“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would return to the rich equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos [sic],” as quoted precisely by the American Biologist E.O. Wilson, is one such popular fact agreed upon amongst environmentalists. Environmental sustainability today is a conscious dimension of consideration and care in every domain towards nature by meeting the requirements of the present without compromising the future. Aimed at protecting global ecosystems, the measures taken under this consideration often prioritise overall health and well-being. Architecture contributes to this movement toward a better tomorrow, from the minor scale of an interior ambience to mega-scale city planning. Implementation of various design strategies, promotion of specialised certifications, and inevitably tracing back to the age-old, time-tested methods of architectural practice have etched environmental sustainability into the discipline. 

An overview of Environmental Sustainability in architecture - Sheet1
Eden Project Cornwall_ ©grimshaw.global

Tracing Environmental Sustainability in Architecture

Climatic architecture, a design initiative that emerged during the 1970s, was one of the earliest that focused on reducing toxic greenhouse gases, exploitation of resources, and deforestation. Marking its first-ever modern international milestone by celebrating the first Earth Day about fifty years ago has urged industry designers, architects, and other allied fields to adapt their approach. With the criticism of the High-tech Architectural styles from the 1980s and 1990s, Eco-tech architecture – the integration of technology and ecology to provide human comfort,  parallelly evolved around the same time.  

An overview of Environmental Sustainability in architecture - Sheet2
Environmental Sustainability_ ©agilus.ai

In 1990, the first sustainable building rating system – Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), was established in the United Kingdom. 

The famous Earth Summit conferences held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 and the following ones held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002 firmly discussed how the then scenario of development was in the direction of the destruction of the environment. Their proposals emphasised improving the quality of life by raising the environmental, cultural, political, institutional, organisational, and socio-economic standards. The highlight was how this was to happen without imposing pressure on future generations. 

Adapted from the BREEAM rating system, in 1998, the United States launched its own – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green certification. Following this, the subsequent rise to various such tailored rating methods in several countries, such as Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) in India, Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency (CASBEE) in Japan, etc., was initiated and welcomed.

Case Studies to Learn From

The Change Initiative, Dubai, is credited for being enlisted as the world’s most sustainable commercial building. Designed with absolute forward-thinking, The Edge, Netherlands, is a 15-story sustainable building example. The Vancouver Convention Center, Canada, boasts enormous green roofs and takes immense advantage of the abutting seawater for heating and cooling. The Pixel Building, Melbourne, is a unique, funky, carbon-neutral building, a pioneer of architectural sustainability. The Crystal, UK, holds pride as a multiple green rating certified project, depicting high efficiency in resourceful energy consumption. 

Understanding Environmental Sustainability in the Architectural Context

In his bestselling book, The Future of Life, E.O. Wilson paints an awakening picture of the damage human actions impact on the environment and the surrounding. “Science and technology are what we can do; morality is what we agree we should or should not do” is an essential excerpt. His argument explains how human nature is much deeper and broader than artificial and shallow advancements, emphasising the need to converge with one’s environment

A holistic concept to “live lightly on the earth,” the goal of environmental sustainability is to take less from the earth and optimally give more to people. Environmentally responsible architecture envisioning the enduring prosperity of all living things provides an abundance of scope for architecture to act as an icon of environmental leadership. Taking into consideration the social, ecological, and economic dimensions of sustainable development, notable principles under this approach include – considering energy efficiency, environmental form, healthful interior environments, and ecologically benign materials.

An overview of Environmental Sustainability in architecture - Sheet3
Vana Retreat, Dehradun_ ©theluxuryspaedit.com

With an all-around, meticulous effort to reduce the human impact on the environment, various design aspects, right from the most basic entity, are analysed thoroughly. Location and transportation, the site itself, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, water usability, general building quality, innovation, and priorities are the common broad attributes determining how green a project usually is. 

Replacing conventional materials by promoting recycled, upcycled, and renewable materials is a good start. Blending the interiors with the surrounding environment to cater to overall wellness (both physical and mental well-being) and adapting to alternative housing solutions is an enhanced level-up towards sustainability. Net-zero effect structures that look to produce at least as much energy as they consume with well-designed water conservation systems are a step ahead. 

Citations for websites:

sauc.ir. (n.d.). History of Sustainable Architecture. [online] Available at: https://sauc.ir/en/history-of-sustainable-architecture/.

Hohenadel, K. (2022). What Is Sustainable Architecture? [online] The Spruce. Available at: https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-sustainable-architecture-4846497.


Lakshmi Sundaram is an architect, muralist and graphic designer with an atypical and interdisciplinary outlook. Design being her finest channel of expression, strong narratives direct her work across all domains. Precisely, an aspiring little drop in a mighty ocean of design revolutions.