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Why do it? Drivers For Sustainable Design and Construction


There are now many factors encouraging developers to adopt more sustainable construction practices, and for these to be promoted more effectively through the planning system:
  • Sustainable development is at the core of European and UK Government policymaking, including targets on issues such as reducing CO2 emissions and waste, and increasing social equity.
  • “Sustainable development is the core principle underpinning planning” (from the opening paragraph of the recently updated Planning Policy Statement 1).
  • It is a legal requirement that sustainability appraisals are undertaken as part of regional and local planning policy development.
  • The landfill tax, aggregates levy, climate change levy, stamp duty exemption for deprived areas, have all been introduced to provide economic incentives.
  • Development Agencies are tasked with promoting sustainable development and are building requirements into procurement processes, for example requirements to meet EcoHomes or BREEAM rating targets.
  • Forthcoming legislation including the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and Updates to Part L of Building Regulations and the Implementation of the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act will increase minimum standards relating to sustainable construction.

Business Drivers


Voluntary Standards and Codes

Fiscal Incentives

Investor Pressure

Reputation and risk

UK Sustainable Development Strategy

UK Sustainable Construction Strategy

UK Sustainability Targets

Sustainable Construction Initiatives

Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks (RSDF)

Planning Policy Guidance

Local government policies


Business Drivers

From a developers perspective this changing policy framework has created a number of business drivers:

  • Obtaining planning permission will increasingly require the adoption of sustainable construction practices.
  • Those companies that adopt forward thinking approaches will increase opportunities for developing on sites being brought forward by informed landowners and building clients.
  • Growing awareness from shareholders, investors and the public has lead to increased public reporting on social and environmental issues, with some developers now producing annual environmental, social or sustainability reports.
  • Socially responsible investment has placed pressure on companies to integrate social and environmental considerations into their working practices, and to adopt environmental management systems, creating greater pressure from clients for buildings with reduced running costs and more attractive and healthy working environments for their staff.
  • There is growing recognition that creating decent places for people to work and live, with high quality public spaces and amenities creates value and will lead to higher investment returns for developers.  Recent research has for example shown higher investment returns for mixed use development.
  • Pressure groups have become more sophisticated in their approach to promoting sustainable development, by either working more closely with key industry groups or by publicly embarrassing those organisations that fail to take issues seriously.

Some of these drivers are expanded upon in the Sustainable Construction Task Force’s report “Reputation Risk and Reward” www.dti.gov.uk/construction/sustain/rrnr.pdf and in the following sections.



Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act


The Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill is a Private Members' Bill introduced by Andrew Stunell MP and supported by all-party sponsors. It received Royal Assent on 16 September 2004. This Act will allow Building Regulations to address sustainability issues more fully than is the case at the moment, such as furthering protection and enhancement of the environment, facilitation of sustainable development, and furthering the prevention and detection of crime.

With particular relevance to sustainable design and construction it would give new powers under the Building Act 1984 to improve the sustainability of buildings, including:

  • Energy: furthering the conservation of fuel and power.
  • Water: preventing waste, undue consumption, misuse or contamination of water.
  • Biodiversity: furthering the protection or enhancement of the environment.

Demolition of buildings will be covered along with design and construction matters allowing the whole lifecycle to be considered.  Another key change is that regulations may now be introduced imposing sustainability requirements on existing buildings when they are altered, extended or where there is a change of occupancy - for example, by requiring existing lofts and cavity walls to be insulated where it would be cost-effective.  They will also allow the introduction of legislation requiring regular inspection and monitoring of performance in use, e.g. boiler efficiency checks etc.

Energy Performance of Buildings Directive


In January 2006 the UK Government will begin implementation of this EU directive.  Its requirements include the following:

  • Establishment of a common methodology for calculating the integrated energy performance of buildings.
  • Application of minimum standards on the energy performance to new buildings and to certain existing buildings when they are renovated.
  • Energy certification schemes for new and existing buildings.
  • Public display of energy performance certificates and recommended indoor temperature and other relevant climatic factors in public buildings and buildings frequented by the public.
  • Specific inspection and assessment of boilers and heating / cooling installations.

