Building construction and operations can have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment, on society, and the economy, which are commonly referred to as the 3 P's ('People', 'Planet', 'Pocketbook'). The field of sustainable design seeks to balance the needs of these areas by using an integrated approach to create "win-win-win" design solutions.
The main objectives of sustainable design are to reduce, or completely avoid, depletion of critical resources like energy, water, land, and raw materials; prevent environmental degradation caused by facilities and infrastructure throughout their life cycle; and create built environments that are livable, comfortable, safe, and productive.
Buildings use resources (energy, water, raw materials, etc.), generate waste (occupant, construction, and demolition), emit potentially harmful atmospheric emissions, and fundamentally change the function of land, and the ability of that land to absorb and capture water into the ground. Building owners, designers, and builders each face unique challenges to meet demands for new and renovated facilities that are accessible, secure, healthy and productive while minimizing any negative impacts upon society, the environment, and the economy.
In addition to including sustainable design concepts in new construction, sustainable design advocates commonly encouraged retrofitting existing buildings rather than building anew. Retrofitting an existing building can often be more cost-effective than building a new facility. Designing major renovations and retrofits for existing buildings to include sustainable design attributes reduces operation costs and environmental impacts, and can increase building resiliency. The "embodied energy" of the existing building (a term expressing the cost of resources in both human labor and materials consumed during the building's construction and use) is squandered when the building is allowed to decay or to be demolished.