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  • Writer's pictureKelvin Mureithi

Glossary & Terms: Definitions of Common ESD Terms and Phrases

Updated: Jul 4

Let's look at some common ESD terms and what they mean.


Building Design and Performance

Building Design and Performance is a comprehensive approach to creating built environments that are efficient, sustainable, and conducive to the health and well-being of their occupants. This approach encompasses a wide range of considerations, including energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials selection, and building systems integration. The goal is to design and construct buildings that minimise their environmental impact, reduce operating costs, and provide comfortable and productive spaces for people to live and work.

Adaptive Reuse

The process of repurposing an existing building for a new use, often with the goal of preserving its historical or architectural significance while improving its environmental performance.

Building enclosure

The physical separator between the interior and exterior of a building, including walls, roofs, floors, windows, and doors. It plays a critical role in regulating heat transfer, air flow, and moisture movement.

Building fabric

The materials and components that make up the building enclosure, such as insulation, cladding, membranes, and finishes. The properties and performance of the building fabric greatly influence the overall energy efficiency and durability of the building.

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

A digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a building, used to support decision-making throughout the building's life cycle. BIM facilitates collaboration, coordination, and optimisation of building design, construction, and operation.

Building Management System (BMS)

A computer-based system that controls and monitors a building's mechanical and electrical equipment, such as HVAC, lighting, and security systems. BMS helps to optimize energy consumption, maintain comfort conditions, and ensure the safe and efficient operation of the building.

Building Physics

The science of how heat, air, and moisture interact with and move through building materials and components. Understanding building physics is essential for designing and constructing buildings that are energy-efficient, durable, and comfortable.


The use of natural light to illuminate building interiors, reducing the need for artificial lighting. Effective daylighting strategies involve the careful design and placement of windows, skylights, and reflective surfaces to maximize the penetration and distribution of daylight while minimizing glare and heat gain.

Embodied Carbon

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture, transport, and installation of building materials. Embodied carbon is an important consideration in the life cycle assessment of buildings and the selection of low-carbon materials and construction methods.

Frame Types

The materials used for window frames, such as timber, aluminium, uPVC, or composite materials. The choice of frame type influences the thermal performance, durability, and aesthetics of windows, as well as their embodied carbon and end-of-life recyclability.

Green Roof

A roof partially or completely covered with vegetation, growing in a layer of soil or other growing medium. Green roofs provide multiple benefits, such as reducing stormwater runoff, improving thermal insulation, mitigating the urban heat island effect, and creating habitats for biodiversity.

Green Wall

A vertical garden or living wall system that incorporates plants, growing medium, and irrigation into the facade of a building, providing insulation, air purification, and aesthetic benefits. Green walls can be designed as either façade-supported or freestanding structures, and they can help to reduce the building's energy consumption and environmental impact.


Materials used to reduce heat transfer through the building envelope, improving thermal comfort and energy efficiency. Insulation can be made from a variety of materials, such as mineral wool, cellulose, foam, or natural fibers, and it can be installed in walls, roofs, floors, and pipes.

Mixed-Use Development

A type of urban development that combines residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses in a single building or area, promoting diversity, vitality, and sustainability. Mixed-use developments can help to reduce car dependence, encourage walking and cycling, and create more vibrant and inclusive communities.

Net Zero Energy Building

A building that generates as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year, through a combination of energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation. Net zero energy buildings aim to minimize their environmental impact and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Operability Types

The different ways in which windows can be opened, such as sliding, casement, awning, or hopper. The choice of operability type influences the ventilation, accessibility, and safety of windows, as well as their impact on indoor environmental quality and energy performance.

Passive Cooling

Techniques used to cool buildings without the use of mechanical systems, such as cross ventilation, night purging, and evaporative cooling. Passive cooling strategies aim to reduce the energy consumption and environmental impact of air conditioning while maintaining thermal comfort.

Passive Heating

Techniques used to heat buildings without the use of mechanical systems, such as solar gain, thermal mass, and insulation. Passive heating strategies aim to reduce the energy consumption and environmental impact of heating while maintaining thermal comfort.

Passive House (Passivhaus)

A voluntary standard for energy efficiency in buildings, focusing on high levels of insulation, airtightness, and heat recovery ventilation. Passive House buildings are designed to maintain a comfortable indoor environment with minimal energy consumption for heating and cooling.

Passive House Planning Package (PHPP)

A spreadsheet-based energy modelling tool used to design and certify buildings to the Passive House standard. PHPP calculates the energy balance of a building based on its geometry, materials, and systems, and helps to optimize its performance.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

A process of evaluating the performance of a building after it has been occupied, focusing on factors such as energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and occupant satisfaction. POE can help to identify opportunities for improvement and inform the design of future buildings.


