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What are Sustainable Building Materials

As an Architect it is our imperative to design buildings around standard material sizes to reduce wastage on site but to what extent is one material more sustainable than another and how can we design and build ecological housing in Victoria?

New homes in Victoria are constructed from a typical palette of building materials, where suitable alternative sustainable building materials are often overlooked due to cost or unfamiliarity.

Architect Tone Wheeler in Clarke (2015) simply defines sustainable building materials to have long life, loose fit and low impact.

Our homes should be designed to last 100 years, with interiors and services that can be easily updated with changes in occupancy and technology as well as materials selected with a low environmental impact create a healthier, smarter and more cost effective approach to the business as usual model.

All materials have an environmental and social impact in their production, use and disposal. Strategic selection of materials must always be made, as there is not one solution or combination that is truly the environmental ‘Holy Grail’. Structural materials of steel and concrete are extremely high in embodied energy and until alternative materials are developed they will remain an integral part of buildings.

Green building materials can be defined as those that use natural local resources or recycled ingredients over virgin ones, recycle or have little waste products as part of the manufacturing process, are biodegradable, not derived from petrochemicals, naturally occurring and designed for re-use or recyclability. Green building materials are also non toxic, non hazardous, durable, energy and water efficient.

How many of our commonly used construction materials fit into this category?

“Choosing and using sustainable materials is a complex and rapidly evolving science.” Dr Chris Reardon in Clarke (2015, p. 10).

Because of this there is not a ‘must have’ list of materials to use for all applications. In a series of following posts I would like to take you through the process of;

  • Assessing Environmental Impacts

  • Embodied Energy

  • Life cycle analysis

  • Cradle to Cradle theory

  • Labelling & Certification

  • Toxic Materials

  • Innovation and Evolution

  • Sustainable Materials criteria

  • Affordability

After considering these themes we can then start to look at building elements, comparing available products and looking to the innovation and evolution happening around the world. Hi tech and low tech materials are proving to be great choices on the forefront of sustainable materials.

There is a lot to discover! I hope that you join me in this in depth exploration and look forward to sharing some innovative materials with you in greater detail.

End Notes

Clarke, D. (ed) 2014, How to Rethink Building Materials: Creating ecological housing for the designer, builder and homeowner, CL Creations, Australia.

Till next time,


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Fiona Golding is an Architect at Live Architecture, a Warrnambool-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes.


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