Ten years ago, if someone told you that they were into sustainable building, chances are you would have given them the universal blank smile and nod that appears whenever we don’t have a clue but don’t want to seem clueless.
Now, most people know at least a little bit about sustainable or green construction.
In fact, these days green construction is not only recommended but enforced by governments that are desperate to reduce their carbon emissions to meet global agreements.
Let’s briefly recap five core principles of sustainable building:
- It uses sustainable or environmentally-friendly building materials.
- Buildings are designed to be energy efficient and minimise waste.
- Construction sites are meant to have little to no impact on the surrounding environment.
- The surrounding environment is considered during every stage of the building process, from design through to maintenance.
- Buildings are constructed in such a way that, should they ever need to be demolished, they can be brought down quickly, easily and without excessive use of energy. The sustainable buildings materials can then be recycled and reused.
In addition to these principles that make a building sustainable, buildings also have to be functional, aesthetically pleasing and, obviously, promote healthy living within.
Furthermore, the idea is not only to be kinder to the environment and improve the well-being of inhabitants but also to reduce operating costs. Optimising natural heat and light and designing rooms and corridors to maximise air flow, incorporating solar power, reducing water waste and recycling programmes all contribute to lower operating costs.
And who doesn’t appreciate a healthier bottom line?
Sustainable building considers interior as well as exterior design. So it includes things like the building’s flow, plant life, recreation areas and landscaping.
Sustainable design can also be applied to existing buildings which are retrofitted to make them more environmentally friendly. This can be as simple as installing solar panels and rain water collectors to insulating walls and ceilings (by laying lawn on the roof, for example).
Different countries have different criteria for determining energy efficiency ratings. According to Wikipedia:
- the US uses a rating system developed by the Green Building Council called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
- the UK uses a rating system developed by Building Research Establishment (BRE) called BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)
- Australia uses the Green Star rating system which was developed by the Green Building Council of Australia
- France uses the HQU (High Quality Environmental) standard which is controlled by the Association pour la Haute Qualité Environnementale (ASSOHQE)
- in Germany there is the DGNB (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Nachhaltiges Bauen from the German Sustainable Building Council
- and Japan has CASBEE (Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency
Sustainable building has come a long way in the past decade, and as methods improve, standards raise and demand increases, we can only imagine that it still has a long way to go.