Defining sustainability in the built environment

Governments all over the world have reacted to energy and climate related challenges with ambitious policies aimed at reducing the built environment’s environmental impact. With the general direction given in influential national and transnational policy documents such as the European directive on the energy performance of buildings (EPBD), what it is exactly that should be done to make the built environment more sustainable is currently explored by lawmakers, policy makers, politicians, and researchers but also by the broad variety of professionals involved in construction.

In the course of these efforts to transform policy goals into actual buildings, streets, bridges, neighbourhoods, and cities, qualities like being “sustainable”, “smart”, “resilient”, “efficient”, “neutral”, “passive”, “active”, “zero”, “nearly zero”, “plus”, “outstanding”, “platinum”, etc. are now ascribed to the built environment. These characteristics each to varying degrees allow for a certain imprecision but they are still based on clearly distinguishable philosophies, priorities, concepts, definitions, and solutions. In addition to influencing design and implementation processes, these different approaches and their underlying assumptions profoundly shape the results of sustainability assessments and evaluations of new or existing structures.

For this session we invite contributions that explore the wide range of possible ways of defining, standardizing, categorizing, evaluating, measuring and monitoring sustainability in the built environment. This includes but is not limited to the discussion of the role of assessment tools and methods used as well as analyses of negotiations and controversies around how to achieve what kind of sustainability. We are also interested in the role definitions like ‘nearly zero energy buildings’ play in the governance of socio-technical change in the built environment, how those standards and definitions are used to enrol and position different stakeholders and actor groups and to which extent they are drivers of change towards a more sustainabl.


Thomas Berker, Department for Interdicsiplinery Studies, NTNU

Harald Rohracher, Department of Thematic Studies – Technology and Social Change, Linköping university


List of participants