Sustainable Building
03 Feb

Criteria for a Sustainable Building

While determining criteria for a sustainable building is a relatively new development, the first definition of sustainable development that was internationally recognized occurred in 1987 in the publication of the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: “Our Common Future.”

According to the report, sustainable development is considered development that not only meets the present needs of society but also does not compromise the needs of future generations.

This definition creates the foundation for the following criteria for sustainable building. After the definition, three key considerations exist for guiding sustainability. From these key components of sustainable building, architects and designers have developed a number of ways to optimize buildings for sustainability.

3 Key Considerations


Sustainable buildings should follow the rules of architecture with an eye for shape, style, and beauty.


Every building should have the foresight to prepare for the future, not only functioning well presently but able to adapt to the coming needs.


Materials and resources used for building should be mindful of sustainability and limited resources.

Practical Criteria for a Sustainable Building

On a developmental level, sustainability prioritizes ecology, economics, and societal needs. These ensure that buildings and projects are analyzed through this perspective. Coming out of these pillars of sustainability are six fundamental principles that help architects, designers, and community planners know how to best measure the sustainability of new projects and developments.

Site Optimization

The location of your building project can be an added benefit to your sustainable project. All in all, a sustainable building site should factor in the storm-water runoff, support native plant life, and integrate into the surrounding environment.

  1. Site Optimization Factors
  2. Location, orientation, landscaping
  3. Existing ecosystems
  4. Transportation methods and energy use
  5. Energy Optimization

Reducing the energy load through thoughtful design while increasing efficiency and maximizing renewable resource use improves energy performance and independence. Both government and private projects are focusing on building net-zero energy buildings to save money and environmental resources.

Water Protection and Conservation

Freshwater is a vital resource for life, and building projects fundamentally alter the ecosystems around them. Therefore, a sustainable building should minimize negative water impacts while recycling and reusing water for on-site use.

Space and Material Optimization

Maximizing available natural resources while reducing future pollution, a sustainable building should take steps to use and reuse materials across the entire life cycle. Materials should improve safety, health, and resource depletion.

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

Within a building, the IEQ benefits the health, comfort, and productivity of building occupants. Therefore, it’s important that sustainable building planners consider the following in their designs.

  1. Daylight maximization
  2. Ventilation
  3. Acoustic performance
  4. Moisture control
  5. Temperature control
  6. Maintenance Optimization

A sustainable building becomes even better for the environment when building operators and maintenance personnel understand how to operate high-performance buildings with stormwater facilities, toxic chemical reducing systems, and tracking processes of energy, water, and waste.

Other Components for a Sustainable Building

Build Tight, Ventilate Right

To help your building retain its temperature, insulation, and an airtight structural envelope are key components to money and energy conservation.

Thermal Mass Benefits

Certain building materials, such as brick or concrete, absorb sun warmth and can be used to maintain a building’s internal temperature and reduce energy use.

Natural Lighting

Large windows and skylights reduce the need for artificial lighting while also cutting down on energy and money use.

Passive Energy Systems

Sustainable buildings can benefit greatly by implementing passive energy systems such as solar designs that incorporate sunshine energy into heating, cooling, and lighting homes.

Solar Systems

A few rules of thumb for the best use of solar systems is to ensure the building’s south face receives sunshine from 9 AM – 3 PM and the most used spaces during the day are designed to be on the south side of the building. The goal for a passive solar system is to reuse the sun’s heat for building heating.

Structural Systems

Building materials can offer a high level of energy efficiency if chosen right. A number of good materials to use for your building include timber frame, clay blocks, bricks, and insulated concrete formwork.

Water Reuse Systems

Rainwater harvesting is one of the best ways for sustainable buildings to recycle water for irrigation, toilet flushing, low-flow showers, and many other uses. Harvesting rainwater allows for efficient reuse of water.

As sustainable and energy efficiency becomes more and more of a priority, the criteria for a sustainable building will be established with detail, guidelines, and examples. Cities and governments will have information on best practices and more long-term data on energy conservation and sustainability.

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