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09 Nov 2023

Building sustainability into your home


The New Zealand Ministry of the Environment says the definition of sustainability as applied to buildings is not fixed.  Generally, 'green' or sustainable buildings are sensitive to a variety of factors.

Where you live, and how you live, will make a significant difference to achieving sustainability.  Everyone should be asking the hard questions around issues that include: 

  • The environment - local and global.
  • Resource, water and energy consumption.
  • The quality of the work environment - impact on occupants.
  • Financial impact - cost-effective from a long term, full financial cost-return point of view.
  • Long-term energy efficiency over the life of the building.

When looking at what is involved with refurbishing or fitting-out a building, this could mean:

  • Using resources efficiently - getting more from less.
  • Minimising waste.
  • Focusing on energy and water use.
  • Choosing products carefully to ensure they are not harmful to the environment or to occupant’s health.

There are a number of other applications and benefits to sustainable building or rebuilding. 

  1. Conserve water and energy

This includes the embodied energy in the raw materials used during the fit-out or refurbishment as well as the ongoing operation of the building. Water features in manufacturing as well as for amenities within the building.

In New Zealand, the use of water and energy is mainly limited only by cost. While this controls the use of energy to some extent, water is generally inexpensive. Conserving water during the operation of the building also saves energy: e.g., used in pumping for distribution, heating to provide hot water, and treatment and disposal of wastewater.

  1. Minimise impact on indoor air quality

In some cases, residents and staff can spend at least eight hours a day in the office or indoors. The quality of the air they breathe is important to both short-term and long-term health.

Paint, carpets, furniture and other office items can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and other emissions, as well as exposing staff to toxins and allergens. Health and safety, occupational health and other building regulations may also be relevant here.

  1. Minimise the use of toxic and hazardous materials

Hazardous solid, liquid and gaseous wastes are produced during manufacture, as well as at the end of the life of a product. These wastes can be managed if sustainable alternatives are identified and implemented.

  1. Reduce waste - reuse, recycle, minimise

Waste happens at all stages of a fit-out or refurbishment: manufacturing products, building processes and operations, and disposal. Reducing waste at source means deciding if you actually need a product at all, and looking for ways in which to reuse existing products - getting more from less.

Using recycled products is also likely to use less energy and fewer valuable raw materials than buying new.

  1. Use renewable, sustainably harvested natural materials, and consider biodiversity protection

Wood is the main natural material used in fit-outs, while the manufacture of vinyl flooring or aluminium cladding relies on scarce minerals. Use products with certification from the Forestry Stewardship Council or the Tropical Timber Trust, or local non-indigenous sources.

  1. Minimise pollution of air, land and water

Pollutants can be produced at all stages of the life cycle of a product or building. Decrease the risk by ensuring product specifications, legal compliance and best practice standards are met - during the installation, operation, maintenance and disposal of the products.

  1. Encourage environmental stewardship by suppliers and manufacturers

Some manufacturers are prepared to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products throughout their manufacture, distribution, operation, maintenance and disposal. You can help promote this approach by asking for details of product composition, manufacturing processes including energy and water use, packaging take-back schemes, and disposal options - and using this information when deciding between different products.

  1. Ensure durability

A durable product with an extended life is generally more resource efficient. Look for quality products with replaceable or upgradable parts. You may need to balance this against other factors such as the inclusion of materials with high adverse environmental impact (e.g., adhesives or synthetics).


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Published: December 2022

To be reviewed: December 2025