The period of discussion that occurs before any formal agreements are signed, and so before the start of the Outline Plan of Work, is the opportunity to ensure that everyone who is going to be involved understands the nature of a sustainable approach, together with the benefits, responsibilities and issues. Here, in an extract from the Green Guide to the Architect’s Job Book, Sandy Haliday explores some of the issues.


The first step in the process of achieving a sustainable project is to secure the necessary commitment on the part of the client and/or those with the requisite authority within the client group. This may take the form of a Sustainable Development/ Environmental Policy or Statement by the client, or the adoption of a formal environmental management system or environmental assessment method(s) as a way of benchmarking proposals. Alternatively, or in addition, this may be expressed through the development of an appropriate brief with clear targets. Achieving the commitment may require the client group to undergo some form of induction on sustainability issues. Responsibilities for ensuring the agreed targets should be clearly assigned.

Degrees of Green

The manner in which the sustainability agenda is introduced, and any priority issues are likely to depend on knowledge of the client, the prospective users, the method of procurement and other pertinent issues.

The degree of client commitment will have a bearing on the extent to which they are likely to accept more innovative design solutions. Too little consideration of sustainability could have a negative impact on the project outcome because the opportunities and benefits offered by a sustainable approach are likely to become increasingly apparent. Hence it is essential to have knowledgeable inputs at the outset in order confirm the aims at the briefing stage. Sustainable solutions should be neither more expensive nor more complicated than less benign alternatives but should focus in the first instance on basic quality in design and construction. However, good quality design and construction cannot under any circumstance compete financially with poor quality.

Benefits to Clients

If possible involve the client in a thorough discussion of the issues and the legal and other responsibilities that might inform their approach. It may be an appropriate time to discuss the client’s operational as well as building needs, and to introduce them to issues of which they may be unaware. It is a good idea to draw attention to direct opportunities and benefits such as cost-in-use, user satisfaction, community enhancement, improved health and productivity and reduced liability. It will help clients (and design team members) to visit a range of projects with similar and relevant objectives, including examples of best practice, and to meet with those involved.


Cost remains the primary aspect of discussion on sustainable building. Most people involved with construction activities hold the view that sustainable design costs more or is less profitable. It appears self-evident. If it were cheaper or more profitable then in market-driven economies everyone would be doing it.

However, in truth very little is really known about costs, and few people who support the idea that sustainable design costs more or is less profitable have any idea how much more, or how much less profitable. The best available data indicate no discernible statistical relationship between capital costs of similar types of buildings and their environmental impact. We do know that many beneficial features have little or no additional capital cost but deliver cost benefits in use. German and American research indicates that increasing design time to integrate sustainability at the outset tends to save on capital and running costs, while late considerations tend to increase costs significantly.

Importantly, the sustainability agenda requires policy to be directed to reversing unsustainable trends and the impact of this is likely to be a rapid increase in costs of unsustainable and wasteful practice, making today’s decisions even more important financially.

Professional Responsibilities

The form of appointment may be something on which an architect will be asked to advise. For example, they might communicate to the client the importance of vigilance in respect of sustainability matters at all Work Stages if the project is to have a successful outcome. Considering the ability of all team members to integrate and control environmental considerations may have an influence on the various types of appointment, the associated roles and responsibilities, and any specialist consultants and/ or requirements.

It will be useful to be aware of the sustainable development policies and practices of companies, and also the policies endorsed by architecture’s professional bodies, such as RIBA and RIAS, and by those of other members of the design team as they are appointed (CIBSE, RICS, IStructE, ICE and so on).

When appointing building services engineering specialists, it may be beneficial to consider using fee scales that are related to benchmarks of building performance to encourage environmentally engineered solutions, instead of the widespread practice of linking fees to equipment cost. Insist also on a post-occupancy involvement.

Crucially, the design team members must demonstrate an understanding of the significance of pursuing a sustainable design strategy; and they should have the appropriate skills and commitment to the objectives. Given the widespread misunderstanding and confusion, some induction related to best practice development and targets may be valuable.

About this article

This article is an extract taken from Green Guide to the Architect’s Job Book externallinkby Sandy Haliday. Copyright RIBA Publishing 2007.

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