Sustainability: A Social, Cultural & Technological Challenge

University College of Estate Management (UCEM)
David Harris, Operations Director, VINCI Facilities, is studying MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environment at University College of Estate Management

Sustainability has grown in recent years from an admirable corporate ambition to a strategic imperative for modern organisations. 

Today, it’s in danger of becoming a marketing buzzword, as more and more businesses adopt green terminology in their messaging without taking real, meaningful action.

Looking beyond the E in ESG

Sustainability is more than solar panels, green marketing claims and carbon offsetting initiatives. While many typically associate this field with the environment, the definition of sustainability extends to society, governance, and the economy. And with the vast majority of sustainability initiatives failing – as highlighted in a survey of over 300 businesses by Bain & Company found that a shocking 98% of sustainability initiatives fail to meet their objectives – it’s clear that making a success of sustainability and reaping the benefits requires more than setting lofty goals and adopting shiny new technologies.

David Harris is Operations Director at VINCI Facilities

David Harris is Operations Director at VINCI Facilities – a facilities management and building solutions provider. Personal and professional development has been a major part of his career, and having last completed a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in 2015, David felt like it was time to study again.

“It’s been a little while since I studied,” he says. “I wanted to keep this going and continue both my professional and my personal development.”

Sustainability is a key part of his role at VINCI, which made it a logical choice for the subject area of the course. Through researching sustainability, David identified a Master’s degree with University College of Estate Management (UCEM) as being aligned with what he wanted to study.

“Sustainability is the biggest challenge our industry, our generation and probably the world has ever faced. Our sector has been heavily focused on this, particularly the reduction of carbon emissions,” he continues.

“The MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environments seemed particularly relevant to what I wanted to study. The title alone was a good fit for what I was looking for.”

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David is only in his second semester on the MSc but has already found that the course has had an impact on his mindset.

“What became apparent to me is that changes are needed in the way we buy, use and construct things, and the fact that people are at the heart of this,” he says.

“Of course, the technological approach is crucial, but unless you actually get buy-in from people to adopt new methods of operation and actually use that technology, change is never going to happen.

“It’s been very eye opening for me. It’s really changed my mindset and made me think about the bigger picture of sustainability – the fact that it requires a social and cultural change as much as a technological one.

“The MSc has given me a better insight from different viewpoints, because part of the course has led to me researching different studies in my own time and, as a result, developing a more holistic understanding.

“I’ve been able to challenge people’s preconceived ideas about sustainability.”

From the classroom to the boardroom

David has already applied his learnings to his day-to-day work to influence the teams, individuals and clients around him.

“My studies have made me better informed to have conversations in this area and really challenge people’s preconceived ideas about sustainability and climate change,” he shares.

“I attended a discussion with a government agency where we discussed how fit for purpose their estate is for the future and how they can meet government legislation and targets for reducing their carbon footprint. We also talked about building climate resilience in the future – the impact that climate change will have on weather and how resilient their estate will be when there’s more floods, storms, droughts, etc.

“I want to continue challenging people’s perceptions and being a catalyst for change.

“I came into this from an engineering background, so I already had some exposure to sustainability, how we need to reduce our carbon footprint and so on. Now, I understand the size of the problem, the scope and the complexity… the fact that there’s multiple levels to the change we need to make – not just one silo.

Credit: VINCI Facilities

“I’m looking forward to taking more of my learnings into my role at VINCI, and being able to have more of an impact – to challenge people’s perceptions and ideas and be a catalyst for change. I’ve already noticed a difference, and I’m certain that will continue.”

UCEM have launched the MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environments and Level 7 Sustainability Business Specialist Apprenticeship in response to the sustainability challenges facing the built environment. 

Both of these provisions are designed to upskill students with the competences and literacy they need to become future leaders. 

By developing their critical thinking skills and sustainability knowledge, students can gain the confidence they need to challenge preconceptions, create compelling business cases and place decisions in an environmental context.


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