Valuing the environmental performance of historic buildings

This peer reviewed article on Heritage and ESD Valuing the Environmental Performance of Historic Buildings by Ruth Redden and Robert H. Crawford will be published in the Australasian Journal of Environmental Management later this year.


“the greenest building is one that is already built” .

Carl Elefante


Buildings account for at least one third of global greenhouse gas emissions and existing buildings constitute 98 per cent of Australia’s building stock in any one year. Hence, existing buildings, many of which have high cultural heritage value, play an important role in addressing climate change and other key environmental challenges. Despite convincing evidence that historic buildings are high environmental performers, most environmental improvement initiatives within building and planning systems continue to focus heavily on operational performance. They generally fail to value broader indicators of environmental sustainability such as resource depletion, material waste and pollution. When these broader environmental benefits of maintaining existing buildings are not considered or appropriately valued, historic fabric is often removed or demolished, often replaced by newer ‘green’ buildings. This not only results in the loss of important cultural heritage, but also a substantial opportunity for maximising environmental outcomes. This article reviews national and international literature on environmental and cultural sustainability to highlight the broad environmental benefits of conserving historic buildings; how they can be valued; and what further research is required to ensure building and planning systems adequately address the role that buildings play within the challenge of anthropogenic climate change.

Ruth is a Member of the Australia ICOMOS National Scientific Committee on Energy and Sustainability.

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