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A reflection from WorldGBC’s webinar on the complex issues of social value in the built environment – by Sara Kawamura, Better Places for People Project Officer, World Green Building Council.

A reflection from WorldGBC’s webinar on the complex issues of social value in the built environment  – by Sara Kawamura, Better Places for People Project Officer, World Green Building Council.

What does social value mean for people and buildings?

Social Value. It is a word that does not often cross our minds, but it is a word that is embedded in our lives. It may be interchangeably interpreted across different geographies, perhaps widely known through the words “equity” that is the freedom from bias or favoritism, or “justice” that is the fairness and respectfulness in the way people are treated. It may be a quantification of the relative importance that we place on the changes we experience in our lives, such as the value of living next to a community park for some fresh air and daily exercise. It can be the value of the ability to provide adequate food and shelter for our families, or working in a comfortable work environment (1).

For the building and construction sector, the creation of social value is fundamental. This means creating direct, positive impacts on people and communities by protecting human rights, dignity, and health and wellbeing, as well as committing to social justice and equity. This includes indigenous rights, gender equality, diversity and inclusion, that would provide long term value to communities and improve local quality of life (2).

Marquise Stillwell, Founder and Principal, Openbox, said:

“Social value is a process not an outcome. It is creating better conditions for communities to come together and we need to accommodate. It’s about understanding the process of justice when it comes to making space for people who may  not have always been involved, to see how we can redesign the process for how you enter into the working site, the hours that are available, how we recognise that these individuals are families – we need to make better conditions for them.”

Making positive social value a reality

Social value can be consciously created during the entire building lifecycle. It starts from understanding the community, workforce, and the surrounding environment that may be affected. It could be as simple as aligning languages and experiences to ensure the common good and the preservation of community values. Positive work environments could be generated in a way that integrates cultures and supports inclusion, providing a sense of ownership and involvement. It can connect them with places to enhance long-term value of the assets, that in turn contribute to the fairness of society and economic prosperity (3).

Annabel Short, Senior Advisor, Built Environment, Institute of Human Rights & Business (IHRB), said:

“Let’s not start only from the perspective of what positive addition we can make, let’s think about managing risks to people who are the most vulnerable, who might be impacted by this project. And then if we base it on effective participation, listen to the needs, both for local communities and end users, there are multiple opportunities that you can unlock to actually have a far more socially, sound and long-term successful project. At the same time, competition on price is a reality within this industry. That makes it difficult to advance some of these approaches and that is one reason why collective action and building out and working with others is one key element of the way forward.”

Everybody has a part to play. Strategies should be incorporated by all relevant stakeholders in the value chain, with emphasis on both employment rights and job quality for supply chain and construction workers, and on the rights and quality of buildings for the occupants and surrounding communities. The health and wellbeing of all people impacted by a building in operation should also be considered, and consciously enhanced where possible, while incorporating environmental, social and economic indicators of health (2). With social justice becoming a universal language, it is crucial for it to be mirrored across the value chain and the building lifecycle.

Jessica Verdon, Senior Social Sustainability Manager, Multiplex, said:

“Lead by example in all that you do, live your values through your personal decisions and the people you employ, the policies and practices you advocate for within your companies to ensure that human dignity and wellbeing are embedded. If we start to insist, if we start to use our voice and equity related issues, we can really use our leverages to influence citizens, managers and people, and ultimately change agents. We need to be focusing on people who are invested in that change.”

View the webinar ‘Social Value across the building lifecycle.

Learn how the WorldGBC is addressing social value through the Health and Wellbeing Framework.


1. Social Value UK. What is Social Value? In. Available from:

2. World GBC. Creating positive social value with buildings and communities. In. (Health & Wellbeing Framework). Available from:

3. Social Value and Design of the Built Environment. In. Available from:…