The requirements for an energy performance certificate to be provided when a building is built sold or rented out is likely to have a key influence, as it potentiallyallows the introduction of further legislation that could create market value for buildings with reduced energy demand.  Measures that have been discussed but not yet implemented include linking the rate of Stamp Duty to the energy demand of a building.

Updates to Part L of Building Regulations

The update to Part L of building regulations will come into force in December 2005.  This will set standards aimed at achieving a 20-25% saving in CO2 emissions compared to current regulations. Existing methods of demonstrating compliance are expected to be replaced by a calculation of overall CO2 emissions and comparison against a target value.  This calculation will take into account any renewables used in the building. www.odpm.gov.uk/buildingregs.


Voluntary Standards and Codes

BREEAM and EcoHomes Targets

BREEAM is an environmental assessment method developed jointly by ECD and BRE. Since its launch in 1999, schemes have been developed for Industrial Units, Superstores, Retail and Housing.  The housing scheme is known as EcoHomes.

The scheme establishes best practice criteria against which buildings can be assessed, and depending on performance schemes are awarded a rating of Pass, Good, Very Good or Excellent.

The scheme is increasingly being used by clients and landowners to establish performance standards for new developments.  All housing schemes receiving support from the Housing Corporation must achieve at least a Pass rating with a recommended target of Good.  This coupled with the common requirement for affordable housing as part of mixed use development means that most housing schemes now require an EcoHomes assessment.

All new Government buildings must achieve a BREEAM rating of Excellent with refurbished buildings achieving a rating of Very Good.  As around 40% of the construction industry’s output by value (some £24 billion per year) is purchased by the public sector, this is also acting as a strong driver for sustainable design and construction. www.bre.co.uk.


Fiscal incentives

The Government has introduced a range of fiscal incentives aimed at encouraging the take up of Sustainable Design and Construction Measures.  Examples of some of these incentives are:

Landfill Tax

The Landfill Tax was introduced 1996 to provide a fiscal incentive to minimise waste as well as to identify opportunities for dealing with waste in a more productive way. When launched, for active waste the cost was set at £7 per tonne while inactive waste attracted a tax of £2 per tonne. The current rate for active waste is now £14/tonne but this will increase by £3/year until it reaches £35/tonne.  The tax raised is used to fund a wide range of environmental projects through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme (LTCS). www.ltcs.org.uk.

Aggregates Levy

In order to encourage use of recycled aggregates in preference to virgin aggregates the Government introduced the Aggregates Levy in 2002.  The levy of £1.60 per tonne applies to virgin aggregates but not to recycled aggregates.  Money raised is used to support the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, which provides grants for sustainable development projects.

Land Use Incentives

In the 2001 budget the Government announced plans to abolish stamp duty on redevelopment in certain disadvantaged areas and a reduction of VAT to 5% on properties that have been empty for more than three years. The Finance Bill 2001 also offers an accelerated tax credit (up to 150%) to cover the costs of cleaning up contaminated land.

Renewables Grant Schemes

The DTI Solar PV Grants programme provides grants that contribute towards the cost of installing grid-connected photovoltaic arrays (PV) on public, domestic and commercial buildings. Up to 60% of eligible costs can be grant funded for public sector bodies such as local authorities and housing associations. Up to 40% of installation costs are available to commercial organizations such as private developers and 50% for SMEs and individual householders. These grants are awarded on a quarterly competitive basis, www.est.co.uk/solar.

The DTI clear skies grant programme provides grants to community projects of up to 50% of the costs of solar water heating, wind power, biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps up to a maximum grant of £100,000.  The grants are awarded on a competitive basis.  Applications are made quarterly and assessed by a review panel.  Key funding requirements are value for money in terms of cost per tonne of CO2 saved, and the degree of community involvement.   Funding must be spent within two years of the grant being approved and systems and installers would have to be selected from the Clear Skies approved list on their website, www.clear-skies.org.

