Industry today is immensely wasteful, as shown by a tiny selection of examples below:

93% of production materials never end up in saleable product.
80% of products are discarded after a single use.
99% of the materials used in the production of, or contained within goods are discarded within six weeks.
97% of the energy required to run a normal incandescent lamp provides no light.
80% of a car's petrol is wasted before any energy is transferred to the road.

The implications of these figures in terms of resource use and pollution are clear. The earth's resources and capacity to accept pollution are finite. Therefore, if industry is to survive it must take steps to become sustainable.

Construction is the single biggest industry in the developed world, at around 13% of GDP, with arguably the greatest environmental impact. In Northern Europe, people spend over 90% of their time inside (and in Scotland probably considerably more). This means that the construction, use and management of housing have a dramatic impact on both the human and wider environments.

The construction industry has been relatively untouched by the improving standards in environmental management which have affected other manufacturing sectors for many years now (with, perhaps the exception of increased exposure to the liabilities of developing brown field sites). However, the impact of this sector will not go unnoticed for long and improvements in environmental performance will inevitably be required.

History is repeating itself here, as this is exactly the situation that was faced by more obviously polluting industries about ten years ago. In the late eighties, the CBI was threatened with the prospect of stringent environmental legislation from Brussels. To pre-empt this, they came up with a voluntary code of environmental management, which was then called BS7750. This has now developed into an international standard, ISO 14001, which has been widely adopted by all kinds of companies around the world as a method of achieving and demonstrating environmental improvements.

This pattern of events is beginning again in the housing sector with the advent of Environmental Housing Standards such as the BRE's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and a burgeoning interest in sustainable housing as a result of the new government’s environmental policies.


The Sustainable Housing Programme for Lower London Road combines environmental, engineering, architectural and building skills to create a programme of best environmental practice in construction.

The aims of the project are as follows:

To undertake the construction of the tenement buildings at Lower London Road according to Best Environmental Practice.
To include Design, Construction and Use of the development to ensure that environmental aspects are considered for the lifetime of the buildings.
To qualify for the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Standard Award during the Design Stage
To set and meet challenging targets for waste minimisation during the Construction Stage.
To minimise the overall environmental impact of the development throughout its life.

Project Profile

The project has attracted considerable interest from a number of parties in Scotland and the rest of the UK, including:

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA)
The City of Edinburgh Planning Department
The Scottish Office
The Energy Saving Trust
The Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA)
The Department of Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR)

The sustainability aspect of the project has attracted partial funding from DETR under their Partners in Technology Programme. The prime purpose of this programme is "to foster a climate of innovation in which the UK construction industry improves its profitability, sharpens its competitiveness and, most importantly, enhances project value for its clients, while promoting sustainable construction and improving the quality of life for building occupants."

DETR has contracted the design team, with Wren & Bell as the project team leaders, to audit the design, construction and use of this sustainable housing development, with a view to preparing and disseminating a best practice guide. Details of the project agreed with DETR are given in the following section. The Sustainable Materials Specification and Sustainable Design Specification which accompany this document are the first two steps on the way.

To this end, the development of the Lower London Road Sustainable Housing Project is also being covered on the UK Sustainable Construction Web Site, at, where regular updates will ensure that the latest information is available to all interested parties. This site is another sustainable construction initiative by Wren & Bell: although the Lower London Road Project is the flagship of the site, the main aim is to promote the development and uptake of sustainable construction, both in principle and application. The site is therefore open to anyone with a sustainable construction project who wants to either host it or link it there. Although it is relatively new, the site has already attracted two other Scottish sustainable construction projects and there are more in the pipeline.

DETR Research Programme

The following details are copied from the final contract document issued to DETR and represent the basis of the sustainable housing programme.

The project will be divided into five stages as shown.

Confirm Green Design Criteria
Design Development

Each phase requires particular considerations to be addressed. These are set out below:

Preliminary Stage

One aim of the project is to break new ground in the sustainable design and construction of a traditional housing development. The intention is neither to add a green gloss to an otherwise unchanged project nor to indulge in an impractical flight of architectural fancy. The project team has been established to this end and preliminary meetings have already led to a general agreement on these aims.

The preliminary stage will lay the groundwork for further stages to ensure that this agreement is built on to ensure a co-ordinated and focussed project. Communications between the team members are good and it is vital that this be maintained throughout the project, to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction and that there is no unnecessary duplication.

