The economic performance of sustainable construction

  • 1 / 8

    “The Economy of Sustainable Construction”: 30 specialists from around the world challenge the question of (higher) costs related to sustainability of the built environment.

  • 2 / 8

    Alejandro Aravena (Chile), Executive Director, Elemental: “There is no doubt that there is value in sustainability – above all, ethical value in fairness to future generations.”

  • 3 / 8

    Francis Kéré (Burkina Faso / Germany), Principal, Kéré Architecture: “The enthusiasm and willingness of the community to participate is essential to the project’s sustainability.”

  • 4 / 8

    Rolf Soiron (Switzerland), Chairman of the Holcim Foundation and Chairman of Holcim Ltd: “How can we secure a sustainable future without making radical changes to our economic system?”

  • 5 / 8

    Harry Gugger (Switzerland), Professor of Urban & Architectural Design, EPFL and Member of the Board of the Holcim Foundation: “Unless our society adopts a more sustainable economic model, a significant reduction in our environmental footprint is not possible, regardless of what settlement typologies we employ.”

  • 6 / 8

    Alejandro Aravena discusses “Economy of Sustainable Construction” at the book launch and presentations.

  • 7 / 8

    Editors of “Economy of Sustainable Construction”, Ilka Ruby (left) and Nathalie Janson.

  • 8 / 8

    The cover of the "The economy of Sustainable Construction" book.

30 specialists from around the world challenge the question of (higher) costs related to sustainability of the built environment. The Economy of Sustainable Construction is a publication inspired by the 4th International Holcim Forum and examines how sustainability can deliver a robust response to fiscal challenges. 

Last updated: December 11, 2013 Zurich, Switzerland

The book evaluates current architectural practices and models, and also introduces materials and methods to maximize the environmental, social, and economic performance of buildings.

Contained within its 400 pages are essays, reports, and case studies that examine the relationship between commercial and sustainable values, and explore the paths that construction will take in the 21st century. The Economy of Sustainable Construction points out the urgency of adapting more sustainable construction practices and buildings in the light of rapid urbanization, the vast growths of today’s giant cities, the sluggish economy, and burgeoning climate issues.

The Economy of Sustainable Construction, edited and published by Ruby Press Berlin was supported by the Holcim Foundation. Inspired by the 4th International Holcim Forum held in Mumbai in 2013, the authors propose how architecture, engineering and construction can contribute to the challenges of a global economy – in the shadow of increasing urbanization, demands for ever more economic growth around the world, compounded by serious environmental and social consequences. The experts examine how a sustainable future could be secured without making radical changes to the economic system.

Even though sustainability is widely held to be “the right thing to do,” a major barrier to a sustainable revolution in the construction industry has been its initial higher price, whether perceived or real. The case studies and research in The Economy of Sustainable Construction challenges the assumption that sustainable construction costs more and also deconstructs outmoded methodologies for evaluating the profitability of a building.

The Economy of Sustainable Construction explores new paradigms of construction and prosperity that can work with our environment, rather than against it. No panacea for the environmental, economic, and social problems is presented in the book, but two broad strategies are postulated: firstly, short-term economic incentives for sustainable construction and; secondly, more holistic approaches to building concerned less with profits and more with social and ecological sustainability.

Alejandro Aravena (Chile), Executive Director,...

Launch event

Two contributors to the book, architects Alejandro Aravena and Francis Kéré, presented their work engaged on the topic as a launch event in Basel, Switzerland.

Alejandro Aravena is Executive Director of Elemental, an architecture practice based in Santiago de Chile, endorsed the use of “common sense” in attributing the costs associated with sustainable construction. He has built more than a thousand low-cost houses in Latin America, with several thousand more under way. “There is no doubt that there is value in sustainability: social value in better living conditions, physical value in a healthier and less polluted environment, long-term monetary value in reduced maintenance costs, and, above all, ethical value in fairness to future generations,” he said.

Francis Kéré is the principal of Berlin-based Kéré Architecture. The essential elements of sustainability from his perspective requires taking the sociocultural and economic context of the region into account and achieving durability while using minimal resources and technology. Francis Kéré provided an overview of his projects that have adapted the use of reinforced clay as a building material to achieve greater durability from both an economic and social perspective. “The enthusiasm and willingness of the community to participate is essential to the project’s sustainability. I want to enable the people to help themselves; this is neither the quickest nor the simplest way, but in the long term, it is the most sustainable one,” he said. 

Bibliographic details 

The Economy of Sustainable Construction
Ilka & Andreas Ruby, Nathalie Janson (eds)
Binding/Format: Hardcover, English, 416 pages, 23.5 x 17.5 cm
Imprint: Ruby Press: Berlin, 2013
ISBN: 978-3-944074-07-8

Ordering instructions

Order directly from the publisher, Ruby Press, for €39 per copy (excl. handling charges):

Table of Contents

Graphic Introduction


  • Putting Sustainability in the Black
    Ilka & Andreas Ruby and Nathalie Janson


  • Introduction: Reinventing Technology Locally
    Hansjürg Leibundgut
  • Local Alternatives: Replacing Steel with Bamboo
    Dirk Hebel
  • Neighborhoods In-Formation: Engaging with Local Building Practices in Mumbai
    Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava
  • Social Capital Credits: A New Currency for Sustainability
    Geeta Mehta
  • The Sharing Economy Comes Home: New Housing Trends and Practices That Are Changing How We Live
    Yassi Eskandari-Qajar
  • Building Out of Clay
    Francis Kéré


  • Introduction: Upgrading Informal Settlements While Preserving Communities
    Hans-Rudolf Schalcher
  • Working with the Invisible: Unlocking the Processes and Practices of Informal Housing
    Sheela Patel and Keya Kunte
  • Mumbai Slum Upgrades: Can You Apply Bottom-Up Thinking?
    Uday Athavankar
  • Informal Formality: Learning from Squatter Settlements
    Michael Sorkin
  • Garage Conversions and Resilient Suburbs: Adapting Suburban Environments
    Aron Chang
  • Planning for Rural Settlements: Shunyi, China, as a Case Study
    Zhang Yue
  • Beyond Regulations
    Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal



  • Introduction: Putting a Price on Sustainability
    Holger Wallbaum and Annika Feige
  • The Green New Deal: Subordinating Finance to the Interests of Society and the Ecosystem
    Ann Pettifor
  • Built for the Moment: Designing for a Fast-Paced World
    Lena Kleinheinz
  • Handle with Care: How Useful Is the Research on Green Building Prices?
    Patrick McAllister
  • Raising the Bottom Line: How Sustainability Affects Occupant Health and Productivity
    Gail S. Brager
  • Balancing Sustainability, Quality, and Affordability: The CASA Rating for Affordable Housing
    Vishnu Swaminathan and Martina Wengle
  • Architecture Is Here to Stay
    David Chipperfield

Roundtable Discussion

Case Studies

  • Economical and Sustainable! Twenty-one examples, compiled and illustrated by the architecture practice Something Fantastic, of how economy and sustainability go hand in hand.
    Something Fantastic


  • Biographies, Image Credits, Donor Acknowledgement