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Photo of BedZED eco village showing colourful wind cowls. Copyright Bioregional.

Building use

Different building types and uses present a range of sustainability challenges and opportunities, with varying governance and decision-making factors involved. 

A range of approaches and policies appropriate to the type and use case can drive sustainability improvements for domestic, commercial and municipal buildings. Additionally, it is estimated that a billion people live in slums or informal settlements.  Consideration of how to improve sustainability of housing, alongside living standards for this group of people forms a significant part of the global challenge in this area. 

Sustainable public procurement is a powerful tool to improve the sustainability of municipal construction, which includes schools, hospitals, government buildings, social housing and the built environment. Expenditure by public authorities on goods, services, and infrastructure accounts on average for 13% of the gross domestic product in OECD countries, and up to 30% in many developing countries. Globally, the public sector accounts for 20-30% of revenues in the construction industry.

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Photo credit © Unsplash / Ricardo Gomez Angel

Avoid’ strategies in this context should seek to build with less, avoid over-ordering and waste, and improve material circularity. For municipal buildings, there is an opportunity to enable adaptive re-use within a portfolio, or specify deconstruction instead of premature demolition.

Extending building lifetimes can reduce demand for materials and the embodied carbon expended. In the International Energy Agency’s most ambitious decarbonization scenario, extending building lifetimes would contribute to more than 90 per cent of the CO2 emission reductions for both steel and cement by 2060 (IEA 2019). Sustainable public procurement of more circular construction services, or contracts that specify material recovery targets, can reduce costs, as well as providing sustainability benefits for public authorities.  

Public sector procurement can also provide an opportunity to act as an early adopter of using more innovative materials and contribute to market transformation - more and more examples of public buildings deploying a ‘Shift’ strategy towards more sustainable materials are being seen.  And due to their relatively large purchasing power for materials such as concrete and steel in buildings and infrastructure projects, opportunities exist for ‘Improve’ strategies that can reduce the impacts of these materials within public procurement.

Domestic buildings, constructed by private sector companies have a different set of opportunities and challenges to move towards a more sustainable norm.  Where achieving the lowest cost is a driver, the use of sustainable materials may be deprioritised.  A combination of innovation on materials and construction practices, and an enabling environment of policies to reduce costs, can help push the domestic construction market towards increased use of sustainable materials. In some countries, it is vital to support industry to ‘leapfrog’ the use of higher carbon, conventional materials where there are more sustainable options.

Resources addressing the impacts of materials used in informal settlements are available on the Hub - these include case studies and research papers on how this type of community can act to reduce waste and health hazards as part of materials sourced, whilst improving living standards.

Best practices for different building uses need to be demonstrated and evaluated to show what is possible, driving policy and market support for more sustainable material use and design. Resources include planning tools, policy analysis and best practice case studies of buildings and materials, intended to inspire and promote action for the range of different building types and infrastructure projects.

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2023-09-25

This whitepaper focuses on the tradeoff between operational savings and embodied carbon, which are resulting from retrofit activities. The research presented in this report marks the starting point to shed a light on the relevance of embodied-carbon emissions resulting from energetic retrofits.

2023-09-22

This tool allows architects and designers to analyze and estimate the carbon equivalent of emissions associated with all aspects of the project. The Zero Carbon Tool gives an overall picture of how key decisions made at early stages of design can impact the project's total carbon use.

2023-09-22

Whole life carbon assessment 2nd edition will enable professionals to make prudent decisions to limit the whole life carbon impact of buildings and infrastructure. It facilitates carbon measurement from the production of construction materials to the design, construction and eventual end of life of built assets.

2023-09-22

Plastic pollution and climate change are serious and interconnected threats to public and planetary health, as well as major drivers of global social injustice. Prolific use of plastics in the construction industry is likely a key contributor, resulting in burgeoning efforts to promote the recycling or downcycling of used plastics.

2023-09-19

This work highlights the reactivity of soda-lime glass powder on cement CEM IV-B-L 32.5R. Three colors of soda lime glass were used with varying amount of powder from 0 to 35 wt%. The water demand for standard consistency have increased from 28.40 to 45.93 wt%. The compressive strength increased from 26.46 to 31.66 MPa and the flexural strength also increased from 5.89 to 7.14 MPa after 28 days. The optimal value of 10 wt% of glass powder gave the maximum value of mechanical strength at 28 days.

2023-09-12

This report highlights the urgent need to develop new models for cooperation on the decarbonisation of building materials, if the world is to reach its goals for net zero emissions from the built environment sector by the mid-century.

2023-09-11

Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW) is by volume the largest waste stream in the European Union. Although a vast majority of CDW is recyclable and reusable, one of the common barriers to recycling and reuse of CDW is the lack of confidence in the quality of recovered materials and components.

2023-09-11

Developed by Brussels Environment, the Reversible Design Checklist is a voluntary design tool which aims to help building owners and designers in Brussels to create reversible and circular buildings.

The Checklist is available in:

2023-09-11

Procedure to record building materials as a base to evaluate the potential for a high-quality reutilization prior to demolition and renovation work (pre-demolition audit).

Text in German and English.

2023-09-08

Construction projects using emerging bio-based materials have been realized over the past ten to fifteen years within Europe. Bio-based buildings utilize properties of natural materials to regulate internal environments, particularly fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. Despite individual exemplar projects demonstrating functional performance and long-term operational cost savings, there hasn’t been a proliferation of commercial or domestic bio-based projects.