The process of modifying an existing building to improve its energy efficiency, water efficiency, or other aspects of its environmental performance. Retrofitting can involve upgrades to the building envelope, mechanical systems, lighting, or appliances, and it can help to reduce the building's operating costs and environmental impact.

Smart Building

A building that uses advanced technologies, such as sensors, automation, and data analytics, to optimize its performance, comfort, and efficiency. Smart buildings can adapt to changing conditions and user needs, and they can provide valuable insights into the building's operation and maintenance.

Solar Passive Design

An approach to building design that uses the sun's energy for heating and cooling, minimising the need for mechanical systems. Solar passive design strategies include orienting the building to maximize solar gain in winter and minimize it in summer, using thermal mass to store and release heat, and providing adequate shading and ventilation.

Thermal Bridging

The transfer of heat through a material that is more conductive than the surrounding materials, creating a path of least resistance for heat flow. Thermal bridging can occur at the junctions between building components, such as walls and windows, and it can reduce the overall thermal performance of the building envelope.

Thermal Comfort

The condition of mind that expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment, influenced by factors such as air temperature, humidity, air movement, and radiant temperature. Maintaining thermal comfort is essential for the health, well-being, and productivity of building occupants.

Thermal Mass

The ability of a material to absorb, store, and release heat energy, helping to regulate indoor temperatures. Materials with high thermal mass, such as concrete, brick, or stone, can help to reduce temperature fluctuations and improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)

A type of urban development that concentrates housing, employment, and other activities around public transport nodes, promoting sustainable transport and reducing car dependence. TOD can help to create more compact, walkable, and liveable communities, and reduce the environmental impact of transportation.

Whole Building Systems Integration

An approach to building design and construction that considers the interactions and synergies between different building systems (such as structure, envelope, HVAC, lighting, and controls) to optimize overall performance and sustainability. Whole building systems integration requires collaboration and coordination among different disciplines and stakeholders.

Zero Carbon Building

A building that generates or offsets all of its greenhouse gas emissions associated with its construction and operation, often through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and carbon offsetting. Zero carbon buildings aim to minimize their contribution to climate change and demonstrate leadership in sustainable design and construction.

Building Simulation

Computational design methods have the potential to revolutionise the way buildings are designed and constructed, enabling more complex, efficient, and sustainable solutions. By leveraging the power of computers and algorithms, we can explore a wider range of possibilities, optimise the performance of buildings, and make more informed decisions based on data and analysis. However, the successful application of computational design requires a deep understanding of the underlying principles, tools, and limitations, as well as a collaborative and iterative approach to the design process.

Computational Design

The application of computer-based tools and algorithms to the design process, enabling the generation, analysis, and optimization of complex forms and systems. Computational design methods include parametric modelling, generative design, performance simulation, and optimization techniques, which can help to explore a wider range of design options and improve the performance and efficiency of buildings.

Parametric Modelling

A design approach that uses variables and rules to define the relationships between different elements of a model, allowing for the creation of flexible and adaptable geometries. Parametric modelling tools, such as Grasshopper or Dynamo, enable designers to explore multiple variations of a design by modifying the input parameters.

Generative Design

A process that uses algorithms to generate and evaluate multiple design options based on a set of goals and constraints. Generative design tools, such as Autodesk Revit's Dynamo or Rhino's Grasshopper, can help to automate and optimize the design process, leading to more efficient and high-performing solutions.

Performance Simulation

The use of computer models to predict and analyse the behaviour and performance of a building or its components under different conditions. Performance simulation tools, such as EnergyPlus, IES, or CFD software, can help to evaluate the energy efficiency, thermal comfort, daylight availability, or airflow patterns of a building, informing the design decisions.

Optimisation Techniques

Mathematical methods used to find the best solution to a problem within a given set of constraints. Optimisation techniques, such as genetic algorithms, gradient-based methods, or multi-objective optimization, can be applied to building design to find the most efficient or cost-effective configurations of materials, systems, or geometries.

Integrated Water Management & Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)

Water management is a critical aspect of environmentally sustainable development, as it aims to reduce water consumption, improve water quality, and manage stormwater runoff in an efficient and ecological manner.


Shallow, vegetated channels designed to convey, filter, and infiltrate stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces. Swales can be lined with grass, rocks, or other materials to slow down the flow of water and promote infiltration, and they can be integrated with other landscaping features such as trees and shrubs.


Wastewater generated from household activities such as laundry, dishwashing, and bathing, which can be reused for non-potable purposes like irrigation or toilet flushing. Greywater systems can significantly reduce the demand for potable water and the volume of wastewater discharged into sewers or septic systems.

