“Green” buildings use fewer resources such as electricity, water and building materials than traditional (a.k.a non-green) buildings.
Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations though! A regular building that’s been clad in timber or just had a small wind-turbine stuck on top of it is not a good example of sustainable design.
(I will use the terms “green”and “sustainable” interchangeably here, even though they mean different things when you become very familiar with the concepts.)
Almost all buildings use more resources than they generate. We will call these “traditional buildings”. In fact, traditional buildings do not generate any of the resources they consume. All resources come from external sources e.g. energy from a fossil-fuelled national grid, water from an energy-consuming municipal supply etc. Energy is often derived from fossil-fuels, which in the long run is not a sustainable supply of fuel.
In recent years, building designs have become more self-sustaining, more “sustainable”, more “green”. By this, I mean that they are designed to higher efficiencies and perhaps even generate their own power. They cannot however, run independently of fossil-fuel energy sources. In the hard-core sustainable building fraternity, these are called “green” buildings. Very high-performing ones may even be called “deep-green”, but they are not self-sustaining and so not called “sustainable” buildings.
Sustainable buildings should be self-sustaining and by definition, not have any negative impact on the environment. These buildings generate all their own water and energy requirements.
Going further than this, restorative buildings are those that have a net improvement effect on the environment. Not only do they provide enough resources for themselves, but improve the environment around them at the same time.
Don’t worry. We will use the term “Green Building” as a catch-all term and won’t be too worried about how green is green. Most of the world uses this same approach.
Don’t lose hope – the principles and concepts outlined in this blog can all be extended to turn traditional building designs into green ones and even into restorative ones, it just depends on how far you push the envelope!
There are quite a number of benefits associated with green building design. Some are easier to quantify than others, but there is a broad consensus for even the most difficult to quantify aspects.
- Lower operating costs for heating, lighting, cooling, water etc (These can often be quite significant and proven).
- Higher occupant productivity and comfort.
- Reduced instances of illness for people working in offices.
- Greater sense of well-being.
- For commercial premises, increased marketing potential and corporate image.
- Higher build quality overall, due to the scrutiny often placed on such projects.
There are of course negatives associated with green building design as well:
- Nervousness and tension among inexperienced design team members, client and contractors due to novel building practices, technologies and design approaches.
- Higher initial cost. This is the case for many buildings as certain technologies and practices can be very expensive, however there is also a lot of low-hanging fruit. Overall the additional costs tend to be overstated, especially when flagship and showcase projects are mistaken for what might otherwise be considered as run-of-the-mill, well designed, efficient, green buildings.
Designing and constructing buildings to be more sustainable is a really exciting field to be in.
There’s tons to learn and the boundaries of what is possible get pushed further every day!
If you are just starting out…..I am quite jealous of you! There is so much to learn and the learning never stops!
If you are an experienced practitioner…I think you will find a lot of aspects in this blog that you may have heard of but were too afraid to ask about. If there are topics you are already well versed in, enjoy the possibly different insights. If you disagree with my take on something, please say so!