Decision making for sustainability

The word ‘sustainable’ is used in many different contexts. But what does it actually mean? A widely used definition for Sustainable development, is by the Brundtland Commission (1987). Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

There are a couple of sustainability models that we use for the management and decision making of Green Swing projects.

The Natural Step

sust1While there are a lot of different definitions and descriptions on what sustainability means, The Natural Step have developed a scientifically robust model that helps organisations make pragmatic decisions to move towards sustainability. Part of the model are four sustainability principles; to become a sustainable society we must eliminate our contributions to:

  • the systematic increase of concentrations of substances extracted from the earth’s crust (for example, heavy metals and fossil fuels);
  • the systematic increase of concentrations of substances produced by society (for example, plastics, dioxins, PCBs and DDT);
  • the systematic physical degradation of nature and natural processes (for example, over harvesting forests, destroying habitat and overfishing); and
  • conditions that systematically undermine people’s capacity to meet their basic human needs (for example, unsafe working conditions and not enough pay to live on).

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One Planet Living


Source:One Planet Living

One Planet Living is an initiative of Bioregional and its partners to make truly sustainable living a reality.  One Planet Living uses ecological footprinting and carbon footprinting as its headline indicators.  It is based on ten guiding principles of sustainability as a framework.

These principles of sustainable design provide a comprehensive framework and guidance for projects, organisations, and local councils to enable people to live and work within a fair share of the earth’s resources.The ten principles are Health and happiness, Equity and local economy, Culture and community, Land use and wildlife, Sustainable water, Local and sustainable food, Sustainable materials, Sustainable transport, Zero waste, and Zero carbon.

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Life Cycle Assessment

Building-Life-Cycle-Sep-13We conduct a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for all our projects. LCA looks at both the embodied energy and operational energy of the buldings.

Embodied energy is the total energy used to create a product including all the processes involved in harvesting, production, transportation and construction. It can represent a significant proportion of the total energy used during the lifecycle of a home. Consequences (or impacts) of particular materials and construction systems are often not apparent because they often occur long distances from where the product is used. Operational Energy is the amount of energy is required to operate a home. Heating and cooling are a good example of operational energy consumption. Water heating and appliances are others.

Energy rating

BYB-buyingoffPlan_NathersLogo_fmtUnder the Building Code of Australia (BCA) Energy Efficiency is now a requirement. Many of you would be familiar with the energy rating of new homes. This energy rating is a theoretical assessment of the amount of mechanical energy required to heat and cool a home. A zero star home can be compared to the glass box in the desert; it needs some form of heating and cooling pretty much 24/7. Compare this to a ten star home which in theory does not need any mechanical energy for heating and cooling’ no air conditioning, no heater, just a ceiling fan keep the home at a comfortable temperature year round. We use energy assessments in the design proce
ss to establish the potential of our homes to operate without mechanical heating and cooling and aim for a minimum 8-star energy rating.

reduce reuse recycleReduce, Re-use, Recycle

Another simple concept that we use in our decision making process is the well known “Reduce, Re-use and Recycle” and any of its variations. It is a simple and easy to understand model that most people are familiar with.


Unfortunately, the dollars always provide a bit of reality check. You may want to, but simply can not always do it all. In the end, we want these homes to also be affordable.

We know we are not perfect, but we try hard. Reality is, as soon you start a building project, you will have an impact: on the environment (consuming/transporting materials) and on the community and neighbours (shading, noise, etc). However, we try to consider all aspects of sustainability and make the best choice for the long term. This means considering longevity & embodied energy of materials, biodegradability, renewable materials, performance, waste, cost, transport, as well as social, health and safety aspects.

The above models and tools definitely assist us in our decision making, to help weigh up the different aspects because decision making for sustainability is often far from black and white. For us it is important to have a long term vision and make small steps right now to move towards a sustainable community.