Built environment

Lilac housing from the air

The built environment is a material, spatial and cultural product of human labour that combines physical elements and energy to create spaces for living, working and playing. It has been defined as “the human-made space in which people live, work and recreate on a day-to-day basis” (1), (2).

The definition of a sustainable built environment is changing rapidly. While aiming for neutral or reduced environmental impacts in terms of energy, water, carbon and waste, it is becoming clear that the built environment must go beyond this, to actually have net-positive environmental benefits for the living world. (3)

This potential implies that the built environment can be regenerative, producing more than it consumes, as well as remedy pollution and damage. It is a departure from the idea of being sustainable - that the best the built environment can be is ‘neutral’ in relation to the living world.

regenerative built environment may employ buildings, processes and systems that restore, renew or revitalise sources of energy and materials in a way that integrates the needs of society with that of natural systems and nature (4).

Green building, low-impact, 'green infrastructure' and 'ecosystem services' are contemporary phrases among emergent terminology, describing approaches being used in the design and implementation of ecological built environments that possess a low embedded energy, as well as being ecologically, and/or environmentally regenerative.