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The assessment of building sustainability in micro and small building firms - Case study on southern Brazil


Jeferson Patzlaff1*, Marco Aurélio Stumpf González.*, Andrea Parisi Kern*

* Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos (UNISINOS). BRASIL

Dirección de Correspondencia


This paper describes a tool to assess building sustainability on micro and small building firms. In recent years occurred great transformations in design and management phases of buildings. Sustainability is very important because the environmental impact of building sector. The application of innovations generally occurs only in mid or large building companies, however the micro and small building companies represent the majority of the companies. We proposed a tool adjusted to smaller context. Using a sample of buildings, the tool demonstrated be adequate, because it is comprehensible and useful to users with different level of education and knowledge about sustainability.

Keywords: Civil construction, sustainable building, assessment, micro and small companies, Brazil

1. Introduction

Construction industry is a great customer of resources. The transformation of raw materials in buildings and the need to transport these materials over long distances requires an additional amount of resources, provoking significant environmental impacts. Resources for operation, maintenance, demobilization and demolition also are consumed throughout the life cycle of construction and, as a consequence of these characteristics, construction industry is also responsible for consume energy, water, and generate pollutants.

Looking for sustainable buildings involves a wide range of actions, among which we highlight the following: training builders and designers, improving the quality of materials, training of manpower, certification, recycling, improving the means of communication and information exchange, and search for innovative materials and technologies. These initiatives are expected to increase the competitiveness, improve the quality of products and services, reduce costs, optimize resource use, and especially reduce waste and environmental impact of construction.

Some studies related to sustainable building are gaining importance, but the application of innovation often occurs only in mid and large companies, which work in larger cities. However, micro and small building companies are the majority on construction sector. Therefore are responsible for implementing large part of the buildings and also employment generation.

In view of this background, we developed a study to evaluate the application of concepts of sustainable construction, verifying the implementation of these concepts in micro and small businesses, especially in face of regional characteristics of the Caí River Valley, a region on southern Brazil. It was initially defined an evaluation method which was then applied to typical buildings in this region, with good results.

2. Indicators of building sustainability

The assessment of sustainability degree in construction sector is a complex issue. There are several approaches, although usually based on two lines: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) or tools using a set of criteria and indicators. LCA is used to evaluate the environmental impact, through the quantification of materials and energy involved in a product. It is aligned to issues discussed at the Rio-92 and Rio+10, in terms of what actions should be planned for the development of policies for the production and consumption in order to improve products and services, reducing environmental impacts (UN, 1992, 2002). Methods and results of LCA used in developed countries may not be appropriate for Third World, and appropriate techniques must be developed in line with national conditions and peculiarities. In fact, the evaluation of the life cycle presents some practical difficulties such as lack of information from local manufacturers of materials and components, complexity of analysis and dependence on factors such as transport distances (Silva et al, 2002).

There is no one formal classification, but environmental assessment schemes available can be clearly separated into two categories. On the one hand, there are systems designed to be easily absorbed by designers or receive and disseminate market recognition for efforts provided to improve the environmental quality of projects, implementation and operational management (such as BREEAM - Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, and LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). On the other hand, there are some forms of evaluation-oriented tools, such as BEPAC (Building Environmental Performance Analysis Club) and its successor, the GBC (Green Building Council). In this case, the emphasis is to develop a comprehensive methodology and a scientific reasoning, which can guide the development of new systems (Silva et al., 2002).

Techniques based on criteria such as LEED and BREEAM are flexible and allow the use of qualitative assessments. Indicators of sustainability of the built environment describe the environmental, economic and social aspects. These indicators capture trends to inform decision makers, to guide the development and monitoring of policies and strategies, among other roles. They are useful for designers, owners, users, managers, policy makers and other public officials involved in the construction industry.

In order meet the market requirements and follow the trend of sustainability, companies choose environmental certifications. However, an adjustment to current standards of environmental preservation require major investment for organizations, and represents a cost that usually presents no apparent profits on the short term, with the same profit can be quantified by certified firms, and then served as reference to the other. It's more difficult to smaller companies.

