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  • Writer's pictureKelvin Mureithi

Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD)

Updated: Jan 24


"A society grows great when old men plant trees, whose shade they know they shall never sit in." - Greek Proverb

Imagine an office building designed and constructed without considering tomorrow. Windows heat up the interior on sweltering summer days. Stormwater floods the parking lot after heavy rains. Energy bills continually escalate as inefficient systems overwork. Just a decade after opening, the building feels outdated and inadequate.

Not to mention the sky rocketing insurance premiums.

While no architect or developer intentionally creates such a short-sighted building, it happens more often than one might expect. Why? Because truly optimising building performance requires understanding complex interconnected systems — like climate, energy, water and materials flows — and how they interact over time.

Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) consulting teams can provide that foresight.

To note: Some regions, such as NSW, in Australia refer to this field as Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD).

By partnering with ESD engineers or consultants early in design, you gain expert guidance to implement proven strategies that reduce environmental impact and future-proof buildings. Like a doctor analysing symptoms to make a diagnosis, ESD consultants use building science principles to uncover performance opportunities and risks. Their prescriptions chart a course toward buildings that tread lightly on the earth today and for generations to come.

But some developers balk at the additional upfront cost. This is understandable.

Why hire ESD consultants when their billable hours nibble into thin profit margins? This view neglects the long-term value ESD brings. Much like preventative healthcare, ESD consulting helps avoid much costlier problems down the road through smarter design. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," as the old saying goes.

As you know, it is difficult to value that which you do not understand. So let's demystify the six basic categories that when joined together paint a picture of what ESD is

or isn't.

What key services can ESD consultants provide to protect your investment?

Let us now turn to the six categories of ESD solutions you can expect:

Building Science Principles

Our first category is building science. Underpinning every ESD service are building science principles: the physics, math and material science undergirding building performance. In essence, then, creating healthy, comfortable buildings rests on the fact that buildings interrelate with heat, moisture, weather, noise, and light is fundamental. And deeply understanding this relationship is the key to better outcomes.

  • ESD consultants analyse the complex factors that influence energy use, occupant comfort, carbon emissions and more.

  • Their scientific understanding helps model interactions between climate, systems and materials.

Applied skilfully, building science principles act as a compass, orienting design teams toward true sustainability. But the principles are easier said than done. While simple in theory, optimising their nuanced application requires diligent study over time. Great ESD consultants devote careers to mastering these fundamentals.

Now let's look at the second:

Navigating Regulations and Policy

In addition to environmental goals, ESD consulting helps you navigate the web of regulations related to sustainability. Most local governments have planning schemes that set targets for aspects like energy use or stormwater management.

  • At the state level, policies like NSW's Sustainable Buildings SEPP or Victoria's Better Apartments Design Standards, also include ESD requirements. State bodies such as the Victorian Building Authority create

  • Nationally, the National Construction Code (NCC) Section J mandates minimum energy efficiency standards for building. With performance-based and prescriptive compliance pathways, the code can be complex to interpret. And therefore have significant implications on the build cost.

What's more: The stringency of these regulations will be increasing over the coming decade — as the industry marches on towards Low Energy Buildings. Let's have a look at the roadmap laid out by Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Energy Council

A reliable ESD consulting firm analyse your project specifications to identify the most feasible code compliance strategies. That is, add value faster that you add costs. Their expertise on evolving policy at multiple levels ensures your project meets sustainability regulations - or even exceeds them.

This is the second category of ESD solutions. Now let's look at the third.

Water Management

With buildings accounting for 12% of potable water use worldwide, sustainable water management is critical. Potable water is water that is of a quality suitable for cooking, drinking, or bathing. This is why this category matters.

  • ESD engineers can model drainage patterns, identify capture opportunities, and develop systems for treatment and reuse.

  • And they can recommend strategies can dramatically reduce municipal water consumption.

  • In Australia, this approach is referred to as Water Sensitive Urban Design, or WSUD. Whereas in U.S. and Canada, it's referred to as Low Impact Development, or LID.

