The Limitations

Thermal insulation
Thermal Conductivity
Agilent Technologies

It would be impossible for a computer programme to give you a definitive answer as to which materials are most sustainable for use in construction because experts also cannot give a definitive answer. This simple piece of software is designed to give an alternative to your current material selected rather than the answer. A fully sustainable building material would have no negative impacts on the environment, no negative impacts on social well being and at the same time being an economically viable option. This product does not currently exist.

Sustainability has three sides to it. Economics, Environment and Social. Before any project starts, it is an idea to set aside some time for the material selection to be discussed as to its sustainability. Within this group ideas both mundane and outlandish may be discussed in an attempt to re-evaluate the position that is the norm.

Each of the three sustainability issues should have an influence on the decision making process that is actioned before a project is started.

Economic decisions are those that are currently already fairly clear to most developers, however the decision should not just be taken on which material is the cheapest. Economic decisions work in a number of different ways.

Longevity. Each material has a finite life and it is important that this is considered. To construct a building that will require major elements replaced in less than twenty years is currently going on with the average building being constructed to last less than 50yrs. Question whether the building is going to be temporary or permanent. Design the building around future needs as well as current ones if possible
Durability. Some materials require at intervals to be treated to prevent rotting or cleaned to maintain their appearance. These are costs that are rarely added to the overall costs
Waste. Some materials during fitting require excess to be scraped off or cut to shape. This material is generally put into the waste stream that will cost money to be disposed of. It may be possible for the material to be recycled as opposed to disposed of which will save money on disposal however it would be advantageous if the disposal was not necessary. By selecting materials that are either cut to size as opposed to standard length it is possible to dramatically reduce the amount disposed of.
Fitting. The speed with which materials may be fitted will also play a part in the overall economic costs. The ease with which other fitters may work around each other will also play its part. This time saved in fitting will make a difference to the cost of labour for the whole project.
End of Life. Once the building has reached the end of its useful life it will require to be dismantled and disposed of. Dismantling buildings can be a complex issue as most of the design that is involved is in keeping the building up.


Environmental decisions incorporate the aspects the materials have on the environment during production, transport, while in situ and once it has reached the end of its useful life. The embodied energy of a material is a measure that includes

Extraction. The process of extracting the material from the environment will often consume large quantities of power and also scare the environment.
Processing. To convert raw materials into the final product may consume more power and also may release chemicals to the environment. In products such as Cement the energy required for this stage is factors larger than any other stages.
Transport of Materials. It is always advantageous for materials to be sourced locally. A consequence of the global economy is that materials are transported around the world and are still the economic choice. Sourcing materials locally will reduce the pollution caused through transportation. It should be noted however that the pollution created by transporting a tonne of granite from China to London in a bulk cargo chip is equivalent to driving it from London to Aberdeen by road.
Storage on site. Once on site the product may pose a danger to the environment if it is released to the environment in an uncontrolled fashion. Spills of paints or solvents into water courses can result in major pollution incidents and for this reason it is important that safe storage and pollution prevention equipment is available
Waste disposal. Excess materials and packaging waste are going to be created during building work. It is advantageous to ensure that routes of disposal other than to land fill are examined. Many of the materials used as packaging may be returned to suppliers for re-use with waste products being able to be used as a secondary purpose or alternatively being recycled.


Social decisions will influence the way in which the building influences people and communities. The social aspect the building and materials will have on an influence those who utilise it as well as those who live around it.

Ventilation. It is important that a buildings air is circulated regularly to ensure that levels of odours, CO2 or other damaging pollutants. Without this staff absentee levels will be raised and general moral will be low
Internal Environment. The internal atmosphere of a building may be influenced by a number of factors including décor, colour and lighting. These factors can effect the mood of the workers within.
Security. A safe area onto and off the premises as well as a safe neighbourhood ensures that people are safe coming from public transport or cars into the building. This can be done by ensuring adequate lighting around the building and if necessary surveillance
Day-lighting. Artificial light, though good is no substitute for natural lighting. Through the use of materials and design it is possible to maximise the amount of daylight without dazzling or overheating occupants. The use of day-lighting also minimises the requirement of power for lighting
Access. Bringing materials onto a site may cause disruption to locals through either blocked roads or because of mud or similar on roads or paths both of which can be minimised through good practice