What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

In most literature, sustainability is defined by three main pillars: environmental, social, and economic.

  1. Environmental sustainability: This is the fous on reducing the negative impact of human activity on the natural environment around us. Primarily, this revolves around carbon emmision reduction, natural resource conservation, biodiversity protection and promotion of renewable energy use.
  2. Social sustainability: The focus on ensuring that all indivuals in society have equal access to resources and opportunities. This often encompases topics like equality, fair labour practices, poverty reduction, equitable communities, etc.
  3. Economic sustainability: This area focuses on ensuring that economic development is sustainable and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This includes promoting sustainable business practices, reducing dependence on non-renewable resources, and creating sustainable supply chains.


In context of this project, real-world examples have been outlined below, which demonstrate the application of these three areas of sustainability:

The Passivhaus Concept - Darmstadt, Germany

An example of an economically and environmentally sustainable building is the general Passivhaus building concept. Passivhaus is a standard for energy-efficient buildings that originated in Darmstadt, Germany. The key idea at the core of the conecept was to design residential buildilngs which use very limited energy for heating and cooling, usually sourced from renewable sources. By reducing overall energy consumption, this cuts the energy costs of the building both in environmental and financial terms, addressing two of the three pillars of sustainability.


Key concepts of passivhaus buildings:

  • Building envelope is airtight: Passivhaus projects are buildings with extremely airtight designs. This minimizes heat loss and therefore reduces the amount of energy/natural gas used for heating.
  • Heavily insulated design: The designs use high levels of insulation in the walls, roof, and floor to keep the building warm in the winter and cool in the summer (high R values).
  • Triple-glazing in windows: High-performance windows are used with triple-glazing and thus have a low U-value (a meaure of strong insulation in a material ).
  • Energy recovery through ventilation: The building designs use a mechanical ventilation system that is designed to recover heat from the outgoing air and use it to preheat the incoming air, thus keeping the building warm and well-ventilated, ensuring a comfortable environment while minimizing energy costs.
  • Solar gain: Passivhaus buildings are designed around the concept of using solar gain, which is heat from the sun that enters the building through windows. This heat is used to help warm the building in the winter, using a natural source of energy rather than requiring an external energy supply.
  • Passive solar design: Passivhaus buildings are designed to make the most of natural light and heat from the sun, and are typically oriented to the south to maximize solar gain.


Example of a Passivhaus residential building

The Edge - Amsterdam, Nethrlands

The Edge, once dubbed ‘The Smartest Building in the World’ by Bloomberg, is an excellent example of how a large structure can embody a mixture of the three sustainability pillars. This section will highlight the key elements and ideas that could potentially be integrated into this project.

The Edge is an office space and community space, that harnessing creativity, innovation and collaboration. The building was clearly designed with social equity in mind, as it’s primary goal is to create a feeling of social community. The building features a lot of communal spaces, a rooftop terrace, community library open to all, and plenty of meeting rooms. As can be seen in the photograph below, the building contains a lot of exterior glass windows to allow in natural lighting. Even the interior walls are often made out of glass, allow for an open office plan, further embracing the notion of having an open and social workspace. What makes this building so ‘smart’, is that they have taken the idea of flexible workplace to the extreme. The occupants are connected to the building via smartphone app, which checks your schedule, directs you to available parking and and finds you a desk.

This parking includes EV spaces, and cycle parking, a key area of sustainability that is often neglected. As the app knows your preferences for light and temperature settings, it will find a desk that best matches your choices, to ensure a comfortable environment for all occupants. This ensures that all people remain physically and virtually interconnected, to both each other and the building.


The building was designed to be energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable, with features such as solar panels, green roofs, and rainwater harvesting systems, which are all contributing to reducing the environmental footprint.

In addition, The Edge was designed to be accessible for all people, with ramps and elevators to provide easy access for people with disabilities, and universal design principles were used throughout the building to provide a comfortable and inclusive environment for all.

Overall, sustainaibilty to me, means combining the three areas of sustainability highlighted at the start of this description, through various design features and choices. Both active and passive measures should be used, to ensure environmental, economic and social benefits for all occupants and stakeholders.