Essay competition. A sustainable built environment duurzaam bouwenDOI: 10.1080/096132100369154
Ellen van Bueren
- Delft University of Technology
Sustainable building is a hot issue in Europe, and in the Northern European countries especially considerable effort has been put into making the built environment more sustainable. Despite various governmental policies on this issue, and the ambitions of the various actors involved, no breakthrough in the sustainability of the built environment has been accomplished as yet.
The construction industry uses an enormous amount of fossil fuels and raw materials; approximately 36% of all energy and 50% of all raw materials used worldwide are related to the construction industry . A comparable figure applies to the Netherlands, although the construction industry constitutes
only approximately 10% of the Dutch gross national product
. When, in 1989, the construction industry became a target of environmental policy, following the publication of the Nation Environmental Policy Plan Plus, with the Sustainable Building Appendix, Dutch environmental policy consisted of three focal points: integrated chain management, energy extensification
and quality development.
Apparently there are some important barriers in the existing institutional structures and processes within which sustainable building should be achieved. Important institutional barriers for sustainable building are identified in this paper.
Technology has hurled humanity into today’s high tech civilization. Yet all is not well aboard Spaceship Earth. How can we design technology that gives stagnant economies new impulses, bolster democracy, heal the planet, makes our civilization sustainable? In this USE line, you build the skills to translate ‘sustainability’ into measurable goals, to identify the right challenges and design strategies for developing technological solutions that work.
These barriers will be used to provide the basis for an institutional design to improve sustainability performance of the built environment.
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A sustainable built environment: the institutional challenges
Ellen M. van Bueren
Delft University of Technology
Interdisciplinary Research Programme The Ecological City
Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management
P.O. Box 5015
2600 GA Delft
Phone +31 15 278 69 36
Telefax +31 278 64 39
First prize winning essay for the 1999 Post-Graduate Essay Competition of Building,
Research & Information, The International Journal of Research, Development,
Demonstration and Innovation. This essay has been published in: Building Research &
Information (2000) 28(1), 79-81.
In this essay Michiel shows us that there is more than enough energy on our planet Earth. The sun provides us with 10,000 times more energy than is consumed yearly, worldwide. The challenge is to convert this sun energy into
electricity and to discover other ways to harness sun power. To convert this power we need lots of different devises such as PV-cells, wind mills, and others. For these devises, we need raw materials, and there we get into trouble. Currently we don’t have enough of some kinds minerals to build enough devices to convert sun power into electricity.
Sustainable building is a hot issue in Europe, and in the Northern European
countries especially considerable effort has been put into making the built
environment more sustainable. Despite various governmental policies on this issue,
and the ambitions of the various actors involved, no breakthrough in the
sustainability of the built environment has been accomplished as yet.
In the exploratory course we explain sustainability within an evolutionary framework and we explore why societies and economies are complex and pose wicked problems. We supply you with a toolkit of methods for sustainability analysis, for tackling wicked problems, and for presenting your technological
there are some important barriers in the existing institutional structures and
processes within which sustainable building should be achieved. Important
institutional barriers for sustainable building are identified in this paper.
|Abstract:||Introduction Developments have been made at building construction regarding buildings being future-proof. The purpose of these developments is to be able to adjust a building sustainably, to respond to changing needs of its users, which will happen after a certain amount of time. Providing insight into the build process in the development of future-proof building may be valuable for various stakeholders and users. Research has been undertaken to clarify the functions and views of various parties for the Friesland area, where the client AchterboschZantman architecten is located.|
barriers will be used to provide the basis for an institutional design to improve
sustainability performance of the built environment.
Keywords: sustainable development, institutional barriers, policy, implementation
Sustainable development, as introduced by the Brundtland commission (WCED 1987),
can be marked as the starting point of a third upsurge of environmental awareness.
