To be considered eco-friendly or “green,” you must adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Despite the recent rise in sustainability trends, the term itself isn’t new. HuffPost reports in an article on the history of sustainability and how the term, and those similar to it, made their debut in the 1980s.
From then on, various efforts to create a more sustainable lifestyle took place. While this lifestyle is intended to be applied to our personal lives, going green isn’t only for members of the community.
For instance, businesses that go green aim to create workplaces that prioritize sustainability. But this isn’t the only way eco-friendly practices can be implemented professionally. One way that often gets overlooked is eco-friendly or “green” architecture.
What Is Green Architecture?
Green architecture, also known as green building, is a “holistic concept that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day.” To summarize, green architecture is the concept of implementing sustainable practices during the planning, designing, constructing, and operating of buildings and their occupants. While the idea of sustainability was born in the 1980s, green buildings didn’t become more prominent until the 1990s.
Those responsible for implementing these eco-friendly efforts are those normally involved in the building process. Anyone that has a say in the construction process — from drafting a blueprint to pouring concrete — should be let in on the sustainability changes being made for that building.
Why Is Green Architecture Important?
Green architecture is also part of a greater movement of making everyday life more green and sustainable. This movement has started for a variety of reasons — most of which focus on the betterment of the planet and all of its environments. However, there are benefits of sustainable living that can benefit most businesses in return. These benefits include:
- Increased personal happiness;
- More opportunities to save money;
- Less exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins.
However, these aren’t the only advantages of green architecture. Let’s take a look at a few benefits only possessed by eco-friendly building practices.
When most people think of environmentally damaging practices, they typically think of oil fracking or another activity that is notorious for expunging greenhouse gas emissions. However, architecture and construction can have a significant impact on the environment, especially when evaluating the carbon footprint of architectural projects.
According to a report by Architecture 2030 on the impacts of traditional architecture, “the built environment generates 40% of annual global CO2 emissions.” To break this down further, they also report that:
- Building operations are responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions;
- The building construction industry is responsible for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions;
- 7% of greenhouse gasses are emitted by other elements of the construction industry.
This is why a primary advantage of green architecture is the positive impact it has on the environment. Specifically, green architecture:
- Protects ecosystems;
- Improves air and water quality;
- Reduces waste:
- Conserves/restores natural resources.
And although these benefits alone should incentivize more green architecture adoption, other benefits can economically incentivize businesses.
By implementing more sustainable measures in every step of the infrastructure process, building developers and others involved in the process can save more money than if they were to use traditional methods. For instance, a few economic benefits of green infrastructure include, but aren’t limited to:
- Reduced operating costs;
- Increased opportunities to grow and produce green products and service markets.
Another advantage that often gets overlooked is how green architecture improves building occupant productivity. Building occupant productivity refers to the level of efficiency the building’s occupants can achieve given the current state of their environment. The more occupants feel as if they're able to see out daily tasks in a productive manner, the more of an overall success the building and its services will be, too.
Sustainability is naturally tied together with the well-being of people. After all, the health of all people across the globe is intrinsically tied to the state of our environment. As time progresses throughout the sustainability movement, more people are starting to realize this as well. One survey conducted among Chicago residents found that 84% of respondents see residing in a sustainable building as important.
Therefore, creating a sustainable building will attract more people with this desire, and you can start creating other social benefits, such as:
- Improving occupant comfort and quality of life with quality furniture and building features;
- Influencing aesthetic qualities with well-thought-out interior design;
- Minimizing strain on local infrastructure by working with the natural elements instead of against them.
The more people see that sustainable thought went behind a construction, the more satisfied they’ll be knowing that work is being done to help the environment and their well-being.
Aspects of Green Architecture
Although there are plenty of benefits to green architecture, you can’t reap them with a few simple actions. To be considered green architecture, a building must incorporate a variety of factors — all of which make an impact on the environment. Let’s take a look at these specific elements.
Many reports indicate that buildings that prioritize sustainability in every sense of the word tend to be more energy efficient than the ones that aren’t. Energy Star reports that, on average, green buildings “use 35% less energy and cause 35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”
Building developers who include energy-efficient appliances, including but certainly not limited to sustainable HVAC systems, are one step closer to establishing an eco-friendly infrastructure.
Optimization for Location
Sustainable construction can’t just be developed anywhere. It takes experts in the field to conduct research on which areas are suitable enough to withhold the type of building you wish to develop. Additionally, the location you choose to build will determine what type of sustainable materials you have access to for the building project.
