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It’s time for architects to embrace sustainable design – and reap the rewards

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Architects have the training and expertise to drive the agenda on low-carbon development

Sustainability should not mean compromise and, when considered as an integral part of design, it enhances our built environment. We must lead by example and set a vision for good design that minimises our impact on the planet, and respond to a growing understanding that sustainable architecture is vital to achieving a low-carbon economy. 

The RIBA is increasingly influencing the government through proactive engagement on emerging low-carbon policy. We must continue to engage with industry and speak with a united voice. That voice needs to resonate with the Treasury, recognising current global financial pressures and concerns over growth, but also get to the nub of the problem. The following is a summary of the work the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group (SFG) is currently undertaking to meet these goals.

The Green Deal

The Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates the Green Deal will lead to a ‘capital investment of some £15 billion in the residential sector alone’. Recognising a potential business opportunity for architects and the inherent risk of poor technical performance, the SFG has been working with the government for the last 12 months to help shape the way this package is released. There is still some way to go to make sure the right detail is in place before it is launched in autumn 2012, but there is real potential for architects to engage in both domestic and non-domestic retrofit. This financial package will inevitably provide further stimulus for refurbishing existing buildings.


The SFG will produce some useful Green Deal toolkits for architects in 2012, which set out lessons learned in fabric improvement and retrofit. At Ecobuild, we will launch the RIBA Guide to Sustainability in Practice, which should help architects plan for the impact of advancing legislation, and spells out the opportunities for designers to lead sustainability through integrated design.

Green Overlay

The Green Overlay to the RIBA Outline Plan of Work gives a clear breakdown of sustainability checkpoints, and highlights the activities that support a sustainable approach at every work stage. Architects and clients can see at a glance what needs doing for every step. 


www.carbonbuzz.org is a growing and trusted database on post-occupancy energy performance. We encourage architects to publish data on their projects so lessons can be shared and fed back into the design process.


Working with the RIBA Awards Committee, the SFG is reviewing how the RIBA judges the importance of sustainability in its awards, to ensure that it remains a priority. Criteria have been revised to place greater emphasis on project performance, including handover and post-occupancy feedback. As well as providing data on energy performance and carbon use, applicants are asked to describe how their design choices have had a positive impact on social sustainability, adaptation to climate change and whole-life carbon emissions.

RIBA Sustainability Hub

The RIBA’s continually updated Sustainability Hub contains video interviews, case studies, an overview of future policy, toolkits and other expert advice. www.architecture.com/SustainabilityHub

Alan Shingler is a partner at Sheppard Robson and chairs the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group

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