Bright Green Enterprise

Archive: Sep 2018

Clean Green Construction

As we talked about in the previous blog, eco-friendly building techniques are becoming more popular around the world, with constructions seen in bamboo, mud and stone allowing for breathable, natural looking homes. But are these styles of buildings only suitable for countryside or rural dwelling? Well, as promised, we’ve gathered a selection of sustainable examples, to prove to you, intrepid readers, that green-thinking can be taken to the busiest of urban centres.

Whilst the use of alternative building materials within cities may not be as appropriate, it is not the only option to improve the sustainability of buildings, and there are many other techniques which are contributing to the changing face of construction, within highly developed, and highly populated areas. These techniques consider energy consumption and conservation, waste management efficiency and reduction, air quality, and the improvement of the indoor environment.

The eleventh sustainable development goal is for “Sustainable Cities and Communities”, with a focus on making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. While the UN’s eleventh goal targets the reduction of pollution and poverty, their aim is primarily focused on improving access to affordable housing and accessible public transport for all. But with reduction of pollution and act on climate change a principal factor throughout all of the SDGs, building consciously can also help to achieve these objectives. In fact, as highlighted in this National Geographic article, green buildings can have a positive impact on our health, as well as resulting in increased occupancy rates, simultaneously working towards better health and well-being (Goal 3) and aforementioned Goal 11. Two other sustainable development goals – Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation, Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns – promote the improvement of our construction practices, from the very beginning of material sourcing, through to the sustainability of the final product.

So, what makes a green building? Although standards vary, there are several methods of assessing environmental credentials worldwide. For 20 years, BREEAM dominated the assessment of UK buildings – the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. BREEAM principals spread across the world, with different certifications being developed such as Greenstar in Australia and LEED from the US. With increased usage in the UK, LEED is now the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

LEED principals. Image: Inside Source

 

The principals of LEED target the main areas as demonstrated in the above areas, and may include a number of solutions such as:

  • Building orientation
  • Improved insulation and enhanced ventilation
  • Solar panels
  • Green roofs
  • Water conservation
  • Rainwater utilisation
  • Smart cooling and heating systems
  • Lighting design

Solutions such as those listed above are not only beneficial to the energy efficiency and waste management of buildings, but create more positive indoor environments, which directly impact the health and well-being of individuals. With the majority of regulatory efforts focussing on the improvement of outdoor air conditions, what happens when as a society, we spend a larger proportion of our time inside? Indoors where air quality, lighting and thermal comfort can all impact on our physical and mental well-being, there are far fewer standards in place to encourage optimisation of environments for our benefit. Wouldn’t we all appreciate a little more consciousness in our building design, especially if that consciousness considers the impact on our immediate, and global, environment? Some examples to bear in mind: The maximisation of natural light can improve sleep cycles, while improved ventilation can enhance cognitive function. With a growing awareness of the benefits of a connection to nature, or biophilia, the simple adjustment of ensuring direct eyesight to an outdoor environment can decrease stress and boost creativity.

But why are cities the focus of improved sustainability? Half of the human population (3.5 billion) live in cities, with an expected 5 billion to live in cities by 2030. And although cities account for just 3% of the Earth’s land, they produce 75% of carbon emissions, with 30% of those emissions generated by buildings. So, can you imagine the impact, and the benefits we can reap as a global society, if our cities were planned with a higher regard for the environment?

And of course, a city doesn’t only mean residential buildings, with greener building practices also being adopted across industrial and commercial buildings, schools, libraries, visitor centres, museums, hospitals….

Kingsmead Primary School. Image: White Design

 

Check out Kingsmead Primary School, in Cheshire, which offers a fantastic green learning environment to its pupils, complete with rainwater collection for flushing toilets, and electricity and warm water provided by solar panels. Or how about in East London, the BowZed development of four zero-fossil energy flats, which are so well designed and insulated they require no central heating. Hot water is provided by a wood-pellet powered boiler, and electricity comes from a combination of wind turbine and photovoltaic panels. Sounds green to me!

But, individual green buildings, move aside! How about a development which aims to be the world’s most sustainable eco-city: Masdar City. Located in Abu Dhabi, this city aims to “push the boundaries of sustainable design, construction and operation”. The city is constructed with a combination of ancient Arabic techniques, and modern technology, harnessing power from prevailing winds, and the sun, with one of the largest photovoltaic installations in the Middle East. With passive building design, and a futuristic transport system, Masdar boasts reduced energy and water demands, and excellent resource conservation. The city is home to a science and technology research university, with commitment to finding breakthrough solutions for the global market. Although only in its infancy, Masdar City has impressive growth plans, with the planned addition of businesses, schools and apartments. Head to the website here to explore Masdar, and perhaps even plan your visit!

If we’ve still not convinced you with the idea of green building, or sustainability within construction, keep an eye on our social media over the next few days, where we’ll be sharing some more super green, super cool, environmentally-friendly building innovations!

