The greening of buildings

A ‘green’ building is a building that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts. Furthermore, it will create positive impacts. As well as on our climate and natural environment. Green buildings preserve precious natural resources. They also improve our quality of life.

There are a number of features which can make a building ‘green’. These include:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources
  • Use of renewable energy, such as solar energy.
  • Pollution and waste reduction measures, and the enabling of re-use and recycling.
  • Good indoor environmental air quality
  • Use of materials that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable.
  • Consideration of the environment in design, construction and operation.
  • Consideration of quality of life of occupants in design, construction and operation.
  • A design that enables adaptation to a changing environment.

Any building can be a green building. That’s whether it’s a home, an office, a school, a hospital, a community centre, or any other type of structure. That’s provided it includes features listed above.

shanghai towers went with green materials and LEED

However, it is worth noting that not all green buildings are not the same.

Different countries and regions have a variety of characteristics. They are such as distinctive climatic conditions, unique cultures and traditions, diverse building types and ages. As well as a wide-ranging environmental, economic and social priorities. All of which shape their approach to green building.

This is why WorldGBC supports its member Green Building Councils and their member companies in countries and across regions. One to pursue green buildings that are best suited to their own markets.

So even back in March of 2007, Babylon, New York did the right thing. They enacted a new building code. One that town officials say is among the greenest in the nation.

Buildings have a staggering, yet relatively unnoticed, impact on the natural environment in our country. The U.S. construction industry, such as, is responsible for only 8 percent of our gross domestic product, but accounts for more than 40 percent of the total materials harvested from the environment each year.

From the Desk of: Steve Bellone, Supervisor, Town of Babylon, New York

1. Tell us a bit about the Town of Babylon’s recently launched Long Island Green Homes program.

Long Island Green Homes (LIGH) is a self-financing residential retrofit program for upgrading the energy efficiency of existing homes at little or no out-of-pocket cost to the homeowner. Even the nominal qualifying fee for the Home Performance Evaluation applied to the cost of the improvements. The Town will pay the licensed contractor once he has satisfactorily completed the work. The homeowner, who is not obliged to take on debt, will then repay the Town on a monthly basis for an amount and term agreed upon in advance. Once the obligation satisfies, typically in six to ten years, all the savings go directly to the homeowner. Should the homeowner move before the obligation satisfies, it assigns to the home. As the house’s energy efficiency certified by the Town, it will be more marketable, even though the Town will not be increasing the assessment houses that have added energy enhancements.

The Town is not making loans to residents. Mindful that the average house in the Town spews equal to 25lbs of carbon daily, Babylon is expanding defining solid waste to include energy waste, based on its carbon content. By defining energy waste in this way, the Town is able to give energy-efficiency improvements to residents’ homes from its solid waste fund. This type of measure is known as a “benefit assessment.” When a municipality provides a specific improvement on a parcel of property for a public purpose, assessing the cost of the benefit against the property, that is a benefit assessment. In the case of Long Island Green Homes, energy-efficiencies for houses serve a vital purpose, remediation environmental damage caused by leaky and inefficient homes. The Town will subsidize up to $12,000 of efficiencies per home, obliging the homeowner to pay a monthly benefit assessment fee. In year one, the amount of the monthly fee structures to be less than the monthly savings on a resident’s energy bills. The Town will levy a 3% administrative fee incorporated into the monthly payments.

However the USGBC added more to what a green building was from the beginning. From the start when the USGBC started the initiative in the first place.

ten greenest buildings

Sustainability is not a one-time treatment or product. Instead, green building is a process that applies to buildings, their sites, their interiors, their operations, and the communities in which they situated. The process of green building flows throughout the entire life-cycle of a project, beginning at inception of a project idea and continuing seamlessly until the project reaches the end of its life and its parts recycled or reused.

An Introduction to LEED and Green Building, the term green building encompasses planning, design, construction, operations, and ultimately end-of-life recycling or renewal of structures. Green building pursues solutions that represent a healthy and dynamic balance between environmental, social, and economic benefits. 

Sustainability and “green,” often used interchangeably, are about more than just reducing environmental impacts. Sustainability means creating places that are environmentally responsible, healthful, just, fair, and profitable. Greening the built environment means looking holistically at natural, human, and economic systems and finding solutions that support quality of life for all.

Triple bottom-line is also often used to refer to the concept of sustainability. The term coined by John Elkington, cofounder of the business consultancy SustainAbility, in his 1998 book. Called Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business

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First applied to socially responsible business, the term can characterize all kinds of projects in the built environment. The triple bottom-line concept incorporates a long-term view for assessing potential effects and best practices for three kinds of resources:

  • People (social capital).All the costs and benefits to the people who design, construct, live in, work in, and join the local community and influenced, directly or indirectly, by a project 
  • Planet (natural capital). All the costs and benefits of a project on the natural environment, locally and globally 
  • Profit (economic capital). All the economic costs and benefits of a project for all the stakeholders (not just the project owner)

FORD DONATES ITS INNOVATION PARK DISPLAY FROM NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW TO BENEFIT LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS
FORD DONATES ITS INNOVATION PARK DISPLAY FROM NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW TO BENEFIT LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

The goal of the triple bottom-line, in terms of the built environment, is to ensure that buildings and communities create value for all stakeholders, not just a restricted few. For example, an energy-efficient building that saves the owners money but makes the occupants sick is not sustainable, nor is a material that has a small carbon footprint but made in a sweatshop, nor is an eco-resort that displaces threatened species or local people. 

A commitment to the triple bottom-line means a commitment to look beyond the things as they are. It requires consideration of whole communities and whole systems, both at home and around the world. Research needs to decide the impacts of a given project and find new solutions that are truly sustainable. New tools and processes required to help projects arrive at integrative, synergistic, sustainable solutions. 

The triple bottom-line requires a shift in perspective about both the costs and the benefits of our decisions. The term externalities used by economists to describe costs or benefits incurred by parties who are not part of a transaction. For example, the purchase price of a car does not account for the wear and tear it will have on public roads or the pollution it will put into the environment. To shift the valuation process to account for such negative externalities, building professionals require new metrics. The green building process and rating systems have begun to encourage quantification of externalities. The focus has been first on environmental metrics, but the list is expanding to include indicators of social justice and public health. 

Source: USGBC and WorldGBC