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 CO2 emission.
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