Sustainable Design

Design Checklist Eco-Design Strategies Case Studies
Sustainable design is an intention, a state of mind,
a way of being at home.

A sustainable system generally can be defined in environmental terminology as a living system which continues by virtue of the fact that it does not use up resources faster than they can be naturally replenished. In economic terminology, a sustainable economic system is one in which the expenditures are at least equal or less than the income. In social terminology, a sustainable social system is one in which all members are empowered to contribute, creating a synergistic whole. These separate definitions are inextricably intertwined and interdependent at all scales, from an individual 'body', to a family 'body', a community 'body, a regional 'body', a national 'body', to an international 'body'. It is increasingly clear that decisions made on a personal level have repercussions on the global scale as well as the reverse. 

In the United State alone, the use of virgin raw materials was 14 times greater in 1991 than in 1900 while the population increase was only 3 times. Most growth occurred with new homes, roads, stores and offices in the 1950's. Between 1945 and 1973 the U.S. paper and industrial minerals consumption more than tripled; metals more than doubled; plastic consumption increased a whopping 35 times. Too much of this ends up in our landfills. Studies show that 20-25% of the U.S. municipal waste stream is from building construction or demolition. 

It is also becoming increasingly clear that the building and construction industries have played an ever increasing part in impacting all aspects of life: environmental, economic and social. Buildings in the United States, in their production and use, consume an estimated 40-65% of our national energy total. Globally, it is estimated that buildings currently account for: 

  • 1/6th of the world's fresh water use
  • 1/4th of all wood harvests
  • 2/5ths of all material flows
  • 2/5ths of all energy flows
By using more efficient building methods and materials, it is also estimated that we could reduce the energy, resource consumption and / or waste production by 50-60% without decreasing value, aesthetics or function. With the understanding of the Earth's finite resources and the knowledge that manufactured products, including all building materials, have an effect on our resources, it is becoming increasingly important to make wise decisions regarding the use of these limited resources to protect our environment and our ability to sustain ourselves. The design and construction industry is in a position to effect change in building practices through the use of resource efficient construction materials and methods. The barrier to the use of such materials is most often the lack of the information about availability, cost and a means of evaluation.  

This guide is intended to be a design tool for using an expanded list of criteria in the selection of building materials with the goal of creating sustainable environments, economies and societies.  


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