The Oxford dictionary describes sustainability as “The property of being environmentally sustainable; the degree to which a process or enterprise can be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources.” 

Existing Material policies for sustainable design - Sheet1
©Executive Magazine

Climate Change being one of the most concerning issues of our time, it becomes necessary to incorporate measures to ensure sustainability in design. Architecture and design is a process continually utilizing resources in the form of materials used for building, constructing, and embellishing. This list of resources is not just limited to what remains in a building after construction; it also includes the gas used in transportation, the water used for curing a concrete slab, or even the demolition waste generated. Careful and innovative usage of material thus becomes the need of the hour. Many organizations, institutions, private offices, etc have embodied and envisioned policies to ensure conscious decision-making when it comes to handling material and similar resources for construction purposes. Some are widely practiced and endorsed at the governmental level; while, some are rather restricted to smaller firms. Some of the many policies have been discussed further.

Sustainable Procurement Regulations

The UNEP(United Nations Environment Programme), in its Handbook of Sustainable policies, lists around 23 policy instruments for sustainable design. Sustainable Procurement Regulations is one such example that considerably focusses on materials and their acquisition. The policy proposes governmental structures that regulate the purchase of materials by enforcing sustainability standards which can then be met by the suppliers of the materials, etc. The sustainability criteria are often diverse, shifting with changing contexts and variation in the scale of implementation. 

Many organizations and firms like Godrej Consumer Products, Deloitte, etc, have included sustainable procurement regulations in their policies. The take of these companies often extends to economic and cultural sustainability too.

Existing Material policies for sustainable design - Sheet2

Construction Waste Minimisation

Material discarded during building activities can be termed as construction waste. According to a 2012 World Bank report, there is a global collective of 1.3 billion tons of solid waste generated every year, out of which half is generated due to construction. 

Existing Material policies for sustainable design - Sheet3

Disposal of construction waste causes land pollution, affects groundwater tables, and causes safety hazards. These numbers are increasing every year, hence many conscious organizations have put policies in place to reduce waste generation. Construction Waste Minimisation as defined by Envirowise (1998) is the process of systematic waste reduction at source, by preventing and reducing waste before its physical generation, and encouraging reuse, recycling, and recovery.  

Hong Kong government’s initiative to formulate a management strategy for construction waste is worth a mention. Their policies encourage the sorting of mixed construction waste, reuse, and recycle waste and minimization of waste through better design. Also, they have a waste disposal charging scheme, wherein the government charges waste producers to use government waste disposal facilities.  

Sustainable Materials Management

Broadly, sustainable materials management encourages the re-use of construction and demolition materials in both building and other activities to form a loop for material usage. Incentivizing this through policies endorses a reduction in the usage of virgin materials. Different nations have implemented sustainable materials management through various policies. 

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency identified that 569 Million tons of CDD(Construction and Demolition debris) was generated in the country in the year 2017. Their researchers have been working on developing techniques to reuse these materials. They provide information and guidance to the practitioners by developing easy to use apps to monitor liquid waste management, H2S emissions, etc. while reusing waste materials. 

In India, The Waste Management Rules of 2016, require all the buildings authorized by local and government institutions to be built with a minimum of 10-20 percent of reused materials. CPWD( Central Public Works Department) was the first body to adopt this, their first project being the extension to the Supreme Court building in Delhi. (Src:

In addition to governmental measures, many local communities use enterprising methods to utilize construction and demolition waste. According to Urbz, an organization that works closely with Dharavi, almost all the demolition debris generated in Dharavi are re-used in one way or the other. Many private building centers have started manufacturing bricks, tiles, and other building materials from materials like brick debris, one time use plastic waste, etc.

Existing Material policies for sustainable design - Sheet5
Dharavi Waste Recycling ©Semantic Scholar

Role of the Designer

Sustainable use of materials is possible, not only through institutional policies alone. A conscious effort by the designer is required too. The role of the designer includes creative problem-solving to adopt newer and more sustainable methods of construction, as well as ensuring and promoting the acceptability of sustainable materials and policies among clients; to innovate and reach out to newer problems, as well as respect the local and look for solutions in the vernacular; to be abreast with governmental policies regarding sustainability, as well as contest incoherent institutional decisions. Currently, many offices and firms have taken it upon themselves to work towards sustainable material development. Such conscious research at various scales is helping to develop better policies with every passing day.

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Hamsa’a House by Biome Environmental Solutions. Innovative use of materials. ©ArchDaily

Bhavya Jain is an aspiring architect, a writer of assortments, and nearly an avid reader. She runs an informal blog with introspective and speculative content. Literature in architecture has been a very fond subject to her and she hopes to be able to contribute to it aptly.