ZEMCH aims to tackle issues arising in the delivery of socially, economically and environmentally sustainable built environments in developed and developing countries, which accommodate people with different socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and abilities. Annually, the conference brings together researchers and government and industry professionals to discuss the problems and delights of design, manufacturing and marketing surrounding the delivery of low-carbon dioxide and, ultimately, zero-energy houses that are customisable on a mass scale, either built or under construction in developing and developed countries. The ZEMCH network was established in 2010 after a number of international industry-academia collaborative study tours were organised in order to observe the state-of-the-art production and sales facilities of leading low-to zero-energy or carbon dioxide emission sustainable housing manufacturers in Japan, which also practise inclusive design. Presently, the ZEMCH network consists of 667 global partners from academia, industry and government based in over 45 countries. Built upon the success of previous conferences, the fourth conference in the ZEMCH series attracted a large number of submissions from all around the world, which were subjected to a two-stage peer review process. With the objective of producing a high-quality conference, papers were selected for presentation at the conference and publication in the proceedings. The scope of the conference is extensive and 64 oral presentations were delivered. Extended and revised versions of the top articles, which were selected by the ZEMCH scientific committee and the Engineering Sustainability editorial panel, are included in this themed issue to disseminate further the leading research in this field first presented at ZEMCH 2015. The selected papers cover key research topics in the areas of sustainable built environments, including green building rating systems, intelligent building technologies, gamification in the built environment, four-dimensional (4D) building information modelling (BIM), vertical green walls and building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). A wide range of 'green' building rating and assessment tools are used around the world to help mitigate the environmental impacts of the built environment through the measurement and recognition of sustainability performance (AlWaer and Kirk, 2012; Haroglu, 2013). Sustainability is now a top priority in the Middle East region and countries like Jordan, Qatar and UAE have developed their own green building rating system to incorporate social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects in modern construction. The first article in this issue (Shareed and Altan, 2017) assessed and compared the different building sustainability rating systems in the Middle East with well-established and leading international green building certification systems such as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (Breeam) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed). The assessment focused on the vision and structure, categories, weightings, levels and certification processes. The study highlighted the importance of developing and employing local green building codes or systems to achieve sustainability targets according to national priorities and regulations. The second article in this issue (Gadakari et al., 2017) focused on finding the relationship between building intelligence and sustainability by developing a predictive statistical model that can estimate the impact of intelligent building technologies (IBTs) on sustainability scores of green building rating tools. The data were collected from 40 Breeam-and Leed-certified buildings in the UK and Europe and were subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis methods. The work highlighted the numerous benefits that IBTs can provide, and the analysis proved that there was a strong positive correlation between the number of IBTs used in a building and the scores achieved. One of the most important challenges faced by the building sector today is tackling the 'energy performance gap', which is the disparity in energy use of buildings, from predicted performance at the design stage to actual performance in use (Baborska-Narozny and Stevenson, 2017; Johnston et al., 2015; Robinson et al., 2016). The third paper in this issue (Patlakas and Raslan, 2017) discusses the significant role of building users in determining the energy use of buildings and the influence of their behaviour on the 'performance gap'. The authors attempted to addressed the issue by using 'gamification' or game-based tools to help users better understand the issues relating to building performance, post-occupancy evaluation surveys and facilities management. The study demonstrated both the advantages and challenges of gamification which were in agreement with the experiences reported in the literature.