Sustainable architecture – a guide to green and energy efficient homes

Sustainable architecture is undoubtedly a hot topic – to put it mildly. The last few years have witnessed a spectacular awareness of consumption, sustainability issues and, in general, the behavior of our society vis-à-vis the natural world.

Jess Hrivnak, Sustainability Advisor at RIBA, says: “The built environment is responsible for 40% of UK carbon emissions, almost half of which comes from the energy used in buildings. Our current approaches are not sustainable and urgent action must be taken to reduce our impact on the environment. In 2019, RIBA partnered with industry, government and academia to declare a climate emergency.

It’s a great conversation, but looking specifically at the design and architecture industry, the issue of sustainable living has encouraged a noticeable, dramatic and favorable change in consumer expectations and demands.

Once on the periphery of customer minds and discussions of “building” architecture, sustainability quickly bounced back to the heart of the conversation. From the start of the initial project to the detailed drawings and the long-awaited and renowned final task of ‘hanging’, the architecture is now entirely enveloped in materials, methods and enduring results. It is clear that if you are an architect producing work in 2022, sustainability must be integrated – deeply and significantly – into everything from the initial marketing pitch and concept design, to the final realization of the project. .

Breaking the topic of sustainable architecture down into digestible nuggets, we spoke to the experts at RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and asked them to share their first-hand experiences and opinions on this topic of fashionable, sustainable architecture. .

Reclaimed brick extension house, residential, by VATRAA Architecture

(Image credit: Photographer: Jim Stephenson Architect: VATRAA Architecture)

What is the RIBA? And what do they highlight as sustainable result goals?

Well first, what is RIBA? RIBA stands for Royal Institute of British Architects and is essentially the leading voice of the UK architectural industry. In 2019, during the global uprising and the declaration of an environmental and climate emergency, the RIBA produced a document entitled Sustainable Outcomes Guide.

It contains 8 Key Findings which have been organized to primarily guide and help practicing architects and architectural firms work towards creating sustainable architecture. RIBA President Alan Jones said: “This guide helps architects describe the DNA of a sustainable project, using clear and measurable goals for the triple bottom line of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. “

“In June 2019, the RIBA joined the global declaration of environmental and climate emergency. That same week, the UK government announced a new law aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. In September 2019, we launched the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge.

Jess Hrivnak tells us, “The RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide is grounded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and examines the range of sustainable development outcomes across environmental, social and economic issues.

The RIBA’s 8 Sustainable Outcome Categories have many goals to achieve and aim for, listing several factors under each category goal, which, when combined, provide a clear overview and indication of what architects and architects are aiming for. architectural firms must work to be considered a professional and sustainable architectural practice in 2022 onwards.

What is the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge?

The RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge is the industry’s most notable challenge for practicing architects. The RIBA calls this “a phased approach to reaching net zero”.

Hrivnak explains: “The RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge focuses on 3 issues inherent in all types of buildings (namely carbon, energy and water). The Challenge is intended to stimulate debate and advocate for our members to play their part in resolving this global crisis. The challenge presents a concise set of staggered goals – outlining a clear reduction trajectory. “

By 2030, the RIBA suggests that Certified Architects aim to achieve these goals, which include (but not limited to):

  • Seek commitment from the customer and for the customer to return information on water and energy consumption to RIBA one year after living in the property
  • To take into account the design implications over the lifetime of the carbon, use a low carbon heater in accordance with recommended RIBA standards
  • Designing for low carbon heating without fossil fuel boilers
  • Design using realistic predictions of operational energy targets.

Reclaimed brick extension house, residential, by VATRAA Architecture

(Image credit: Photographer: Jim Stephenson Architect: VATRAA Architecture)

What do “circular approach” and “net zero approach” mean?

A circular approach means reuse and reallocation of resources – critically without these resources being degraded in quality. A net zero approach could indicate that work is underway to align with a potential net zero carbon outcome in the future.

What are the common misconceptions about sustainable architecture?

