* File photo. Looking to the future: The traditional Bermudian roof is an important part of our heritage, but carefully installing solar panels can combine the past with the future.
* File photo. Looking to the future: The traditional Bermudian roof is an important part of our heritage, but carefully installing solar panels can combine the past with the future.
Sustainable development is a popular phrase at the moment but in terms of construction what exactly does it mean and how does it affect the way we build in Bermuda?

Recent research commissioned by the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) revealed that most (25 per cent) Bermuda residents associated the words 'sustainable development' with the balancing the need for open spaces with development.

However, the topic extends much more widely than this. As well as the environmental implications of building and construction, ensuring the sustainability of Bermuda is also of importance to the island's economic and social fabric.

Sustainable development is really about being aware of how actions that we carry out today will impact on our society now and in the future. This relates to residents extending their existing property or building a new home or at the other end of the scale, commercial development.

If we want to make sure we are building sustainably, we need to consider the materials we use, where we build, the type of structure we create and its size. It also requires us to think beyond the property we plan to build and consider how it will affect the neighbourhood and community that surrounds it.

Any new building, particularly a commercial project, will put stress on the necessary supporting amenities, ranging from utilities such as water and electricity, to the road infrastructure and recreational facilities. The knock-on effects of development warrant careful consideration before ground is broken. It is also important to be aware of other planned works in the area, which could further compound the implications of your own construction work on the surrounding environment.

Global economy

Sustainable development does not, however, equate to no development. International business and tourism are vital to Bermuda's sustainability at a macro level and we must remain competitive within the global economy.

Embracing the notion of sustainable development is as much about preserving our history and the quality of life we currently enjoy as it is introducing modern, energy efficient measures. For example, the traditional Bermudian roof is an important part of our heritage, so the installation of solar panels, for instance, would need careful thought to avoid sacrificing our past for our future. The keyword here is balance and it is about sustaining what we have, not starting from scratch with a blueprint for a new Bermuda.

The importance of sustainability was superseded by the development boom of the last 10 years, which points to a missed opportunity in terms of buildings that are now reaching completion, which do not encompass some of the key elements of sustainable development that we are now promoting. Then again, the fact that we are engaging in dialogues about sustainable development now is better than ignoring the issue altogether.

There is the potential for retro-fitting existing buildings in order to improve their sustainability and the role of the Sustainable Development Unit is to embed sustainable development into the policy-making process going forward.

The Bermuda Government obviously has a vital role to play in shaping a pathway for the island by enforcing the building code and planning legislation and policy. It is up to the Sustainable Development Unit to ensure that each government department is equipped with the knowledge to make informed choices in a sustainable manner.

The ability to supply affordable housing to the market also rests with the government. This may not immediately be considered a sustainable development-related concern but it certainly is. The lack of affordable housing is at the root of many social problems because when people feel excluded from society, anti-social behaviour manifests itself. Cohesive communities are the cornerstones of sustainability.

The role of each and every resident is also significant; homeowners have the opportunity to take a sustainable approach to any building project by incorporating measures such as energy-efficient appliances or lighting. Being aware of sustainability can work in your favour financially if you make use of rebates and duty waivers on environmentally friendly products.

Sustainable development is not about expensive modifications to building plans. It could be as simple as making native species part of the landscaping or playing an active role in the communities where we live.