Sustainability – a trending term with enormous significance has become an integral and prominent acknowledgement, especially in building and construction industry. Sustainability, is a science of maximising the balance of ecological well-being and maintaining it with respect to the by-products received and utilised.

The Science of sustainability includes the three major criteria known as

Three pillars of Sustainability

  • Economic Sustainability
  • Social Sustainability
  • Environmental Sustainability

Sustainable building materials, is one of the most prominent consideration regarding sustainability in building construction.

Sustainable building materials, can be both traditional/vernacular and contemporary.

Vernacular building materials are generally locally available, which contributes in reducing the carbon footprint during construction. They can be cost effective.

Contemporary building materials are technologically more advanced, and are manufactured for tackling the current non-sustainable scenario, hence being user friendly. These materials might not be economically feasible.

The conventional building materials, which are used at a large scale in all parts of the world might not necessarily be Sustainable.

In order to achieve sustainability, innovative alternatives to these conventional materials are being introduced. Some of them were traditionallyused and now are being re-established, some of them are newly developed to solve the non-sustainable crisis.

 1. Mycelium

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Mycelium structure ©
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Mycelium structure ©

Mycelium, a brand-new futuristic building material can be considered as a potential alternative to concrete.

Concrete, is a mixture of cement, sand and aggregate, which are all in itself environment friendly. The process of manufacturing of all these elements is a highly energy consuming process, for example, mining for the stone in stone quarries, consumes a lot of energy.

Mycelium, is a 100% organic material. Components of mycelium includes, sawdust and mycelium mushrooms (fibres of fungi shaped like mushrooms). The sawdust when combined with the mycelium, forms a solid block which when fused together with other blocks into a mould, can be made into the desired shape. The growth of the fungi can be stopped by drying or curing the blocks.

Although, mycelium is not practically used in construction so far, it is used for making furniture and composite boards like Medium Density Fibre boards (MDF).

Mycelium, is a promising material in the future of sustainable architecture.

2. Ferrock:

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Ferrock used as roof material ©
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Ferrock ©

Ferrock is one of the contemporary green materials, which can be the carbon-neutral alternative for concrete.As previously mentioned, manufacturing process of concrete is extremely energy consuming. For example, clay or limestone when burned at high temperature, emits high amount of carbon-di-oxide, making it a major contributor in increasing the carbon footprint.Ferrock, is made by using waste steel dust and silica from ground up glass. Ferrock, is the solidified block, conceived when the steel dust and silica react with carbon-di-oxide. Ferrock is five times stronger than concrete and hence is considered an ideal material for construction in regions with high seismic activity.The main characteristic of ferrock, is that it absorbs carbon-di-oxide instead of emitting it unlike concrete, which makes it a carbon-negative material

3. Solar tiles.

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Solar tiles©
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Solar tiles©

The roofing tiles conventionally used are made up of clay, slate, concrete or plastic. They serve the purpose of protecting the structure from wind, rain and harsh sunlight. Solar tiles can be an alternative to the roofing tiles, where protection form harsh sunlight is a main concern. It harnesses solar energy, which can be used for heating purpose or used as solar electricity. Conventionally used roofing materials have energy intensive manufacturing process, which makes solar tiles an ideal material for roofing alternative.

4. Paper insulation:

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Paper insulation ©
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Paper insulation ©

Paper insulation is a greener alternative to the chemical insulation, which is generally used.Chemical insulation includes chemicals like Isocyanate and formaldehyde. Which are hazardous and can cause health hazards to occupants. Paper insulation, is eco-friendly, recyclable option to avoid the health hazards caused by chemicals.

It consists of recycled paper and cardboard, infused with borax and calcium carbonate. It is applied mechanically, hence eliminating the presence of any voids inside the insulated area. Presence of borax ensures an insect resistance. Paper insulation is also cost effective and also insulates the structure acoustically.

5. Wood fibreboard:

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wood fibre board ©
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Wood fibre board ©

Wood fibre insulation board is a sustainable alternative not just to the chemical insulation but also the plaster boards used. Plaster boards are made generally made of gypsum, which is a recyclable material, but the recycling process is extremely energy intensive. Wood fibre board are used for internal insulation, and have good compressive strength. As wood is known for its carbon sequestration property, it helps to reduce the carbon footprint.

 6. Smart glass:

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Smart glass©
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Smart glass©

Glass has been used as building material since a long time. It is used on the exterior as curtain wall or in the interior for windows and sliding doors. The main purpose of the glass to be installed, is to let natural light inside, minimizing the artificial use of light. But, in case of summers, harsh sunlight entering the interior can cause rise in the temperature inside resulting in maximizing the use of electricity like fans and air conditioning and also making the interiors uncomfortable.

Smart glass, as the name suggests, is the latest innovative material, developed to tackle the problem of harsh sunlight. Smart glass or smart windows, change the frequency of light transmission in the interior of the structure according to the heat and light applied.In case of moderate sunlight, they become transparent, which is beneficial during winters as it keeps the room warm. In case of harsh sunlight, they become translucent, which achieves coolness in summers. It blocks 99% of UV light.

This technology, is cost effective, not with respect to the installation but in long term usage as it reduces the electric consumption.

7. CSEB (Compressed Stabilized Earth Block):

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Concrete blocks or country fired bricks are the most common used building materials in current scenario. CSEB, with its prominent component as earth is eco-friendly and is beneficial with respect to the carbon-negative quotient. The block is made from the earth which is mostly available on the site itself, reducing the transportation cost and eventually, the carbon footprint.

CSEB has proved to be energy efficient as its embodied energy is 10.7 less than the fired brick. CSEB are more cost effective than bricks and concrete blocks as no transportation cost is required, the manufacturing process is easy and hence no skilled labour is required. The machines used for making CSEB are also not extremely expensive.

 8. Pavegen:

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Pavegen ©
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Pavegen, is a company, headquartered in London, which has transformed the face of paving blocks and its function.Pavegen has developed paving blocks, which converts the footfall into electrical energy. Each footstep, generates around 5 watts of electricity in the duration and rewards the pedestrian with rewards connecting to then via Bluetooth. This method if adopted on a large scale, in cities and public buildings can harness humungous amount of electrical energy and will also promote walking as the best commute (for shorter distance). This will eventually, reduce the usage of private vehicles and will reduce carbon emissions.

The method is not cost effective, but if installed on larger scale in public places, can be extremely beneficial to the community.


A firm believer of J.K Rowling’s famous quote, “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, the most inexhaustible source of magic”. Samruddhi Kulkarni is a 23 year old architect, an ardent reader, coffee enthusiast, loves to explore places and preserve them in her diary.

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