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It is important to have a working definition of sustainability around which multidisciplinary teams can work. A single definition won't do because sustainability is both simple and complex, thus we've found it helpful to define it with a spectrum of definitions as shown above.



Sustainable design is a new level of perception, design, and enterprise, based on the recognition that humans are a major part of our planet's processes. Thus our effect on these processes must become more optimal in order to sustain ourselves, other species, and the planet as we know it.


Straw bale construction is a process that illustrates the advantages of sustainable design--having less impact on on the planet while simulaneously providing a superior product. Presently rice straw, the best material for straw bale construction, is burned producing prodigious amounts of air pollution in greenhouse gases. By building with rice straw, these impacts are eliminated. At the same time, a building is produced with three times the insulation value of a standard wood frame wall, integral thermal mass for passive solar heating and cooling, and superior fire and sound resistance. In addition, we have a material capable of achieving sculptural forms at little extra cost. Bale wall construction can also be an informative and fun social event.

Straw bale building in San Luis Obispo County,  CA.


Siting a building is one of the most important considerations to SLOSG when designing a house. Factors such as extensive natural daylighting, straw bale construction, and thermal mass work with, rather than against, nature in response to the climate.

Natural conditioning provides for the passive heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation of buildings. It is dependent on neither mechanical systems nor imported energy. It is achieved through holistic architectural systems that respond to chaotic conditions on-site. These conditions include climate, human use, and the microclimate effects of wind, topography, and the building itself.

Achieving comfort and delight by utilizing on-site energies requires creativity by the designer. The design goal is to organize a whole, made up of integrated multifunctional components. For example, building walls are space definers, but they can also create thermal barriers, direct breezes, reflect or absorb sunlight, and act as thermal mass. With the help of computer simulation tools, natural conditioning optimizes the visual and thermal environment to the point where mechanical conditioning is needed only as a backup for the climatic extremes, thus providing comfort while using only 5 to 30 percent of the imported energy consumed by standard industrial-era buildings. If done well, the result is superior comfort, minimization of expensive infrastructure, and contribution to a healthier planet. Natural conditioning of buildings is part of our cultural transformation from the present highly developed but depletive industrial era to the evolving regenerative sustainable era of human development. 


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last rev. 5/08 San Luis Obispo Sustainability Group Architects