Professor Peter Newman launching the How to Rethink Buildings Material book.

A new book on sustainable housing and materials looks set to become an industry standard.

How to Rethink Building Materials – creating ecological housing – for the designer, builder and homeowner, is edited by Envirotecture director Dick Clarke and has contributions from some of the industry’s leading architects, designers, material scientists and advocates.

It was launched on Friday at the University of New South Wales by Professor Peter Newman, director of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute.

A series of essays range from design issues to new materials such as hempcrete, and include many names familiar to The Fifth Estate’s readership – Tone Wheeler, Caroline Pidcock, Alan Pears, Romilly Madew, Kirsty Maté, Dr Dominque Hes, Dr Robert Crawford, Dr Chris Reardon and Dr Suzanne Grob.

Key concepts such as biophilic design, lifecycle analysis and the difference between passive sustainability measures such as orientation and active sustainability initiatives such as hydronic in-slab heating and cooling are explained and illustrated.

Using colour to reflect the surrounding environment, sustainable fitouts and furniture, and issues around volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde are also explored.

One of the key themes is that a major goal of eco-construction is to achieve more liveable spaces using less materials, and that wherever possible the use of upcycled, reclaimed and recycled elements is an environmental plus.

The importance of looking for verifiable standards and product credentials in order to avoid greenwash is emphasised in a number of the essays, particularly those by Rupert Posner from Good Environmental Choice Australia and David Baggs from Global GreenTag.

A selection of detailed case studies of both new builds and renovations explains the motivations behind design decisions and give a thorough rundown of why specific materials were chosen and what the environmental credentials of those materials are.

The book does not provide cookie-cutter solutions, instead it lays out a wide range of pathways a project can take to become more sustainable, and it can be applied to projects of any scale from a small DIY renovation to a major multi-unit residential project.

The information is also applicable across climate zones, with the distinction being made within some of the key essays between what would work in the tropical context, and what is best suited to the cooler and temperate zones.

Another aspect of the book that will make it a particularly valuable client engagement tool for designers, builders and sustainability consultants is the focus on what is available here and now in Australia. This, combined with the explanations of how early stages decisions play out in terms of returns over the life of the investment in a building, could be of great assistance in leveraging greater buy-in to the ethos of sustainable construction by owners and developers.