Due to a growing world population and an increasing level of prosperity, the need for raw materials increases. When construction in China and India made a real start, the steel price went up enormously. As is apparent from the graph below, steel prices reached a temporary climax at the end of 2008. Here, it is a matter of shortage as well, to some extent, which is reflected in the price of steel. This is likely to happen to other metals too, since many metals will become exhausted.
Netherlands, as well as in many other countries, this report inspired a new policy
approach towards environmental problems. A shift was made from reduction of
environmental burdens towards prevention of these problems.
Some raw materials originate from conflict areas, where the conflict is funded by the extraction of raw materials. There is public opposition to such practices, so international agreements have been reached to derive these kinds of raw materials solely when the extraction has been guaranteed as “clean.” Many of the 17 metals that are processed in a cell
phone originate from the African conflict area, Congo. In Congo, the bloodiest war ever since the Second World War is raging, almost entirely beyond our conscience. Cell phones there are referred to occasionally as “blood” cell phones analogous to “blood” diamonds.
Policies and technologies
shifted from cleaner technologies towards cleaner production. Causes rather than effects
became the subject of environmental policies. (Weale 1992, Hajer 1992, 1995, Mol 1995,
Nelissen 1998, etc)
The construction sector was designated one of the target groups in the Dutch National
Environmental Policy Plan (Department of Housing, Spatial Planning and the
. The initial target was a reduction of environmental burdens caused
by this sector.
This scenario is only at the start of the research phase, but it is feasible that in 10-15 years from now we will grow concrete in this manner. That will be a significant step forward in the reduction of the cement industry's enormous
Main goals were the reduction of waste generated during building and
demolition processes, re-use and recycling of waste, and the adaption of environmental
techniques and technologies in the design and construction process.
Challenges are wide ranging. In the Freestyle project the challenge is tailored to the educational background of the group members. Past challenges included reducing waste production on building sites, designing a circular
waste system for the Amsterdam region, mapping gentrification in Eindhoven, improving stormwater retention capacity in Amsterdam, improving first and last mile accessibility in Amsterdam, and various technical challenges in sustainable construction and architecture.
of this new approach was developed in collaboration with the industries concerned, an
approach in line with Dutch policy tradition. Specific targets were negotiated and laid
down in mutual agreements.
You earn your grade based on product, presentation and process.
The sustainable building policies of the past decade show ambiguous results. Major
accomplishments have been achieved, sustainable building is institutionalised in
government departments, policies, regulations, subsidies, knowledge and research
institutes, consultancies, journals, etcetera.
The sun provides us with lots of energy. In fact, the sun gives 10,000 times more energy every year than we use worldwide. We wouldn’t need fossil fuels and nuclear energy if we could directly use all the energy the sun
provides us. But, there we find the problem: we need to convert the sun power into electricity. For this conversion we need materials, lots of materials.
The subject has been widened from sustainable
construction at the building level to sustainable building at the level of the built
environment, including subjects such as the location of (new) settlements, the urban
structure, infrastructures for energy, water, waste and transport and traffic and the urban
A high level of recycling is important. At my former department at the Delft University of Technology (TU) has already developed a method to recycle various metals cost-effectively, including gold and silver, from domestic waste products
. In England, an experiment has started to retrieve platinum from roadside dust. This procedure is not yet profitable, but it is a very promising technique. It is recycling to the extreme. These techniques are referred to as urban mining. The raw materials are being retrieved from anything that can be found in cities, such as domestic waste, roadside dust, but also the many unused cell phones that everyone keeps at home. No less than 17 different metals are recycled from a cell phone, including 0.008 grams gold, 0.07 grams silver and 0.006 grams palladium, together worth € 0.50. Plus a number of rare earth metals.
In the existing housing stock social issues, such as quality of life,
segregation and employment, have also become part of the sustainable building concept.
Then there is the building practice, which does not seem to show much concern for
The increase in prices of raw materials is another stimulus to the development of new techniques for the extraction of raw materials and to the search for new sites for extraction of raw materials. Resources that were hitherto economically unviable
to extract, will now be extracted economically. Thus, resources increase or they keep up. If this happens gradually then scarcity will not be as imminent. Therefore, we refer to these resources as economically viable quantities, which may increase at higher prices. In the end, there will be limits to the resources as they become exhausted. However, this scenario is not likely to occur soon.
