The soaring number of eco-communities and eco-homes have resulted in a growing demand for sustainable materials.
One company that has benefited enormously from the boom is T Mawr, a traditional and ecological building company based in Brecon, which began growing rapidly in 2005 and has doubled in size every year since. Its workforce of four in 2000 has increased to 22 this year.
After concerns about the amount of sand extracted and dredged in the UK – 70 million tonnes and 12 million tonnes a year respectively – it pioneered the development of glaster and limecrete, natural alternatives to plaster and concrete, made from glass and lime respectively.
In November, the company launched Welsh sheep’s wool as a means of insulation and now sells 10 million tons of it every month.
And it produces a further 1,600 separate sustainable products, including a mineral-based paint which Gruff Rhys-Jones used on his Pembrokeshire home. Around 40% of its sales are within Wales.
“We started in 1995 and people looked at us as if we had two heads until about three years ago when we grew tremendously,” said director Joyce Gervis.
“About five years ago, people really started asking questions about our environmental impact. It has become a general interest, like organic food, with people realising that what we do has an impact on the environment.
“It is private individuals that have driven this whole industry and it’s only in the last couple of years we’ve seen government projects coming on board.
“But in the last two years people have also become interested in the impact their home is having on their health.”
According to a WAG-funded consultancy team – comprising the Design Research Unit at the Welsh School of Architecture and the Building Research Establishment – founded to produce a design guide on sustainable development in Wales’ three national parks, sustainable development must adhere to certain principles.
Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions must be minimised while the use of locally-generated energy from renewable sources is maximised.
Local materials from sustainable sources and water-saving devices must be used, and the quality of landscape, ecology, bio-diversity and cultural heritage must be enhanced, while ensuring the development is in keeping with local context.
The group, which has launched a consultation period ending next month, says eco-friendly developments mean significant reduction of running costs over their lifetimes, and increasing desirability for buyers.
And while the provision of renewable energy will add to the capital costs it could reduce future costs, especially with concerns over the price and availability of fossil fuel sources.
In a report, the consultancy team says: “Achieving sustainable design is not an optional extra to development. High quality sustainable design and development is essential if we are to arrest long damage to the environment, but also makes sound business sense for developers.”
The definition of sustainable development most commonly used and adopted by the UK Government is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
The national parks consultancy team adds: “It should combine protection of the environment, creation of distinctive place, sensible use of natural resources, economic growth and social progress.”
Local context is a principle highly valued by Davies Sutton Architects in Cardiff, who are among the applicants being considered for the Lawrenny eco-village.
The firm is responsible for the zero-carbon visitor centre at Aberdulais Falls, which is wired up to the National Grid but is powered by a water wheel run from the nearby river. It also designed the ground source heat pump at Raglan Castle’s visitor centre, which extracts heat from deep underground and uses it to heat the building.
“Traditional historic buildings always responded to their environments which is almost the basis of sustainability,” said architect Michael Plageman.
“When you design, you start with the environment, looking at how you take advantage of the sun and where you site rooms.
“Sustainability has become a watchword and the Government is now paying more attention to it. But the industry is changing all the time and it’s difficult to keep on top of it.”