14 October 2022
Defining sustainable development

There are two widely-accepted definitions of what constitutes sustainable development:

  • It “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED): Our common future. (The Brundtland Report): Oxford University Press, 1987).
  • It ensures “a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come” (UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: A Better Quality of Life: a strategy for sustainable development for the UK: TSO May 1999).

Applying sustainable development to housing 

 The term ‘sustainable housing’ is generally used to describe sustainable development as it applies to the housing industry, incorporating:

  • Creating less waste (not just through surplus materials but via optimal use of land and time, including minimising impacts on local biodiversity).
  • Providing opportunities for increased materials reuse and recycling.
  • Focussing on refurbishing older assets and repurposing already-existing buildings as fresh housing stock.
  • Taking advantage of renewable energy sources, including natural site features (natural ventilation, lighting, etc.).
  • Lowering lifecycle environmental impacts and costs.
  • Improving reliability, lowering maintenance needs and costs, and creating greater user satisfaction.

Sustainable lifecycle costing links directly to the life cycle assessment, and whole-life costing strategies can provide a long-term view of various impacts. Assessments should include costs incurred from concept to renewal (cradle to cradle) to eventual end of life and incorporate all associated economic, environmental and societal costs.

Developing an action plan

Every action plan should contain a series of targets, measures to achieve them and methods for measuring and reviewing the processes. The government’s approach is based on ten targets:

  • Reuse existing assets – The decision to create a new build should be carefully considered. Much of a building’s carbon is in the structure itself. Refurbishing older homes or repurposing other assets for housing can also provide cost advantages to clients while preserving community heritage. In any event, the preferred option should be brownfield development, which is encouraged wherever possible.
  • Design for minimum waste – A project’s waste potential can often be reduced in the early stages via clear and accurate specifications. Unfortunately, developing a design concept that maximises materials reuse and recycling is often overlooked. Designers are often best placed to be aware of new ideas, and this also addresses one of the main Egan principles of using innovation in problem-solving and training.
  • Lean construction – The targets of supply chain integration, site management, best value, improved communications and user focus can all be achieved sustainably.
  • Minimise energy use – This should include energy in materials manufacture and consider transport, which has one of the most significant energy use impacts.
  • Energy in use – The heating (and cooling) of buildings also has a major impact. Buildings consume vast amounts of energy during their lifespan. Relatively simple considerations, such as the position or orientation of buildings on a site, can generate significant benefits. The use of design solutions like passive heating, natural light, air movement and thermal mass can contribute significantly, as can the use of energy from renewable sources such as solar or wind power.
  • Pollution – The four primary sources of pollution from the construction industry are waste materials, vehicle emissions, noise, and pollutant release to water, ground and the atmosphere. While these issues are well known, too often, not enough is done to combat them.
  • Biodiversity – Look for opportunities throughout the construction process, from raw materials extraction, through the construction phase, to the asset’s landscaping and use to provide, protect and enhance natural habitats. As with many sustainability concerns, this is best addressed at the design stage.
  • Conserve water resources – Another design issue, when dealing with natural resources, it is important to include measures for greater use efficiency. While not always immediately evident in the building process, there is much potential for gain when considering costs-in-use. Information can be gained from water and energy audits of existing buildings and the benchmarking technique used to tremendous effect.
  • Respect people and their local environment – Although sometimes not rated as highly as other items, this should be a cornerstone in any sustainability effort. Consider everyone the project might impact – from the local community to the individuals directly employed in the construction.
  • Set targets – These are the measures by which the success or failure of all the other criteria is judged. There is a wealth of benchmarking, best practice and management systems information on sustainable construction, from environmental management systems to evaluating performance.

In addition to creating a general sense of well-being for contributing towards the larger community and planet preservation, significant economic benefits come with adopting a green approach. That said, to avoid greenwashing – aka using misleading claims to create an illusion that an asset is built sustainably when it is not – it must be appropriately implemented. It is essential to consider the long-term consequences of adopting a particular strategy, especially in the face of pressure for short-term gain.

Additional sustainability information and resources

NBS Chorus

In the article Using NBS to specify sustainable outcomes on projects, NBS explores how the Plan of Work and NBS Chorus can be used to tailor a project to meet sustainability expectations across the project timeline. Through Chorus, you can access your specifications across locations and organisations due to its flexible, cloud-based functionality. No software to install, no fuss, just access to your specs, anywhere, at any time and on any device. All that is required is a modern web browser and an internet connection.

Chorus can be used to specify by performance or prescriptively with generic or proprietary references. Clauses are editable and supported by technical guidance. It’s available with different access levels, providing a solution to suit most budgets, from NBS Chorus Small Works for smaller practices to Chorus Pro Solution for those working on more complex projects. For more information, check out the hyperlinks or drop one of our team a note at info@thenbs.com.

NBS Source

NBS Source is a single source for product information that seamlessly integrates into a project’s workflow and provides an additional level of enhanced product data in a consistent, structured format. Today, it hosts thousands of construction materials, products and systems from manufacturers. These listings also link directly to NBS Chorus, providing a seamless way of ‘Adding to Spec’ in your projects.

NBS is continually pushing for more sustainability information in all manufacturer listings. Today the requested information includes aspects such as embodied carbon, country of manufacture and country of material origin, recycled content and end-of-life data. We are also seeing a rise in manufacturers providing EPDs, which can be accessed in the listings' third-party certificates section.

If you are a specifier, you can view NBS Source here. Alternatively, if there are products you would like to see but occasionally cannot find within the platform, please drop us a note via manufacturers@thenbs.com with the details, and our team will reach out to the manufacturer on your behalf.

The Construction Information Service

CIS is a comprehensive online collection of industry-relevant publications from around 500 publishers. NBS users with a CIS subscription can use embedded links across specifications platforms to access research and reference documents. The content is fully searchable, intelligently classified and continuously updated, and a generous amount of sustainability content can be searched and referenced.

NBS: Sustainable Futures Report 2022

The NBS Sustainable futures report for 2022 is the result of an industry-wide survey to understand the current situation regarding sustainability, the barriers we must overcome and further insights. To date, this report remains our most downloaded survey, supporting the view that sustainability is the highest priority for our industry.

NBS Webinars and Articles

To help guide and educate our customers, we have created a sustainability webinar series covering topics like sustainable outcomes and the RIBA Plan of Work, becoming a sustainable business, and promoting your sustainability activities and credentials. The webinars are linked at the bottom of the ‘Sustainability with NBS’ webpage. The hub also provides access to a selection of sustainability-related articles, and you can find more in the ‘Knowledge’ section of the NBS website.

RIBA Plan of Work 2020 and the Sustainable Outcomes Guide

With the 2020 release of the RIBA Plan of Work, the RIBA has responded to an escalating industry need for an expanded sustainability strategy by mapping sustainability targets to UN Sustainable Development Goals and aligning them with the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide. To explore this and other ways that the new Plan of Work can benefit you, NBS has a webinar series that addresses several topics, including sustainability, fire safety, conservation and inclusive design.

 Based on a 2007 article written by Technical Author Roland Finch, updated by Jess Sharman.