The last year has seen something of a surge (to use the current military terminology) in the battle for a greener built environment. A year ago housebuilders were just beginning to contemplate the implications of the Code for Sustainable Homes; now they have gone some way towards actually trying to meet it.

Social housing specialist Osborne has built the first bona fide code-level-five-homes and found that it costs 24% more than base Building Regulations (see page 38). This isn’t cheap, but the costs should fall as the industry gets up to speed, and if Osborne can do it for social housing providers, it shouldn’t be impossible to make the economics stack up for homes for private sale – at least, up to code level five.

Of course, the really challenging part of the code is level six, which requires all of a home’s energy needs to be provided by on-site renewables. While prototypes are emerging at BRE’s Innovation Park in Hertfordshire, it’s already becoming clear that this may prove a step too far for the non-domestic sector. The UK Green Building Council published its report into the feasibility of an equivalent of the Code for Sustainable Homes for all other building types in December and found that it could be done – providing off-site renewables counted towards the zero-carbon target.

We turn a critical eye to this report in 'The Code for Sustainable Non-dwellings'. A consultation on the Code for Sustainable Non-dwellings is due out in June, at the same time as the much-needed consultation on the definition of zero carbon. This definition is fundamental to the success of delivering a future carbon-free built environment – let’s hope the government will see sense and allow off-site renewables for both homes and non-dwellings and leave the industry to get on with what it is good at (ie. constructing buildings).

Thankfully, some of the legislation is more straightforward: making site waste management plans compulsory shouldn’t be too onerous, as it can actually save money, as our feature 'Waste and how to tame it' shows. And meeting the 2010 version of Part L shouldn’t be too frightening either as KMPG has already done it with its new office at Canary Wharf ('A comforting vision of L'). Of course, meeting all of these environmental requirements should be easier if the government carries out its plans to revise the Building Regulations on fixed dates. This was one of the five demands of our Reform the Regs campaign ('The first battle is won'). The fact that the communities department has responded so positively should make the business of delivering a zero-carbon built environment at least a little easier.

Thomas Lane, supplement editor