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.
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….
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