22 May 2020

Sustainability is arguably the most expansive strategy in the RIBA Plan of Work 2020.

It is also a topic that is being asked about increasingly when specifiers are reaching out to NBS to know more about how our technical content can help them achieve sustainable outcomes for their projects.

Sustainability in NBS content typically focuses on environmental and ecological considerations, but also addresses social aspects such as accessibility and environmental comfort: we don’t determine what is or isn’t ‘green’ as each project has its own determinants. Instead, we offer guidance and resources to aid decision-making, and the structure to carry and evolve resultant expectations throughout the project timeline and, where BIM is adopted, into occupation and beyond.

The template clauses in NBS Chorus offer users the means of setting out sustainability requirements tailored to meet individual scenarios for project management, whole project requirements, building fabric, services installations, civil engineering and landscape provision. To support this, our guidance text and specification clauses provide relevant regulatory guidance, standards, codes of practice, and other reference resources and signposting.

Here, we set out a summary of the kind of coverage in Chorus that can help to deliver sustainability outcomes for projects. It demonstrates how our content can align with RIBA Plan of Work 2020 Sustainable Outcomes, and support the recommendations for achieving these as set out in the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide 2019.

The RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide sets sustainability targets based on UN Sustainable Development Goals. It aims to drive the meeting of these targets: by 2030 for new and refurbished buildings; and by 2050 for the majority of existing buildings.

UN sustainability goals mapped to RIBA Sustainable Outcomes:

RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide targets:

Summarizing, the targets set for the eight key sustainable outcomes categories are:

  1. Net zero operational carbon emissions.
  2. Net zero embodied carbon dioxide.
  3. Sustainable water cycle.
  4. Sustainable connectivity and transport.
  5. Sustainable land use and ecology.
  6. Good health and wellbeing.
  7. Sustainable communities and social value.
  8. Sustainable life cycle cost.

(‘Whole life carbon emissions’ comprises ‘Net zero operational carbon emissions’ and ‘Net zero embodied carbon dioxide’.)

NBS can help with the delivery of these sustainability targets by allowing for granularity in setting project requirements, from inception through to completion. By capturing specification decisions throughout the project timeline, there is the potential to follow through into facilities management and in-use appraisals to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved.

High-level sustainability requirements, usually from client briefing or policy (RIBA Stage 1, ‘Preparation and Briefing’), can be set out using NBS Chorus Project Management content. This might include established approaches (say, using BREEAM, CEEQUAL, SKA expectations), but where such schemes are not being adopted, Project Management can carry strategic requirements to inform the ongoing development of the design and specification. At this level, Chorus offers the following relevant categories of consideration:

 Each of these high-level perfomance considerations can be set out using editable NBS Chorus template specification clauses and associated guidance. Illustrations of some of these in the context of NBS Chorus are shown in the following figures:

RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide targets

Looking at the eight specific targets from the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide, these can be set as high-level performance requirements within Project Management (as above). Alternatively, they can be set with specific expectations at system or product level (depending upon the procurement route adopted), or at the stage in the development of the project at which the performance must manifest itself as actual specified values. Structuring a specification to Uniclass 2015 classification arrangements allows requirements to be captured within a project ‘system’ (typically a collection of products or components), and then for these requirements to inform the selection of products or components as the project develops.

Again, offering examples of editable NBS Chorus template clause and guidance content using Uniclass 2015, we show ways in which the Sustainable Outcomes Guide targets can be supported:

1. ‘(Net zero) Operational energy and CO2

Seen as perhaps the most fundamental of targets where there is carbon-based energy use, requirements are set for the performance of the building fabric to minimize heat losses or gains when in use. These can be set for floors, roofs, walls, windows, doorsets, etc.

Minimizing energy use informs choice of methodologies and plant for heating, cooling and ventilation. Maintenance factors and occupant engagement must also be considered to optimize equipment performance under a range of real-world variables, including supply security and occupant understandings regarding controls and net benefits.

Technologies that optimize on-site renewable energy can be incorporated into the specification, fulfilling strategic requirements set earlier in the project development.

