The construction industry is responsible for 11% of all global carbon emissions, and 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the built environment as a whole. However, the world’s population is growing and construction shows no signs of abating. More sustainable buildings and building practices – and deciding not to build – are vital if we are to avoid the worst-case scenario consequences of human-induced climate change.
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What Is Green Building?
There are numerous ways to approach construction with a focus on sustainability. The construction process itself can be made more sustainable, as can the materials used in building. The energy and utilities requirements of buildings can also be reduced with clever design and in-built clean technology solutions.
Many structural components of buildings can now be created with sustainable or recycled materials, replacing traditional concrete and steel which are heavily polluting and energy-intensive materials.
Improving efficiency in construction also helps to reduce environmental damage. This is achieved with modern industrial practices like “lean” project management, Internet-of-Things (IoT) enabled supply chains, and building information modeling (BIM).
After construction, green buildings often use on-site renewable energy capture to meet their energy requirements. Geothermal heating, solar cells, and even wind turbines in the case of large projects can reduce buildings’ demands on local electricity grids.
The IoT approach can provide even more energy savings for green buildings. Connecting discrete elements of the lighting, heating, or ventilation systems to the internet and using this connectivity to optimize their operations can significantly reduce a building’s energy demands.
Further Reading: What are the Positive Human Effects of Biophilic Urban Planning?
It is not only the resources going into buildings that make them environmentally harmful. The waste streams exiting buildings also pollute the local environment and consume even more energy. Tackling this, some buildings are adopting waste management technologies like composting toilets, greywater recycling systems, on-site micro-sized waste-to-energy plants, and natural waste air and water filtration.
Choosing not to build is of course the best way to eliminate the environmental impact of the building. Developers and town planners should consider whether new buildings are really needed in light of the environmental costs of construction, rather than just the economic costs.
In the future, green buildings may include restoring disused buildings, more attention on maintenance, and more public involvement in planning decisions to ensure they reflect citizens’ environmental concerns.
The World Green Buildings Council recently updated its Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, which aims to kickstart a “reduction-first” approach to decarbonization, tackle buildings’ lifecycle emissions properly, and halve emissions from the sectors as a whole.
Green Buildings Around the World
There are many examples of buildings that, for whatever reason, were built with future green credentials in their sights. The future of green building should take the best aspects of these examples on board, combine them with new sustainable materials and more efficient methods, and continue to drive down the environmental costs of construction. That is, when buildings are actually necessary.
One Angel Square (Manchester, U.K.)
One Angel Square, designed by 3DReid and opened in 2013, was built with flexibility and sustainability in mind. The office building can be easily reorganized to fit tenants’ needs, saving on the economic and environmental costs of refitting.
A double-skinned facade covering the building also helps to minimize heating and cooling requirements. Underground concrete tubes pipe cool air into the building through a heat exchanger, further minimizing energy costs.
Wide Shot Of One Angel Square, Head Office Of The Co-Operative Group In Manchester, UK
Video Credit: Stock30/Youtube.com
Vancouver Convention Centre West (Vancouver, Canada)
The LMN Architects-designed Vancouver Convention Centre West opened in 2009. It is built over water, and the piles that support it support a marine ecosystem of native crabs, salmon, and shellfish.
The building’s roof features a mini-ecosystem of plants, grasses, and pollinating honey bees. The foliage helps to stop heat from building up in the summer and traps heat close to the building in the winter. The roof also slopes slightly in order to assist passive water drainage and seed distribution.
Sustainability: Vancouver Convention Centre - BC, Canada
Video Credit: Vancouver Convention Centre/Youtube.com
Pixel Building (Melbourne, Australia)
The Pixel Building was Australia’s first carbon-neutral office building when it opened in 2010. It generates its own power and water on site.
Colorful panels provide shade and maximize natural light as required. The building’s supports help to process wastewater. The roof captures rainwater. And a series of vertical wind turbines meet the building’s energy needs.
Video Credit: Ryan Ng Zhen/Youtube.com
Bullitt Center (Seattle, Washington, USA)
Seattle’s Bullitt Centre opened on Earth Day, 2013. Designed by Miller Hull, it gets all of its energy from on-site renewable energy sources including 575 solar panels. The office building’s tenants benefit from geothermal heating and greywater recycling.
Perhaps the largest environmental benefit from this building is its longevity. The building was designed to survive 250 years and will reduce the need for more construction in the future.
The Bullitt Center: A Living Building
Video Credit: International Living Future Institute/Youtube.com
CopenHill (Copenhagen, Denmark)
The CopenHill sports facility in Denmark’s capital city hides its major sustainability feature underground. The building sits over a waste-to-energy plant that can process 440,000 tons of waste each year. The building has been pumping clean energy into 150,000 homes in the neighborhood since it opened in 2017.
Inside CopenHill: The clean energy plant with its own ski slope | On Location
Video Credit: WIRED UK/Youtube.com
Marco Polo Tower (Hamburg, Germany)
This residential building, which opened in 2010, is carefully designed to minimize electrical air conditioning requirements. Each floor is rotated a few degrees away from the floor below it around an axis. Recessed facades block direct sunlight and passively cool the building. The tower also features a heat exchanger on the roof and natural ventilation throughout.
References and Further Reading
CNN (2020). Green buildings: 18 examples of sustainable architecture around the world. CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/green-buildings-world-sustainable-design/index.html.
Pilkington, B. (2019). Energy Management in Buildings with Batteries and Photovoltaics. AZO Build. Available at: https://www.azobuild.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=8365.
Pilkington, B. (2019). How Building is Improving its Use of Clean Technology. AZO Build. Available at: https://www.azobuild.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=8355.
Pilkington, B. (2021). Reducing the Construction Industry's Footprint with Revolutionary Bricks. AZO Cleantech. Available at: https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=1251.
Rowland, Miles (2019). Green Report: Construction Must Slash Embodied Carbon. Construction News. Available at: https://www.constructionnews.co.uk/sustainability/green-report-construction-must-slash-embodied-carbon-23-09-2019/.