 

Author: Rachel Calnan

Let’s Build it Better!

We all know and love that famous children’s tale, of the three little pigs and their respective homes. And we all remember the outcome – the strongest, most stable house, that the wolf just couldn’t blow down. (We may also recall the violent demise of the wolf, but that part isn’t particularly relevant to this blog). What is relevant, is the use of the particular materials that the third little pig cleverly built his house with. Bricks! And although I don’t remember this being detailed in the story, we can assume these were held together with mortar. For those that get confused with the intricacies of building materials (myself), mortar is the ‘glue’ that holds other building materials together, and is composed of cement and sand.

Cement is a big enemy of the environment. Enemy number three in fact: it is the third ranking producer of man-made CO2 in the world, after transport and energy generation. The production of this one construction material accounts for 4% of all Greenhouse Gases, when broken down by industry, so imagine the percentage of emissions for the entire Construction Industry. For some perspective, Air Travel accounts for 3% of all Greenhouse Gases. CO2 is produced at two points during the cement making process, all of this even before the mixing for cement clinker and concrete, the transportation…etc. Not only are emissions at a record-breaking high, the extraction of raw material for cement causes landscape degradation, noise and visual pollution, and the usage of potable water throughout the manufacturing process.

The above image shows the complete process of cement production, with the required inputs and resulting waste outputs, highlighting the extreme wastefulness and inefficiency of the system. [Source] Increasingly, we are seeing other options available to substitute cement in building practices. Such materials include by-products such as ‘fly ash’ or silica fume, from coal-burning power stations, the iron and steel industries and silica manufacturing. Other options include lime and limecrete. By using either an industry by-product, or a cement-free product, wastage is reduced, thereby creating a more circular economy for the construction industry.

Obviously, our needs for construction aren’t going to change, but perhaps the way in which we meet these needs can. Step outside of a developed city, and you can begin to see a variation in construction techniques and materials. Travel to another country, and you may be surprised at the prevalence of buildings that are constructed with environmentally-friendly materials. Bye-bye bricks.

Hello earth, rock, plants…

Whilst travelling, I have come across many different building techniques, and I have been lucky enough to help out with a couple of construction projects. My first taste of bio-construction was with a Belgian family living in the south of Spain. They had reclaimed an old shepherd’s cave dwelling and had turned it into a simply beautiful home. I actually slept in a cave separate from the main cave, which had previously housed the carrier pigeons! I stayed for two weeks, during which I worked on drilling out another cave to create more living space. Using a jackhammer to drill out a mixture of limestone and other rock was a sure-fire way to quickly build up my physical strength, but more interestingly for me, allowed for a real up-close and personal experience with the building material (something that you don’t quite get from bricks!). The main cave maintained a constant toasty 22 degrees, due to the natural absorbency of the rock, meaning less heating and insulation requirements!

Another foray into bio-construction saw me assisting the build of a small house in the village of Purmamarca, which lies above 2300m in northern Argentina. Much of the village is constructed with the traditional methods of adobe – a mixture of earth and other organic materials (think hay, cut expertly with a machete by yours truly!) which can be shaped into bricks, or smoothed on to create finished walls. It is the same in principal as cob, or the ‘daub’ of wattle and daub! After machete-swinging, my biggest task was helping to finish the walls, which meant I had to learn the fine art of applying barro (earth mixed with finely chopped hay). This process was explained to me as “con FUERZA, y con amor” [with FORCE, and then with love], meaning throw a lump of mud as hard as you can at the wall so it sticks, and then you smooth it over with your hand. Needless to say, I ended up wearing a fair bit more mud than the wall! Not only were the building materials natural, but the whole construction site felt more…organic. Several times I found myself wobbling up a ladder, which was balanced on a plank, propped up by a couple of rocks, bucket between my knees, stretching to shove mud into a hole half a metre above my head with one hand, bottle of water to wet the walls in the other, with a plasterers’ trowel clenched between my teeth. Health and Safety inspectors from the UK would have had a field day!

By lessening the usage of heavily processed construction materials, emissions are immediately reduced with the removal of the production cycle. Local materials eliminates the need for transport, and working within resource availability means preventing resource depletion and landscape destruction. By constructing with materials from the locality, buildings are less likely to be so visually intrusive, enabling us to maintain our natural planet without physically altering landscapes.

With the global population ever-growing, and the need for housing more and more apparent, perhaps it is time we started looking to alternative building techniques, in order to create more sustainable housing options. Natural materials offer a solution with minimised impact on the environment, whilst also allowing for architecture and design to sit more readily within the surroundings. So, perhaps straw and stick houses won’t hold up to the wolf’s breath, but slap some mud on top and you’ve got the beginnings of an eco-friendly home.

If you think these techniques are only applicable for non-city dwelling, keep an eye out for our upcoming blog on sustainable cities!

Author: Rachel Calnan

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