The best known and more used method in Brazil is LEED. This method of evaluation was created in the United States in 1999. It is currently the method with greatest potential for expansion, according to the massive investment being made for their dissemination and improvement. It was inspired by BREEAM and is a system based on criteria and indicators. The system is updated regularly (every 3 - 5 years) and versions for different types have been developed gradually (USGBC, 2005). The evaluation criteria are distributed according to the purpose of the property. The LEED criteria have to evaluate the following types of certification: new construction and major reforms, existing buildings (phases of operation and maintenance), interiors, core and "envelope", and schools in the pilot phase, neighborhoods, retail and residences. In LEED, the developments are assessed according to six dimensions or categories of requirements, and resulting in a total of 69 points (USGBC, 2001):

• Sustainable sites (01 prerequisite and 14 credits)

• Water efficiency (05 credits)

• Energy and atmosphere (03 prerequisites and 17 credits)

• Materials and resources (01 prerequisite and 13 credits)

• Indoor environmental quality (02 prerequisites and 15 credits)

• Innovation and design process (05 credits)

After Silva (2007), there are considerable efforts in Brazil to develop sustainability indicators at different scales of built environment, however, these indicators vary widely and are defined according to criteria and methodologies which are not replicable in some cases. In addition, there are some items that do not apply to national or regional phenomenon. Some studies have been developed for the generation of evaluation mechanisms in Brazil. For example, Kuhn (2006) and Sedrez (2004) proposed mechanisms for assess the sustainability of social housing projects, and Oliveira (2005) proposed a method of environmental assessment of roofing on social housing.

3. A method for sustainability assessment

A method for assessment of building sustainability need to take into account regional characteristics, characteristics of typical buildings (considering materials, manpower and techniques used), and size of the companies responsible for their implementation (in our case, micro and small companies), among other issues.

From the correlation of different systems to sustainability assessment, different visions and parameters proposed by some authors, we defined the dimensions of sustainability (themes) and indicators for assessing the sustainability of a building, whose matrix is presented in Table 1. The first 42 questions are considered directly by the evaluator, while the last 3 result of questioning people involved with the developments. All were assessed on a scale of 0 to 3 points.

Table 1. Proposed method for sustainability assessment: dimensions of sustainability and indicators

The assessment considers the adequacy of the parameter for each case, following criteria presented in Table 2. There are a small difference only on the last question, which took into account the energy consumption for transport to the job site, taking 3 points for access by foot or bike, 2 using public transport, 1 when people use car, and 0 when people goes to site on truck.

All indicators have the same weight, so the maximum score is 135 points. Because there are different amounts of indicators in each dimension, the results were converted into percentages, so that all dimensions have equal weight in the final index and aiming at the transformation to a more easily understood.

Table 2. Levels of assessment of the indicators

4. Application of the proposed methodology

The assessment of sustainability in some buildings on the Caí River Valley was performed by analysis on three residential projects (two single-family homes and a multifamily residential building), monitoring of construction sites and contact with several agents, including architects, civil engineers, builders, workers, realtors, municipal officials, suppliers, and other people involved with these projects. We take in account all persons involved directly in building site and around to 50% of people working outside (realtors, suppliers, and others).

The projects are located in the region of the Caí River Valley and they are administered and enforced by micro and small building companies. The region has around 160,000 inhabitants (on 2007), it has 20 cities covering 1,854 km2, and it has a GDP of US$ 6,500 (on 2006).

The projects identified for the case studies are typical in the region, and they were selected as base on their characteristics, availability of information from building companies, easy access to project information and construction sites. The basic features of each of the projects are as follows:

1) Vertical, multi-family residential development -analyzed in the design phase, it has a built area of 3,200 m2, composed of twenty-four apartments, and thirty-six parking spaces;

2) Single-family residential development - analyzed during the implementation phase, with built area of 117.95 m2;

3) Single-family residential development - analyzed during implementation phase, with built area of 204.53 m2.

Access to construction sites and the information concerning new developments and business was secured during the entire investigation. Analyzing comparatively the enterprises studied, we note the similarities and differences in their main features.