When choosing a location for a green building, ensure to choose a self-sustaining environment that requires little to no upkeep. That way your time, energy, and finances can be allocated elsewhere instead of maintaining building grounds. You should also conduct an environmental analysis, which considers all areas of a specific environment that you could potentially impact once the building has been developed.
Be mindful of the amount of natural lighting the building receives throughout the day. If you construct a building that sits in the shade most of the day, you’ll end up spending more money on heating and lighting.
Alternative Energy Sources
Aside from choosing the best location and including the most energy-efficient appliances, you should consider the type of energy source used to power your building, as well. Luckily, there are multiple alternative energy sources ideal for buildings aiming for sustainability.
- Bioenergy: Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy derived from living, organic materials.
- Geothermal: Geothermal energy is energy derived from reservoirs of hot water found naturally in the earth.
- Solar electric/photovoltaic (PV) systems: Solar energy is a type of technology that converts sunlight into energy.
- Wind: Wind energy is an energy source that uses wind-powered turbines to generate electricity.
Take a moment before the construction process begins to determine which renewable energy source is best for your building.
It’s difficult to claim the building being constructed is eco-friendly if the construction methods used to do so are everything but. Sustainable construction is the use of eco-friendly materials in building projects.
The methods by which the building is constructed should also be considered. Doing so could help decrease material costs, thus aiding you in determining which materials are needed during a project. Examples of sustainable construction methods include constructing materials ahead of time and being more mindful of construction waste management
Utilizing cost estimator software from a trustworthy construction takeoff company is a great way to get a better idea of the type of savings to expect when purchasing various building materials. Additionally, AI-powered measurement software can help you determine how much material, like steel or other necessary materials, to purchase which helps to reduce waste and eliminate unnecessary material costs.
Sustainable Building Materials
Some materials are more sustainable than others, and are ideal for green buildings. Ideally, sustainable building materials should be:
- Sustainably sourced;
- Obtained locally;
Examples of sustainable materials commonly used in construction and to budget into your green building projects include:
- Bamboo flooring is self-generating and doesn’t damage the eco-system when harvested;
- Non-toxic drywall uses a mud-compound mixture, instead of a drywall joint compound that has harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and carcinogens;
- Eco-conscious paint is free of harmful toxins often found in common household paints.
Although these materials are eco-friendly, they can certainly add up in cost — especially if you’re dedicated to solely using eco-f riendly building materials. As such, using price-estimating software associated with each material can help you budget beforehand so you don’t overspend.
The Future of Green Buildings
Just as with the implementation of sustainability in other fields, experts anticipate the future of green buildings will continue to rise. In fact, during an interview on the future of green buildings, World Resources Institute (WRI) CEO, Andrew Steer, states “By 2050, the global floor area in buildings is expected to double to more than 415 billion square meters.”
The more the word on the benefits of sustainability, in general, is spread, the more we can do as a whole to take the initiative to set these efforts in place. 2050 isn’t as far away as it sounds, and we’ve got to act now to see these anticipated statistics come true.
Additional Sustainable Infrastructure Resources
Listed below are external resources to help further your education on the ins and outs of green architecture.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a government environmental protection agency. Their primary purpose is to protect the environment and its occupants.
- Healthy Building Network (HBN): Just as their name indicates, the Healthy Building Network (HBN) is a network of like-minded individuals working together to “advance human and environmental health by improving hazardous chemical transparency and inspiring product innovation.”
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): The Leadership in Energy and EnvironmentalDesign (LEED) certification is a green building system created to transform the way buildings are designed.
- Northwest EcoBuilding Guild: The Northwest EcoBuilding Guild is an association of those concerned about ecological building practices in the Pacific Northwestern U.S. Folks in the program host educational events and volunteers their time in hopes of making an effort in improving sustainable building methods.
- Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG): The Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) is a program designed to improve communication and knowledge-sharing initiatives through like-minded individuals interested in improving building sustainability.
- World Green Building Council (WorldGBC): The World Building Council (WorldGBC) is an organization that works with businesses, other organizations, and governments to develop sustainable building efforts more in line with the Paris Agreement and UN global goals for development.
Utilizing one or more of the above resources, paired with the tips listed within this guide can help you further understand the importance of sustainability in all areas of life — including, but certainly not limited to green architecture.
Knowing what to expect when it comes to the future of green architecture isn’t impossible to imagine. As long as the message of the importance of sustainability continues to spread, the measures we take as a whole will increase.