Sustainable design : LUSENET : Green & Sustainable Building Design : One Thread

Hi, I'm working on a school project and we have been asked to define sustainable design. I was hoping you could offer a few different answers on the topic. What is sustainable design? Thanks.

-- Stephanie Ryan (, January 15, 2001


I think it's easiest to think about what sustainable design is, by comparing it with standard practice today.

In the current building process, we dig up raw materials, cut down trees etc., then use a bunch of non-renewable enegry to turn it into building materials. We use energy to transport the materials to the site, more energy to build the building. The construction process creates waste, which is hauled off to the dump.

Once occupied, the building uses more non-renewable energy to keep it running. Clean water is consumed and sewage is discharged. If not well designed, the building may adversly affect the health of the occupants.

At the end of the building's life, we tear it down, then dig a hole and bury it.

A sustainable process would create new buildings from old, and would be self-powered, discharging no pollutants.

Unfortunately, we are pretty far away from a truly sustainable process.

I like to think of Green Design as a way to move to a more sustainable design. The US Green Building Council sees five basic components of green design, which they have included in the LEED Rating System. They are:

Sustainable Site Design

Water Efficiency

Energy and Atmosphere

Materials and Resources

Indoor Environmental Quality

So that's a more practical idea of what sustainable design is.

-- Christopher R. Schaffner, PE (, January 15, 2001.

I am also conducting some graduate level research into sustainable design. Since I have not been able to find a suitable definition, I created my own.

In the general sense, sustainable design is:

An iterative design process that seeks to maximize net benefits from a product or based on an ethical evaluation of the economic, social and environmental impacts as measured throughout the life cycle of the product or service.

This definition can also be applied to structures, organizations, etc.

The key issue with sustainable design is the evaluation of the net impacts. It is easy to assign values or costs to traditional items like energy or raw materials used, but how do we assign values or costs to less tangible aspects such as social impacts or the gain or loss of esthetic values.

An extreme example would be the manufacture of handguns. It would be relatively simple to calculate the environmental impacts caused by the manufacture of the product and it's ammunition, but how do we calculate the social impacts of the use and misuse of the weapon? Sustainable design requires that we include these considerations into the design process.

Just as Sustainable Development must answer to a “triple bottom line,” so must sustainable design.

-- Mark Wyco (, January 24, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