More than half a million dwellings are under construction in the
Netherlands (Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment 1998), only a
few will exceed the legally required sustainability measures, which are minimum
Gradually products inspired by nature have been launched. For instance, over the last year a roof covering was made available that is made from 96% natural materials. Traditionally, the base of many types of roof covering is petroleum
. The new type of roof covering from natural raw materials received an Ecolabel for sustainable construction (in Dutch: “DUBOkeur product”) of course, indicating it belongs to the products with the least environmental impact, in the category of flat roof coverings.
Renovation and restructuring existing stock, especially the suburbs built from
the 1950’s to the 1970’s, is the next challenge faced by Dutch governments (Ministry of
Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment 1997)
This issue brings us to another problem: scarcity of the raw materials that we need for the building industry. With the increasing world population, the need for houses, schools, offices and other buildings will also increase and with that the need for raw materials. In the article
, some solutions for the raw material scarcity are offered.
Sustainability is an even more
complex issue here, due to the amount of participants, especially the occupants of the
dwellings, and the many interests involved, sustainability has to compete with many other
Making societies more sustainable is not easy, then. It involving many domains, many political stakeholders, uncertainties and fast change. Unlike ‘tame’ engineering problems, sustainability issues are complex, defying linear analysis and solutions that can be calculated.
The ambiguity of these results indicates that there are some structures or mechanisms at
work in building practices which cause sustainable building policies to be unsuccessful.
Four important institutional barriers can be identified: costs, judicial barriers, ‘tradition’,
and image (Huizing and Van Dongen 1995, Pries 1995, Bossink 1998, Van Hal and
Silvester 1998, Van Lohuizen 1998, etc)
The next 10-20 years, recycling will remain a very important way to retrieve raw materials and to close the raw materials loop. However, the recycling pyramid shows that prevention and reuse must gain in importance and that
recycling as the primary method must continue to decrease
. As long as we are in transition with a circular economy we will recycle, but once we are able to close the loop of this kind of economy the importance of recycling will diminish.
Costs are an issue for all parties involved in transformation processes in the built
environment. Sustainable building in the Netherlands is about 10% more expensive than
building in the traditional way (Bossink 1998).
The three graphs above show that the energy component (red colour) of a building has the largest environmental impact. However, when the building is more energy efficient or even energy neutral, then the material component (green colour) will have the largest environmental impact comparatively. The top left graph corresponds to an Environmental Index Building of 200 (regarded as sustainable procurement), the top right graph to an Environmental Index Building of 500 and below is an Environmental Index Building of 1.000. The latter one is an energy neutral
building; therefore, it has no environmental impact regarding energy. Here, material will have the largest environment impact. (Source: NIBE).
The financial benefits of sustainable
building, for example due to a reduction in energy use, are uncertain. Moreover, financial
costs and benefits are not equally distributed among actors in time and place.
Another problem arises because raw materials are not distributed equally across the earth. This leads to dependency on specific countries or regions. Consider the Western dependency on oil from the Middle East or on gas from Russia. Generally, we try to avoid this kind of dependency.
Important judicial barriers can be found in building regulation and liability risks.
Regulation acts as a barrier due to its rigidity. Building regulations in the Netherlands are
formulated in terms of performance demands.
All these efforts will not prevent real difficulties with some raw materials. Alternatives must be developed so we can continue to build the products, however, this must be done using other raw materials.
It takes many years before a consensus on a
performance demand is achieved among concerned parties. Once a performance demand
is integrated into formal regulations, it is a very difficult, time consuming process to
change it. With the continuing developments in the concept of sustainable building,
performance demands become quickly outdated.