Energy Efficiency Commitment Scheme (EEC)

Energy supply companies are required to fund measures to reduce carbon emissions.  Each company has a target they must meet which is measured based on the number of energy saving schemes they fund.  Energy suppliers have developed framework agreements with private developers that subsidize the provision of measures including A-rated appliances and boilers and low energy light bulbs. www.ofgem.gov.uk


Investor pressure

Growing public awareness of environmental and social concerns, has lead to rapid risein ethical pension funds, which in turn is creating greater pressure for socially responsible investment (SRI).  Companies such as the Ethical Investment Research Information Service (EIRIS) now benchmark companies according to their progress on implementing sustainable business practices.  SRI now represents around £250 billion of institutional investment in the UK alone, showing a dramatic growth in recent years.

The new FTSE4Good Index includes only those companies with high standards of environmental performance, human rights and stakeholder engagement.   Back-testing shows that the UK top 50 FTSE4Good companies would have outperformed the conventional FTSE 100 by 15% over the last five years.

The pressure for SRI will continue to grow.  The 1999 Pensions Act now requires all occupational pension funds to explain in their Statement of Investment Principles (SIPs) the extent to which they factor social and environmental issues into their investments.  Morley (part of the CGNU Group), one of the largest UK fund managers, also has a social responsibility policy and plans AGM votes against all FTSE 100 companies that fail to publish environmental reports.

The implications of this rapid growth in socially responsible investment are that property and construction companies will increasingly be required to demonstrate their credentials on these issues to secure investment.


Reputation and risk

Environmental pressure groups are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach to promoting sustainable development.  Approaches range from high-level political lobbying, working with organisations to integrate sustainable development practices into their standard methods of working or using high profile stunts to embarrass organisations into action.

The WWF recently published a review of how effectively the UK’s 13 leading house builders were addressing sustainable development issues, ranking them from best to worst.www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/bts.pdf

Greenpeace have recently “exposed” a number of projects for using illegally felled tropical hardwoods, creating considerable press coverage for the schemes involved.  This provides a further incentive to ensure that sustainable design and construction measures are being properly addressed through supply chain mechanisms.


UK Sustainable Development Strategy

In May 1999 the UK Government published “A Better Quality of Life – A Strategy for Sustainable Development in the UK”, this set out four main aims:

  • Social progress which recognises the needs of everyone
  • Effective protection of the environment
  • Prudent use of natural resources
  • Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment

This strategy is now at the core of policy development in the UK. Further information on UK Governments sustainable development policies can be found at: www.sustainable-development.gov.uk


UK Sustainable Construction Strategy

Building a Better Quality of Life, A Strategy for more sustainable construction”, (www.dti.gov.uk/construction/sustain/bql) established key themes for action by the construction industry. These include:

  • Design for minimum waste
  • Lean construction & minimise waste
  • Minimise energy in construction & use
  • Do not pollute
  • Preserve & enhance biodiversity
  • Conserve water resources
  • Respect people & local environment
  • Monitor & report, (i.e. use benchmarks)

Most of these points simply make good business sense e.g. minimising waste increasing efficiency. Sustainability is of increasing importance to the efficient, effective and responsible operation of business.

Sustainable Construction Brief 2, April, DTI, April 2004 (www.dti.gov.uk/construction/sustain/fb.pdf)

UK Sustainability Targets

UK Waste Strategy

The Government published its UK Waste Strategy 2000 for England and Wales in 2000  (www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/strategy/). The key targets and goals that sustainable design and construction measures can address include:

  • By 2005, to reduce the landfill of industrial and commercial waste to 85% of 1998 levels
  • To recycle or compost at least 33% of household waste by 2015
  • To recover value from 45% of municipal waste by 2010, at least 30% through recycling or composting

UK Energy Strategy

The Government published its Energy White paper in 2003 (www.dti.gov.uk/energy/whitepaper/). The key targets and goals relevant to sustainable design and construction include:

  • Commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by around 60% by 2050
  • Target to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2010
  • 10% of UK energy supply from renewables by 2010
  • 10% Good Quality Combined Heat and Power by 2010
  • Eliminate fuel poverty in Britain by 2016-18

Quality of Life Counts

Progress in implementing the UK Sustainable Development strategy is being measured using the ‘Quality of life counts’. These set out a series of social and economic statistical indicators which can be measured on an ongoing basis, there are 15 ‘headline’ indicators and around 150 indicators in total, covering three core themes:

  • A sustainable economy
  • Building sustainable communities
  • Managing the environment and resources

Of these indicators there are few which are not either directly or indirectly related to construction, examples include: the number of homes unfit to live in, emissions of greenhouse gases, and the number of homes built on previously-developed land. There will be continued pressure to ensure these indicators are moving in the right direction, progress so far can be reviewed at:www.sustainable-development.gov.uk.


Sustainable construction initiatives

The Sustainable Buildings Task Group


Following the Better Buildings Summit in October 2003 the Deputy Prime Minister set up the Sustainable Building Task Group.  The aim was to identify specific, cost-effective, improvements in the quality and environmental performance of buildings which industry could deliver in both the short and long term, together with further actions that Government could take to facilitate faster progress.

The Group reported its findings ‘Better Buildings - Better Lives: the Sustainable Buildings Task Group Report’ in May 2004, and the Government published its response in July 2004.

Key recommendations of the Task Group include:

  • A single national Code for Sustainable Building (CSB) be established based on BREEAM and which incorporates clearly specified minimum standards in key resource efficiency areas.
  • Extending Building regulations to include broader sustainability considerations (including support for the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill)
  • Encourage sustainability in the construction industry through improved training and increased capacity, through the Learning and Skills Council and Sector Skills Council.

The Egan Review – Skills for Sustainable Communities


Sir John Egan was asked by the Deputy Prime Minister to conduct a review of the skills and training that built environment professionals require to deliver sustainable communities.  Within the broader context of sustainable communities, some of the recommendations are relevant to promoting sustainable design and construction:

Common Goal

  • Develop a sustainable communities code/benchmarking, that will give clear information about the environmental and quality standards that sustainable communities should achieve.
  • Look at ways of incentivising progress, with the longer-term aim of developments that achieve carbon emissions and waste minimisation standards consistent with sustainable one planet level.
  • Halt single use of land for industrial, commercial, housing, retail and leisure development without full consideration of mixed-use alternatives.


  • Local Development Frameworks should be key delivery mechanisms for creating sustainable communities, informed by a Sustainable Community Strategy.


  • Success will lie in changing the behaviour, attitudes and knowledge of everyone involved, many of whom may not have realised in the past that they had anything to do with each other, or with sustainable communities.
  • Generic skills to form part of existing formal training courses for built environment professions; and that cross-sector working is introduced at an early stage.


Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks (RSDF)

Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were established with a primary role as strategic drivers of regional economic development. RDAs aim to co-ordinate regional economic development and regeneration, enable the English regions to improve their relative competitiveness and reduce the imbalance that exists within and between regions. 

Each RDA has 5 statutory purposes, which are:

  • To further economic development and regeneration
  • To promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness
  • To promote employment
  • To enhance development and application of skill relevant to employment
  • To contribute to sustainable development

Each region must also publish a regional sustainable development framework (RSDF), produced by the Regional Assembly, RDA, regional government office, and other relevant government bodies in the area.  The framework sets out an over-arching integrated policy document, to guide and help in monitoring the implementation of sustainable development within the region.


Planning Policy

There are a broad range of planning policies and mechanisms which are driving this agenda forward. See Planning Framework and Planning Mechanisms sections.


Local government policies

Community Strategies

Local councils are required to draw up Community Strategies that contribute to sustainable development of their area.

Other Local Policies

Local Authorities are also likely to have their own policies on specific issues relevant to sustainable design and construction, such as housing, transport, waste, water, biodiversity, fuel poverty, and CO2 emissions.