2. ‘(Net zero) Embodied energy and CO2

Products and materials should be selected to minimize their carbon footprints. However, specifiers will need to undertake research to verify embodied energy claims – ideally using validated schemes such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) to EN 15804, and including transportation to site and end-of-life options. They will need to determine whether whole life considerations such as durability, maintenance and in-use energy reductions make a given product an appropriate choice.

NBS Chorus guidance may suggest options, such as materials alternatives.

In NBS Source, we are asking all manufacturers to declare embodied carbon credentials, and the verification and validation methodologies used for their products that feature.

Environmental targets can be set using assessment tools such as BREEAM, or can be set independently.

Additionally, NBS Chorus allows system and product performances to be set, covering a range of sustainable attributes; or they can simply require supply or manufacture to be performed by a company adopting an independently certified environmental assessment scheme, such as ISO 14001.

3. ‘Sustainable Water Cycle’

NBS Chorus can support the specification of systems and products which help to manage water, whether mains supplied, grey cycled or from weather events.

Examples include WRAS-approved products helping to reduce water waste or misuse, or leak detection systems.

Sustainable urban drainage is covered; this may be a feature that tackles flood mitigation and supports ecosystems, or is part of harvesting or recycling of water.

4. ‘Sustainable Connectivity and Transport’

Typically, planning and spatial design are not directly addressed in NBS specification content. These are normally addressed in planning policy, strategy, modelling and drawings: transport plans, network strategies, site selection, etc. are dealt with elsewhere. NBS Chorus does however offer the means of specifying the infrastructure and systems that deliver these strategies.

5. ‘Sustainable Land Use and Biodiversity’

Strategic decisions on land use and ecology such as building reuse, brownfield site selection, mixed-use, density and land allocation again sit outside NBS Chorus content. What is available is guidance which helps support these goals. This may include control of pollution impacts during construction as part of project management content.

Other systems and products featured in NBS Chorus can help or promote ecosystems, whether part of the building fabric, a landscape feature or an ecological aid – see examples below.

6. ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’

Air quality and thermal, acoustic and visual comfort expectations can all be set as targets within NBS Chorus project management sections. Guidance directs specifiers to resources such as the ‘Well building standard’, ‘Work in mind’ or ‘Healthy homes and buildings’.

Alternatively, environmental assessment scheme criteria can be set as targets, such as those given in BREEAM.

Accessibility or inclusive design can also be tackled strategically in project management clauses, but then detail can be set at system or product level using NBS guidance, for example referencing BS 8300.

7. ‘Sustainable Communities and Social Value’

As mentioned above, certain RIBA Sustainable Outcome Guide targets relating to planning and spatial design criteria sit outside the reach of NBS specification. At present, NBS Chorus can help by providing template clauses that support community and social equality improvements, using landscape, open spaces and amenities or accessible features and social responsibility schemes.

Illustrations here include playground provision, wetlands natural amenity improvement, accessibility performance and the Considerate Constructors Scheme.

8. ‘Sustainable Life Cycle Cost’

Currently, NBS Chorus has limited cover for in-use monitoring, however requirements can be set in project management sections, looking at performance and performance compliance.


NBS Chorus content is continually evolving, informed by research, user feedback and industry drivers. For example, we are currently improving our modular construction content, which in turn addresses waste, build quality and durability, making it capable of delivering Passivhaus-standard constructions on a wider scale.

Feedback and insight are vital to us so we can grow our content and make it relevant for users, and for this reason we actively seek suggestions for content development from users and industry. For example, we welcome ideas on the form of specification for measurement and verification, prior to practical completion, for key sustainable outcomes, such that Passivhaus or Naber quality performance levels can be demonstrated.

Please contact the NBS Technical Content team with development ideas and comments at info@thenbs.com

The climate change emergency gives urgency to the uptake of actions that can mitigate negative climate impacts. At NBS, we’re hopeful that, with dialogue and exchange between practitioners, the wider construction industry and ourselves, we can help to accelerate these actions.

NBS Chorus

To find out more about NBS Chorus, our cloud-based specification platform, and how it could help your business to produce connected construction information, visit –


More information

To watch this and other webinar ‘on demand’ looking at the topics in the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 see the webinars listed at -

To download the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 and the overview guide see –