The next step in determining detrimental environmental impact is to examine the degree of material processing. A tree that is selectively cut down in a sustainable forest and subsequently is lumbered into beams and planks will have a limited environmental impact. The concern here is primarily the lumber industry
. When carried out using electrically (sustainably generated) or using biodiesel, the environmental impact of such actions is lessened.
Liability is another barrier for introducing new performance demands. It is difficult to
predict how new materials will perform during the lifetime of buildings. Certification of
new techniques or technologies takes a long time.
Finally, technology may yet fail to extract materials situated either underwater, or within water, or materials that can be found underground at great depths, or extracted solely in extreme weather conditions. The development of new technologies takes
time and money. Some companies would like
to start winning raw materials from the deep sea. This would trigger environmental issues so unless there are functioning solutions, extractions of any kind should be forbidden.
In many cases no methods for
determining the (environmental) performance of products exist, or there is a lack of
consensus amongst experts on which method to use (Brandon 1998).
Tradition is another barrier.
Another problem that arises is, for instance, the occurrence of raw materials in vulnerable areas, such as in natural areas, and in the Arctic and the Antarctic, complicating a political solution to the extraction of these materials.
The construction sector is known to be a rather conservative
sector. Its structure will undoubtedly contribute to this conservatism. Both in Europe, and
in the Netherlands the construction sector consists of 98% small and medium sized
enterprises that invest only 0.1% in research, technology and development, as opposed to
an average of 2% in other industries (Pries 1995, Patermann 1998). Furthermore, the
construction sector and the other sectors involved in the building process, such as the
energy, water and planning sectors, are not used collaborating with each other.
Next is to consider the reuse of elements, this implies not crushing a concrete structure completely to concrete granulate, but dismantling it and completely reusing elements such as floors and walls. Construction material recycling comes last, and it is carried out as much as possible within its own production process
. That is: processing concrete granulates into concrete again, instead of hiding it beneath a road. Another example is reusing leftover masonry rubble in the production process of masonry. Technically, there are hardly any limitations.
The fourth barrier concerns the image of sustainable building. The majority of actors
involved in transformation processes in the built environment consider sustainable
building to be an ideological issue, reserved for ‘believers’.
The transport and the processing of the raw material requires a low environmental impact. For instance, think of thatched roofing. Reed is cut, but no environmental impact occurs by growth or harvest. Subsequently, the reed is attached to the roof manually. The thatched roof will protect the building
for many years from the cold and from wind and weather. All that is required is an occasional mending or patching. Afterwards the reed can be torn down from the roof and can be composted or burnt. Practically no environmental impact occurs en route.
Enterprises do not want to be
associated with radical ecologists. Furthermore, sustainable building is a wicked concept.
As long as it can not provide the actors involved with a clear image of what should be
done and how it should be done, actors are not eager to try the opportunities offered by
Governments and businesses are placing a huge bet on technological innovation. If applied wisely, newly emerging technologies hold great promise for increasing productivity, improving decision making and strengthening inclusiveness. At the same time, they may kill jobs, increase inequality, and may carry nasty surprises.
The sustainable building concept has shown many developments in a relatively short
period of time, however, these developments have taken place mostly at the abstract level
of policy makers and research scientists, and less at the level of the practitioners.
Metals may also be considered zero-materials if we recycle them. Energy is still a problem though because currently the energy most often used is fossil energy. However, if we are able to use sustainable energy to
re-melt scrap to metal, this becomes actually a zero-material. Zero-materials must be used widely to maintain this kind of sustainable energy.
leaves us with a sophisticated strategic concept of sustainable building. The translation of
this concept into operational practices proves to be difficult. Four major institutional
barriers to the implementation of sustainable building have been identified in this article.
Circular economy is an economic system meant to maximize reusability of products and raw materials and to minimize value destruction. This is unlike the current linear system, in which raw materials are converted into products that are
destroyed after use. The circular system has two cycles of materials. One is a biological cycle, in which residues will safely flow back into nature, after abundant use (or 'cascaded use'). The second one is a technical cycle of products or products parts that have been designed and marketed
in such a way that they can be reused at a high-quality level. Thus, the economical value will
be retained as much as possible. The system is 'restorative' in terms of both ecology and economy. The Dutch government intends to
have a circular economy implemented by 2050.
