Sustainability, what is it?

Douglas Bartlett, Manager Asset Planning, City of Kalamunda, and a member of the Perth City Chapter is our blog poster for the next four posts. Here he looks at how we might define sustainability. Do you agree? Doug welcomes your responses

In considering what ‘sustainable asset management’ means we first need to recognise that ‘sustainable’ is poorly understood. It implies a quasi-positive future benefit but is usually not defined. How else can we express ourselves if not using the word sustainable?

Thomas Rau of Turntoo ( is a designer, architect and thinker who is exploring a wider view of the selection and use of materials for buildings (or for any purpose). The idea is that every piece of material should be used, as long as possible, and then used again, not recycled. This includes practices such as:

  • Having the United Nations adopt a Declaration of Materials Rights that prevents throwing anything out,
  • Reusing existing old buildings by giving them new functions and extensions,
  • Deliberately taking the building materials and parts (bricks, windows) and reusing them, but also ensuring their original design is to be reused without generating waste, and
  • Asking for light, not lights. This means it becomes the supplier’s responsibility to supply the specified level of lighting for say 15 years. The supplier wears the costs of any failures so is pushed to manufacture lights that last the longest and require the least maintenance.

We could define a sustainable asset as being an asset that lasts forever and provides its service forever, with no net expenditure of energy (resources). But nothing lasts forever, so a sustainability statement is needed that defines sustainability in terms of time and resources, while continuing to provide the specified service (Lighting is sustainable if provided at the specified level, for 15 years, at agreed cost, where cost represents the energy consumption and any waste at end of life). Perhaps our asset management plans should include a definition of sustainability in terms of the assets in this manner.


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