What is Building Sustainability?

In practice, building sustainability means living in harmony with the natural environment, considering the social, environmental and economic aspects of decisions, and reducing our footprint through a less energy, water and material intensive lifestyle. Social sustainability is also important and working towards a healthy and safe community is often interconnected with economic and environmental endeavours.

In recognizing the above, the building sector, which comprises consumers, builders, architects, designers, manufacturers, government regulators, marketing agents and developers, continues to meet the challenge of developing sustainability in the built environment.

The built environment has in the past and in some cases continues to:

  • Consume significant amounts of the earth’s resources (especially energy)
  • Generate polluting toxins and waste
  • Create conditions leading to a loss of soils and biodiversity
  • Interfere with life support systems (eg. the water cycle, soil systems and air quality)
  • Exacerbate urban sprawl, traffic pollution, social inequities and alienation

However the building sector is working hard to identify and implement avenues of reform that will reduce its environmental impact and improve social cohesion. If economic and social development is to continue without destroying the environment that sustains us, each member in the building sector must play their part in finding new pathways to sustainable futures.


Consumer demand for housing has a significant influence on the market and the finished product provided by architects, designers, builders and developers. A clear understanding of how to operate a home and adopt the lifestyle options recommended will significantly reduce the operational impacts of a home whilst improving comfort, health and finances.

Consumers have a major role in making housing more sustainable. Awareness of environmentally sustainable design principles and expressing these preferences to marketers, architects, designers and builders will create great change.


Australian builders and trades people have demonstrated time and again their ability to adapt to new trends, regulations and technology. Building more sustainable houses is but one more challenge to which many builders have already risen. Building is a very cost competitive industry. A ‘level playing field’ is essential to support the builder's role in creating more sustainable housing. Quotations should itemise things such as insulation levels, shading details, window performance and durability of materials and appliances – these are essential elements of a home just like the roof and walls and should not be treated as optional extras.

Architects and Designers

Architects and designers have a leadership role in implementing sustainable reform and bear much responsibility for the sustainable performance of the whole industry. The majority of important decisions affecting lifetime performance of buildings are made during the design stages.


Manufacturers, like builders, provide products to meet regulatory standards or demand driven by consumer preferences. Many manufacturers are discovering that they gain a distinct market advantage over their competitors by developing and marketing more sustainable products. The same is true for designers, builders and developers.

Governments and Regulators

All levels of Government are working hard to implement sustainable reform. Support from the community to achieve this can effectively occur by raising awareness and providing solutions, which will help create the platform for such mandates and encourage community support for reform agendas.

Marketing agents and developers

Marketing agents and developers respond to market needs. Their success depends on their ability to gauge the needs and wants of consumers and meet them with cost competitive products. Australias have shown that the market is more than ready to embrace sustainable housing and that developers and marketers can supply it. Developers and marketers also have a strong leadership role in implementing sustainable reform in the industry. Extensive information may be found at www.yourhome.gov.au.

What are Rating Schemes?

To reduce the environmental impact of a building it is useful to be able to measure and quantify its performance and compare different options. There is a wide range of rating schemes and assessment tools that measure different aspects of building sustainability.

Rating tools provide assessment methods and benchmarks that can be used to set minimum regulatory standards and can encourage better levels of practice that go beyond those minimum standards. Some rating tools help us to better understand how human behaviour affects a building’s environmental performance.

The National Construction Code (NCC), published by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCA) provides an excellent example of how rating tools can help improve the environmental performance of homes. In most areas of Australia, the NCC now requires a minimum energy star rating of 6 stars for new single dwellings as assessed by the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS). While this standard of 6 out of the 10 stars available is not best practice, the standard is considerably higher than the average performance of homes built prior to the regulation. Want to know more? Go to www.nathers.gov.au or www.basix.nsw.gov for information particular to NSW.