These barriers call for further research: what causes these barriers, how do they interfere,
and how can they be overcome? The answers to these questions will be used to provide
the basis for an institutional design to improve sustainability performance of the built
This course provides you with the mental tools to do that. In the explorative course we do the groundwork by exploring sustainability and complexity and providing tools to deal with both. The specializing courses focus on how to apply this knowledge in user situations, urban societies and business
ecosystems. Finally, in the application part, you carry out a groupwise project addressing a real life challenge, emulating professional circumstances.
1. Bossink, B. (1998) Duurzaam Bouwen in Interactie (Sustainable Building in
2. Brandon, P.S. (1998) Sustainability in Management and Organisation: theKey Issues?
Proceedings of the CIB World Congress 1998, Construction and the Environment in
Gävle, Sweden, pp. 1739-1747.
3. Hajer, M.A. (1992) The politics of environmental performance review, Leiden
University, working paper 38.
4. Hajer, M.A. (1995) The politics of environmental discourse, Clarendon Press, Oxford
5. Huizing, A., J.E.F. van Dongen (1995) Introductie van milieuvriendelijke
bouwmaterialen: inventarisatie van knelpunten in de praktijk (Introduction of
environmental friendly construction materials: inventory of barriers)
6. Lohuizen, M. van (1998) Convenant Duurzaam Ontwikkelen, Bouwen en Beheren in
de Regio Rotterdam, Evaluatie van de toepassing van de Convenantslijst Nieuwbouw
(Covenant Sustainable Development, Building and Management in the Rotterdam
Region: Evaluation of the use of the Sustainable Building Checklist), Report by the
Municipality of Rotterdam.
7. Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (1989) National
Environmental Policy Plan, The Hague.
Zero-materials are those materials that cause no or hardly any environmental impact in their lifespan. The environmental impact can be determined in a so-called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). A LCA checks all stages of a material's life to see where environmental impact occurs.
8. Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (1998) Vinex 1998, The
9. Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (1997) Report on Urban
Renewal, The Hague.
10. Mol, A.P.J. (1995) The Refinement of Production, Ecological Modernization Theory
and the Chemical Industry, Van Arkel, Utrecht.
11. Nelissen, N.J.M. (1998) Environmental Policy Instrumentation in the Netherlands:
Comments on Three Decades of Development. Greener Management International,
22, July 1998.
In recent years, most attention was rightfully devoted to the energy saving element. When assessing a complete building life cycle, the environmental impact related to energy consumption is by far the largest proportion of the entire environmental impact. It becomes apparent from the hundreds of GreenCalc calculations by the NIBE  that about 80% of the entire environmental impact a building will have during its life cycle is energy-related, while approx. 20% is material-related. So, it is only appropriate that the focus is on energy saving.
12. Patermann, C. (Director DG XII, European Commission) (1998) Speech, CIB World
Congress 1998, Construction and the Environment, Gävle, Sweden.
13. Pries, F. (1995), Innovation in the Construction Industry, Eburon, Delft.
14. Van Hal, A., S. Silvester (eds) (1998) Kansen op Duurzame Stedenbouw, Verkenning
van Innovatieve Stedenbouwkundige Plannen (Chances for Sustainable Urban
, Aeneas, Best.
15. Weale, A. (1992) The New Politics of Pollution, Manchester University Press.
16. WCED (The Brundtland Report) (1987) Our Common Future, Oxford University
Two beliefs lie at the heart of Design for a Sustainable Future. One, to make sustainability operational, we must make it measurable. Two, complex problems can be managed through design thinking. Design thinking, as we define it
, encompasses (i) framing the right challenge through structured diagnosis, (ii) visioning a desired future and paths leading up to that dot on the horizon, and (iii) imagining, experimenting and testing potential technological
solutions that move the system in the right direction.
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