Seeing the miraculous in the common: re-mainstreaming the use of sustainable building materials

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    Europe is in danger of losing much of the knowledge and skills needed to sustain the traditional industries that supply natural and sustainable materials and products to architects, the construction industry and housebuilders. This paper describes the outcomes and knowledge developed as part of the Natural Energy Efficiency and Sustainability (NEES) Project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund’s Northern Periphery Programme and delivered by partners across Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Sweden and Greenland. The project focused on the development of the ‘NEES Process’ to identify and promote fifteen examples small to medium-sized enterprises demonstrating best practice in the use of natural and recycled building materials sourced from Northern Europe. As well as being exemplars of energy and / or resource efficiency the NEES Best Practices were also selected for being sensitive to local architectural heritages, cultures, and traditional industries. As part of this project a number of key opportunities and barriers for increasing the take up of locally-sourced sustainable materials, products and services were identified; including the potential co-benefits to other sectors, the need to stem the loss of traditional knowledge and skills, and the litigious nature of some larger producers of conventional building products and materials. This paper also describes the knowledge and practice gaps that need to be closed in order to reintroduce and mainstream the use of traditional and sustainable building materials into architectural practices and public procurement policies, and from there to re-mainstream their use by local tradespeople and householders. Finally, it questions the value of the government led agenda for innovation in building materials where natural and traditional materials can offer equal, or near equal, levels of energy efficiency whilst providing additional co-benefits to householders, local communities, the environment, society, and regional economies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of 33rd PLEA International Conference
    Subtitle of host publicationDesign to Thrive, PLEA 2017
    EditorsLuisa Brotas, Sue Roaf, Fergus Nicol
    Number of pages8
    ISBN (Electronic)9780992895754
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2017

    Publication series

    NameProceedings of 33rd PLEA International Conference: Design to Thrive, PLEA 2017


    • natural sustainable building materials
    • energy efficiency
    • sustainability

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
    • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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