Gross Pollutant Traps

Devices installed in stormwater drains to capture and remove large pollutants such as litter, debris, and coarse sediment. Gross pollutant traps help to prevent these pollutants from entering waterways and damaging aquatic ecosystems.

Permeable Paving

A paving system that allows water to pass through the surface and infiltrate into the underlying soil, reducing stormwater runoff and promoting groundwater recharge. Permeable paving materials include porous asphalt, pervious concrete, and interlocking pavers with gaps filled with gravel or vegetation.

Potable Water

Water that is safe for drinking, cooking, and other household uses, meeting strict quality standards for contaminants and pathogens. Potable water is typically supplied by public water systems or private wells, and it may be treated with chemicals, filtration, or disinfection to ensure its safety and palatability.

Rainwater Harvesting

The collection and storage of rainwater from roofs or other surfaces for later use, such as irrigation, toilet flushing, or laundry. Rainwater harvesting systems can range from simple rain barrels to large underground tanks with pumps and filters, and they can significantly reduce the demand for potable water.


Landscaped areas designed to capture, filter, and absorb stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, and parking lots. Raingardens typically consist of a shallow depression filled with permeable soil and planted with native vegetation that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions. They can help to reduce the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff, improve water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Stormwater Detention

The temporary storage of stormwater runoff in a pond, basin, or underground tank, in order to reduce the peak flow rate and volume of runoff discharged into downstream drainage systems or waterways. Stormwater detention facilities typically have an outlet structure that releases water slowly over a period of hours or days, helping to prevent flooding and erosion.

Stormwater Management

Strategies and techniques used to manage the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff from urban areas, in order to reduce flooding, erosion, and pollution of waterways. Stormwater management approaches include green infrastructure (such as permeable paving, green roofs, and raingardens), detention and retention basins, and treatment systems (such as oil-water separators and biofiltration).

Stormwater Quality

The physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of stormwater runoff, which can be impacted by land use activities, atmospheric deposition, and natural processes. Stormwater quality parameters include total suspended solids (TSS), nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus), pathogens (such as bacteria and viruses), heavy metals (such as copper and zinc), and organic compounds (such as oil and grease).

Stormwater Retention

The permanent storage of stormwater runoff in a pond, wetland, or infiltration basin, in order to reduce the total volume of runoff discharged into downstream drainage systems or waterways. Stormwater retention facilities typically have no outlet structure, and they rely on evaporation, transpiration, and infiltration to dispose of the stored water.

Stormwater Runoff

The portion of rainfall or snowmelt that flows over the ground surface and enters drainage systems or waterways, instead of infiltrating into the soil. Stormwater runoff can carry pollutants such as sediment, nutrients, oil, and heavy metals from urban areas, contributing to the degradation of water quality in receiving water bodies.

Water Efficiency

The practice of using less water to achieve the same outcome or level of service, through a combination of technological improvements, behavioral changes, and policy incentives. Water efficiency measures can include low-flow plumbing fixtures, drought-tolerant landscaping, leak detection and repair, and water metering and pricing.


Areas of land that are saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, and that support a diverse range of aquatic plants and animals. Wetlands can occur naturally or be constructed for specific purposes, such as wastewater treatment, stormwater management, or habitat restoration. Natural wetlands provide many ecosystem services, such as water purification, flood control, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity support. Constructed wetlands are engineered systems that mimic the functions of natural wetlands, using vegetation, soils, and microorganisms to treat water pollutants and improve water quality.

Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)

An approach to urban planning and design that integrates the management of the water cycle into the built environment, aiming to minimize the impact of urban development on the natural water cycle and to create more liveable, sustainable, and resilient cities. WSUD principles include preserving natural drainage patterns, minimizing impervious surfaces, treating stormwater as a resource, and using vegetation to filter and absorb pollutants. Known as WSUD in the Middle East and Australia, similar to Low-impact Development (LID) in the United States and Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) in the United Kingdom.

WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards) Rating Scheme

A national program in Australia that provides information on the water efficiency of household products, such as toilets, taps, showers, washing machines, and dishwashers. The WELS water rating scheme requires these products to be registered and labelled with a star rating (from 1 to 6 stars) that indicates their water efficiency, based on standardized testing and evaluation procedures. The more stars a product has, the more water-efficient it is compared to other products in the same category. The WELS scheme also includes minimum water efficiency standards that products must meet before they can be sold in Australia, helping to phase out inefficient products from the market. By providing clear and reliable information on water efficiency, the WELS scheme empowers consumers to make informed choices and encourages manufacturers to develop more water-efficient products, contributing to the overall sustainability of water resources in Australia.


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