After detailed contact with the developments, we evaluated the score for each indicator. For the last three questions, we interviewed 25 people involved with the developments. We observed that these agents had no difficulty understanding the indicators, and no matter their education levels. The results are presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Evaluation of the projects analyzed

The highest level was reached in dimension (E) and the smaller are on dimensions (B), (D) and (F). We may conclude that the quality of the internal environment is good, while the efficiency on materials and resources (D), water efficiency (B) and environmental loads (F) do not reached a similar level. These dimensions generate construction waste. These issues represent opportunities to improve buildings, helping the decision-making of designers. In the overall evaluation, these buildings have reached an average level (about 2/3 of the maximum of the proposed method), with a balance between them.

The chart below (Figure 1) helps to examine the results qualitatively. It appears that the buildings studied are similar, although involving different professionals, clients and projects, for example. We can see major differences in the dimensions (A) and (C) and balance among (E) and (G), among the 3 projects. In Figure 1 we can see the potential for progress, represented by the blank area on the chart. It's easy to understand this figure, which is useful to professional and non-professional.

Figure 1. Evaluation according to dimensions of sustainability and buildings


We proposed a method for assessing the sustainability conditions for micro and small building companies working in smaller cities. Some indicators were organized according a thematic structure. The proposed method was suitable to the context, and is also flexible, allowing for easy inclusion, exclusion, union or subdivision of indicators.

The next steps on the research are dissemination to people involved, and proposing a mechanism for use in project licensing on small cities of the region, initially as a guide. In the future it may work as part of a property tax law perhaps indicating incentives in the form of discounts on taxes in proportion to the level of sustainability achieved by the project.

6. Notes

1Engenheiro Civil - CREA/RS 1 33874. Professor do Curso de Engenharia Civil e Arquitetura e Urbanismo. Pesquisador do itt Performance - Inst. Tec em Desempenho e Construção Civil -

7. Acknowledgements

Authors wish to thanks to Brazilian research agencies CAPES and CNPq

8. References

Kuhn E.A. (2006), Avaliação da sustentabilidade ambiental do protótipo de habitação de interesse social Alvorada (Assessment of environmental sustainability of Alvorada social housing project), Master Thesis, Civil Engineering Graduate Program, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Available in:

Oliveira D.P. (2005), Contribuições para a avaliação ambiental de subsistemas de cobertura em habitações de interesse social (Contributions to environmental assessment of roof sub-systems on social housing), Master Thesis, Civil Engineering Graduate Program, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Available in: )

Sedrez M. M. (2004), Sustentabilidade do ambiente construido: contribuições para a avaliação de empreendimentos habitacionais de interesse social (Sustainability of building environment: contributions to assessment of social housing projects), Master Thesis, Civil Engineering Graduate Program, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Available in:

Silva VG, Sattler MA, Ilha MSO, John VM, Lamberts R, Silva MG, Agopyan V. (2002), Sustainable Building in Brazil: long way to go, but government and industry aware, Sustainable Building, 2 36-38.

Silva VG. (2007), Indicadores de sustentabilidade de edifícios: Estado da arte e desafios para desenvolvimento no Brasil (Indicators of building sustainability: State-of-art and challenges to Brazilian development), Ambiente Construído, 7, 47-66. (Available in:

United Nations (UN) (1992), Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (RIO'92-The Earth Summit - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (Annex I), New York: UN. (Available in:

United Nations (UN) (2002), Report of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (WSSD - Johannesburg, South Africa), Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, New York: UN. (Available in:

United States Green Building Council (USGBC) (2001), LEED for Existing Buildings: The LEED Green Building Rating System for Improving Building Performance through Upgrades and Operations. Version 2.0, USGBC, Washington, D.C. (Available in: RS EBOM 07.01.2013 current.pdf).

United States Green Building Council (USGBC) (2005), LEED for Homes Rating System, USGBC, Washington, D.C. (Available in: April 201 3.pdf)


Fecha de Recepción: 22/01/2014 Fecha de Aceptación: 01/07/2014




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