, from a shared and unavoidable vital necessity, it has evolved into advertising content, a communicative construct, a strategic marketing tool, a precious pick for accessing tax benefits or premium loans.
Sustainable construction, soon renamed in dozens of more or less fascinating terminological variants, has become an instrument of commercial persuasion, an irreplaceable expedient for increasing sales. The term “sustainability”, associated with the most varied research sectors or product sectors, has undergone such an overexposure to the media that it touches upon an irreparable degradation, so that today it is difficult even to assign it a meaning or any meaning compared to another.

From vital necessity, sustainability has evolved into an empty advertising content, a strategic marketing tool