  • LEED certified buildings saved over 4.2 billion gallons of water in 2020 alone, according to the US Green Building Council.

Let's glance at the fourth:

Waste Management

Construction and demolition debris accounts for over 35% of total waste in the EU, says the European Environment Agency. In Australia, construction and demolition waste is around 38% of total waste generated yearly, according to the National Waste Report 2022. To divert waste from landfills, ESD and waste management consultants conduct audits, connect teams with recycling services, and identify circular design opportunities.

The output of this process can be in two forms:

  1. Construction Waste Management Plans; or

  2. Operational Waste Management Plans.

Less waste benefits project budgets and the environment.

Let us now turn to the fifth category:

Building Certifications

ESD consultants manage the complex process of obtaining rigorous green certifications like LEED, Green Star, Passive House, WELL, Living Building Challenge, Infrastructure Sustainability (ISCA), and NABERS.

  • To note: These green building certification schemes all have their merits and demerits. Some have an implementation premium. Others don't. Some need to be applied during early project conception stage. Others during occupancy.

  • Between the lines: And that's where having a great sustainability engineering team on your corner can help you distil what's easy, what's hard, and what has the greatest impact.

The US Green Building Council states that certified buildings have 34% lower greenhouse gas emissions and consume 25% less energy than average buildings. Certification signals your commitment to sustainability while attracting tenants and satisfying regulators. This is where the industry is heading.

Here is the sixth and last category:

Climate Change Adaptation

As climate risks accelerate, resilient buildings and infrastructure become crucial. ESD consultants analyse climate projections to identify threats, assess risks, and develop targeted resilience strategies. As a matter of fact, adaptation solutions — like durable building envelopes that withstand heavy rain or heat waves — will become increasingly vital as climate change accelerates.

  • Catch up quick: The 2023/2024 Australian bushfire season has burnt 33 million hectares of land. Storms and floods disrupted power, damaged property and in some places tragically caused loss of life in Western Australia, NSW, Queensland, and Victoria.

  • Looking ahead: Resilient buildings and infrastructure is the end goal. In the coming years, a key question for homeowners, businesses and insurance companies will be: How resilient is this building?

Once again, ESD experts provide the foresight today to prepare buildings for the climate disruptions and occupant needs ahead. They help future-proof buildings to operate through uncertain conditions for decades to come. How? By working collaboratively with MEP or building services engineers, architects, structural and civil engineers, landscape architects, and building owners to work out the solutions best suited to your project. No templates — since no two projects are ever alike.

Notice there is no doom and gloom here. But a pragmatic view of where we are and where we are going. While we do face complex challenges and head winds in the construction sector, solutions exist and more are emerging.

We have now discussed six categories of Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) solutions that can be embedded into the built environment. However, I do not believe that we should leave this subject without the following parting shot:

Closing thoughts

Developing sustainably requires planting seeds today that will only fully bloom tomorrow. By partnering with ESD consultants early in design, you gain specialised expertise to understand each building as part of an interconnected ecosystem. Their guidance helps you plant the right seeds through clever solutions, resilient fabric, smart systems, durable materials, and certifications. Years later, as occupants enjoy cooler interiors, smaller utility bills, and smaller carbon footprints, you will see ESD's true fruits. Plan it wisely so that in future decades, we may all take shade under more healthy, comfortable, and resilient buildings.


Makao Group is a solutions-oriented ESD engineering firm. We are a collective of engineers and sustainability experts that help clients build all weather spaces and future-proof buildings against climate disruptions. We partner with owners, architects, developers, businesses, and builders to create resilient and healthy spaces that maintain comfort through rain or shine, heatwave or freeze.

While Melbourne is home, our experience reaches across borders.

Clients in Australia (Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia), U.K., Kenya, Brazil, and U.S. have borrowed our experience to implement farsighted building strategies. Strategies tailored to their vision and climate conditions.

Our door is open to new opportunities and business friendships.

The future might be unpredictable, but our commitment remains constant – enabling clients to construct high-performing, all weather spaces ready for the road ahead.

What are you building next?


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