The following main points will be addressed during the preliminary stage:

Establish Project Goals
Set Environmental Design Criteria
Set Priorities
Advise on Suitability of Outline Proposals
Develop Partnering Strategies
Develop Project Schedule
Review Laws and Standards
Conduct Research into similar local initiatives

Design Stage

The environmental aspects of the building design are fundamental to the whole project, as is of course the normal structural design. In this stage of the project, each of the major components will be analysed to establish the optimum balance of environmental impact, functional performance and, of course, price. The integrated design of the development will be continuously analysed, so that the overall effects of each decision are considered.

In a project of this complexity there are bound to be some areas where a compromise is required between the above criteria of environmental performance, structural performance and cost. These areas will be covered in this stage by communication between all project partners to ensure that the environmental design criteria laid down at the outset are observed, to provide guidance on where the balance of compromise should lie.

The issues discussed at this stage will be written up in the manual, presented to relevant meetings and symposia and published on the project web site. These issues will include base information on the embodied energy, cost and environmental performance of materials, ideas which were rejected and reasons for the final decision, as well as any other relevant aspects which arise.

While some of the environmentally friendly design options are likely to cost a little more than the usual options (which are often the usual options because they are the cheapest), there will be instances where the depth of investigation into the best material and design options will yield cost savings. This will also be true of savings identified during the construction stage by the application of waste minimisation techniques. These savings will be balanced against any additional costs which arise as a result of specifying environmental materials or design and the balance of these costs and benefits will be published in the manual.

The integrated design will be submitted to the Building Research Establishment for accreditation by their Environmental Assessment Method, leading to the award of the "Environmental Standard".

The main areas covered in this stage are as follows:

Confirm Green Design Criteria:

Select and Develop Optimal Environmental Solutions
Compare Life Cycle Analysis Results and Material Performance
Advise on Proposed Material Specifications
Audit Design Environmental Performance
Ensure Compliance with Environmental Standard
Check Costs and Predicted Savings over Lifetime of Buildings

Design Development

Refine Green Solutions
Develop, Test, Select Environmental Systems
Co-ordinate Integration of Environmental design Features

Construction Documents

Document Green Materials and Systems
Check Costs and track performance

Construction Stage

The construction stage will have a disproportionate environmental impact considering its duration as a fraction of the life of the whole development. The whole operation will be continually audited to ensure that waste is minimised during construction. Solid waste will be segregated on site for recycling and utility use will be monitored.

The main areas which are expected to be addressed during this stage are:

Control Environmental Impacts of Construction Stage
Monitor and Audit Performance to Waste Minimisation Targets
Audit Construction according to Environmental Design Criteria

Use Stage

The benefits of environmental design will only be fully realised if the residents are made aware of the issues and shown how to operate the systems in their houses correctly. For example, the best insulation will not help if residents leave the heating on with the windows open. These issues will form part of a commissioning package to provide background information on the design of the development and how to get the most out of it.

It is also important at this stage to establish which of the environmental design concepts work best in practice and to audit their performance, so that lessons learned can be used to improve the next sustainable development.

This stage can therefore be broken down into the following areas:

Commission the Systems
Conduct Evaluation of Practical Performance of Environmental Systems

Publication stage

Organisations with interests in sustainable housing have already expressed considerable interest in this project. These include universities, environmental organisations, architects, developers, housing associations, Scottish Homes and City of Edinburgh Council. It is our intention to encourage this interest by publishing regular progress updates on the project web site.

The aim of the programme is to reduce the environmental impact of traditional housing development. This aim is equally applicable to programmes which will follow this one. An important aspect of this programme will be dissemination of the lessons learned and the experience gained.

Publication of this information may take place in a number of different formats, including seminars, articles and reports. This aspect of the programme has not been costed, as it may be eligible for separate funding and, in any case, may not be seen as being strictly part of this development programme.


In summary, this ground-breaking project will be a first for Scotland and the UK in providing a fully audited sustainable housing programme, on which will be based a best practice guide for the use of future developers.

Apart from the immediate benefits of the project, other spin-offs will include greatly reduced fuel costs for tenants (30% less at a conservative estimate), increased business for Scottish suppliers (particularly those that have begun to address sustainability issues themselves) and continuing reductions in resource depletion and environmental pollution. These benefits all come with a development package which is already unusually good value for money.

In addition to all these issues, the project will address Scottish Homes’ commitment to sustainable development. The government has pledged to put sustainability at the heart of all policy and this is reflected in the inclusion of a similar commitment in the Scottish Homes Policy Statement. This project will not only fulfil this commitment in the short term; in the longer term, as the biggest house builder in the country, Scottish Homes’ involvement in the development and dissemination of best sustainable housing practice will encourage continued improvements in the sustainability of Scotland’s Housing.