1. That there is a lack of sustainable options when it comes to the choice of materials

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the chic element could suffer as more eco-friendly architectural construction and sustainable material choices come into play. self-build projects. Let’s be honest, the results were mixed. While some sustainable constructions came out on top and surprised audiences with their elegant level of sophistication and quality, while other results – charming as they were – only fueled the pessimists and affirmed the perception. people that sustainable architecture meant living in a handmade treehouse, with no electricity or an indoor toilet.

But, that was almost twenty years ago, and things have changed dramatically in that short period of time. Sustainable architecture has now moved further into the mainstream psyche and aesthetic, and with this shift, an increasing number of sourcing companies and designers are competing in the market, bringing an increased level of sustainable materials. and, above all, refinement. As sustainable practice becomes more and more popular in the architectural industry and materials and methods of construction change and develop rapidly, more and more information becomes available every day.

Sustainable house designed by A Zero Architecture

(Image credit: Photographer: Agnese Sanvito Architect: A-Zero Architecture)

2. That everything for the construction must be collected?

The truth is, yes, salvaging materials for a building is considered a sustainable part of a building project and is one of the main ways in which architecture can be more sustainable, but the use of salvaged products are just a few of the ways you can look to build sustainably. Hrivnak says: “Often the most sustainable approach is to reuse or adapt existing buildings, but if that is not possible and you build new ones, the project team should follow the approaches set out in the User plan Guide

“This clearly defines measurable performance results and will help both architects and clients achieve the goals set in the Climate Challenge and the broader parameters discussed in the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide,” says Hrivnak.

Alloy development / Photography: Richard Barnes

(Image credit: Alloy Development / Photography: Richard Barnes)

3. That it will cost a lot of money?

Ok, so let’s not create a veil. In some ways, sustainable construction – certainly when achieving a chic and seamless contemporary build – is a more expensive option than standard construction and processes. However, many architects we spoke to were quick to point out the need to plan costs on a schedule, instead of just judging costs as “here and now”. Costing will show, in many cases, that in the long run, you will most likely save money. That’s why asking your architect questions literally pays off.

Where can you search and find a sustainable architect?

RIBA has created a useful help called “Find an Architect”. The website tool includes a 4-step process: notify RIBA about your project, get matched with an approved RIBA-approved firm, receive responses from interested firms, and then make your selection. There are over 3,700 RIBA accredited firms working in the system. Visit to start the process.

Colorful modern house with swimming pool

(Image credit: Fiona Susanto)

What are the top 3 questions you should ask an architect, according to RIBA, when looking for a sustainable architectural result?

  • 1. How can I optimize what I already have?
  • 2. How can I reduce and save energy?
  • 2. How can I improve my use of space, positively influence health and well-being, while reducing my environmental footprint?

What does “greenwashing” mean?

This is where organizations and brands highlight and prioritize their green and sustainable processes or goals as a marketing message, however, and that’s a big ‘however’ this promoted sustainable process or element does not deliver. necessarily a full or true picture of how their company or brand is managed or give a fully accurate picture of their sustainability practices.

It is effectively considered to veil the full truth. People are often tricked into thinking that they are potentially selling and buying a sustainable product or service from a company with good green intentions. How to navigate greenwashing? Ask lots of questions (starting with the questions listed above) and take your time. Don’t rush into decisions and be sure to communicate and speak to qualified and certified architectural professionals.

small house architects vacation

(Image credit: Architects Holiday/

What does Passive House mean?

We couldn’t delve into sustainable architecture without recognizing Passivhaus.
The first Passivhaus was built in Germany in 1991, and it has been a growing architectural style ever since.

The construction standard and guidelines for a Passivhaus have been established by the Passivhaus Institute. The essential elements of a passive house are that it is: affordable, energy efficient and comfortable. The idea is that a passive house uses the absolute minimum of energy to run and heat it, and that any energy or function required in the house has systems that have the lowest impact, both in terms of cost and environmental impact.

A Passivhaus must have excellent heating and cooling systems (mechanical ventilation and heat recovery, also known as MVHR), which makes the prospect of living in a Passivhaus very appealing.