Instruments and Capacity for Sustainable Built Environments

Instruments and Capacity for Sustainable Built Environments is the title of my module of the Green Building Construction Course, being run by the International Training Centre (ITC) in Johannesburg from the 26 to the 30 August 2019. A summary of the module, references and links are provided below.

The lack of appropriate policy, regulations, standards, guidance and capacity has been identified as a major limiting factor in the development of more sustainable built environments. While work has been carried out by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and other organizations there is limited guidance on the nature of instruments, such as policy and legislation, and the type of human capacity, such as technical skills, that has to be in place in order develop more sustainable built environments.

This paper reviews literature in the field in order to understand the nature of instruments and capacity that are required to support sustainable built environments. Drawing on the review, a simple assessment framework is devised. This framework is tested by applying it to South Africa, and the results are analyzed and discussed.

The paper finds that the assessment framework could be effective in identifying gaps within policy frameworks, and in human capacity within a national context. It also finds that the framework provides insight into the prioritization and sequencing of sustainable built environment instruments, such as policy, strategy, and standards. This may be valuable in countries with limited resources and capacity, or where improvements in built environment sustainability need to be achieved rapidly. 


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Department of Environment, 2007. Long Term Mitigation Scenarios: Scenario Document, Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism, Pretoria.

Department of Environment, 2008. A National Framework for Sustainable Development in South Africa, Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism, Pretoria.

Gibberd, J., 2014. Measuring capability for sustainability: Built Environment Sustainability Tool, Building Research and Innovation, Volume: 43, pp. 49-61.

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Simmons, R. 2015. Constraints on evidence-based policy: insights from government practices,

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UNEP, 2010. UNEP: Ecosystem Management Policy Series – Policy Brief 2: The Role of Ecosystems in Developing a Sustainable ‘Green Economy’ Available at: (Accessed: 10 February 2013).

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UNEP SBCI, 2007. Assessment of policy instruments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings: Report for the UNEP – Sustainable Buildings and Construction Initiative, Budapest: Central European University

UNEP SBCI, 2009a. Buildings and climate change: Summary for decision-makers. Paris: UNEP DTIE.

UNEP SBCI, 2009b. Greenhouse Gas Emission Baselines and Reduction Potentials from Buildings in South Africa: A Discussion Document. Paris: UNEP DTIE.

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Instruments and Capacity for Sustainable Built Environments: The lack of appropriate policy, regulations, standards, guidance, and capacity has been identified as a major limiting factor in the development of more sustainable built environments. To address this a simple assessment framework is devised and tested. Accessible from here.

Building Sustainability and Benchmarking: This guide has been developed by United Nations Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to introduce building sustainability and benchmarking tools. It includes introductions to tools such as BREEAM as well as SBAT, BEST and SBMI. Accessible from here.

Green Overlay: The Green Overlay has been developed by the RIBA to support the integration of sustainability in Architect’s stages of work. Accessible from here.

The Sustainable Building Assessment Tool: The Sustainable Building Assessment Tool (SBAT) aims to support sustainability performance improvements in buildings. The tool can be used by people involved in the development of buildings to set targets for sustainability performance. It can also be used assess, and validate, the performance of buildings and designs. The tool is particularly appropriate for developing country contexts. A manual and training are required to apply the tool. Versions of the tool are also tailored for particular contexts and building types, so please contact us if you would like to use the SBAT on a project. Accessible from here.

Built Environment Sustainability Tool (BEST): Built Environment Sustainability Tool (BEST) 2013 for download. While the tool has now been superseded it provides valuable insight into how the tool works and can be used to assess and improve the sustainability performance of neighborhoods. Assessments require a manual and training. Please contact us if you would like to use the BEST. Accessible from here.