Can Sustainability be Sustained, with the best of intentions?
The Embassy Gardens Bridge Pool, located in London, has been hailed as a marvel of engineering and design since its opening in 2019. The pool, which spans 82 feet between two luxury apartment blocks, is suspended 115 feet above the ground, providing residents with an unparalleled view of the city. The pool is also marketed as a symbol of sustainability and green living, with plants and trees lining its edges and an environmentally friendly water filtration system.
There has been a series of accusations regarding the amount of hypocrisy in the pool's green image, however. The luxury apartment blocks that the pool connects are part of a larger development project that has been criticized for displacing low-income residents and erasing the area's history. The Embassy Gardens development, which was constructed on the site of a former working-class neighborhood, has been dubbed "Dubai-on-Thames" for its opulence and disconnection from the rest of the city.
Furthermore, the pool's sustainability claims have been regarded as dubious at best. The pool uses a unique water filtration system that supposedly removes impurities and reduces the need for chemicals. But, the pool's sheer size and depth make it incredibly energy-intensive to maintain. According to the developers, the pool's water is heated to 85 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, a feat that requires a significant amount of energy. In addition, the pool's edges are lined with plants and trees that require constant maintenance and watering.
The pool's green image also obscures the fact that it is a luxury amenity that is only accessible to a select few. The apartments in the Embassy Gardens development start at over a million pounds, putting them out of reach for most Londoners. The pool's location also means that it is not accessible to the public.
The Embassy Gardens Bridge Pool is a perfect example of greenwashing, the practice of presenting a product or service as environmentally friendly or sustainable when it is questionably not. The pool's sustainability claims are designed to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and distract from the larger issues of displacement and inequality that the development represents. The pool is also a symbol of the growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of society, with access to luxury amenities like the Bridge Pool becoming increasingly exclusive.
Sustainability is not only an imperative or a socially responsible action, it is a symbol. Actions have meaning and so too do the activities of organisations. Sometimes, unfortunately, stakeholders play a large role in determining how socially responsible an organisation is. These types of assessments mean that businesses fall victim to a courtroom of opinions. In London, which is a cosmopolitan city with different people from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds, it is challenging to appeal to a large range of stakeholders. Instead, it is advisable that sustainability initiatives clearly communicate what it is they are trying to do to relevant audiences. This way, the jury is clear and the perception of the action is more closely aligned to the intention of the actor. A sustainability strategy is, therefore, a combination of communication, expectation management, and positioning. Action alone, although well-intentioned, may do more 'perceived' harm than good.