Buildings are an important part of urban fabric. One of the most important areas of intervention is the building and construction sector, which offers opportunities to reduce environmental impact while also contributing to the achievement of sustainable development goals. This industry is expected to generate 5% to 10% of national employment and 5% to 15% of GDP. Furthermore, it provides housing, mobility, water, sanitary infrastructure, as well as the physical context for the social interactions and economic development at the microlevel. Several studies have also found a link between buildings and public health.
This situation has not gone unnoticed, and the sector is under increasing pressure from authorities and the general public to address environmental and social issues. Nonetheless, limited coordination between different stakeholders throughout the life cycle of a building continues to impede sustainable development in the building and construction sector. As a result, it is critical to establish conditions and incentives that address and encourage all stakeholders to promote collaborative sustainable building practices.
A sustainable building, also known as a green building, is the result of a design philosophy that focuses on increasing resource efficiency — energy, water, and materials — while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment throughout the building’s lifecycle, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal.
While the definition of sustainable building design changes over time, six basic principles remain constant:
Optimize Site Potential
The process of creating sustainable buildings begins with proper site selection, which includes taking into account the reuse or rehabilitation of existing buildings as well as the use of a brownfield, grey field, or previously developed site. Building location, orientation, and landscaping have an impact on local ecosystems, transportation methods, and energy consumption. Whether a project is a single building, a campus, or a large complex such as a military base, incorporating smart growth principles into the project development process is critical.
When designing a site, considerations for physical security are crucial, including where to place parking, vehicle barriers, access roads, and perimeter lighting. For a project to be successful, site design and sustainable design must be integrated, whether designing a new building or retrofitting an existing building. Storm-water runoff should be reduced, controlled, and/or treated at the building’s site. In the design of the landscape, try to support the local flora and fauna.
Example: Grant Park Gateway in Atlanta, Georgia is a Sustainable SITES Initiative certified project. The Grant Park Gateway, which replaces an 8-acre surface parking lot, includes 1,017 parking spaces, a 2.5-acre green roof, and 4,000 square feet of restaurant space, as well as a grand lawn area, a shaded terrace plaza, terraced seating, a water feature, and a pedestrian overpass, as well as a total of 8.6 acres of green space within the SITES boundary. The parking deck is built into the existing landscape, with a design inspired by the park’s natural foliage and derived from leaf veins.
Optimize Energy Use
With growing concerns about energy independence and security, as well as the effects of global climate change, it is critical to find ways to reduce energy loads, increase efficiency, and maximize the use of renewable energy sources in federal facilities. Improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings is critical to achieving greater energy independence. Government and private sector organizations are increasingly committing to constructing and operating net zero energy buildings in order to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
Example: The Joyce Centre for Partnership and Innovation at Mohawk College, designed by B+H and McCallum Sather Architects, incorporates environmental technologies aimed at reducing the building’s carbon footprint. The Joyce Centre is one of 16 Zero Carbon Building Standard pilot projects chosen by the Canada Green Building Council to demonstrate Mohawk’s vision of being a center for environmental leadership.
Protect and Conserve Water
Fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the United States. Because building fundamentally alters the ecological and hydrological function of non-built land, a sustainable building should seek to minimize the impervious cover created by using water efficiently and reusing or recycling water for on-site use when possible. The effort to bring drinkable water to our faucets consumes enormous amounts of energy in pumping, transportation, and treatment. To make water drinkable, potentially toxic chemicals are frequently used. Sewage treatment has significant environmental and financial costs.
Example: Water conservation strategies implemented at the Ft. Worth Post Office include native or indigenous plantings and rainwater catchment basins.
Optimize Building Space and Material Use
While the world population continues to grow (to more than 9 billion by 2050), so will consumption of natural resources, and the demand for additional goods and services, putting additional resources under strain. It is critical to achieve integrated and intelligent material use that maximizes value, prevents ‘upstream’ pollution, and conserves resources. A sustainable building is designed and operated to use and reuse materials in the most productive and sustainable way possible throughout its entire life cycle, and it is adaptable for reuse. A sustainable building’s materials reduce life-cycle environmental impacts such as global warming, resource depletion, and toxicity. Environmentally friendly materials have fewer negative effects on human health and the environment, and they contribute to improved worker safety and health, lower liabilities, and lower disposal costs.
Example: To achieve its integrated design, the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex in Boston, Massachusetts, uses parametric design and energy modeling to achieve a building form that is intrinsically linked with high-performance architecture.
Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
A building’s indoor environmental quality (IEQ) has a significant impact on occupant health, comfort, and productivity. A sustainable building, among other things, maximizes daylighting, has adequate ventilation and moisture control, optimizes acoustic performance, and avoids the use of materials with high volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. IEQ principles also place a premium on occupant control over systems such as lighting and temperature.
Example: The teaching labs at the AIA COTE Top 10 2021 award-winning Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design have operable windows and ceiling fans for comfort and connection to the campus.
Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices
Consideration of a building’s operating and maintenance issues during the preliminary design phase of a facility will contribute to better working environments, higher productivity, lower energy and resource costs, and system failure prevention. Encourage building operators and maintenance personnel to participate in the design and development phases to ensure optimal building operations and maintenance, as well as features like storm water facilities designed to reduce the building’s impact on the land. To operate increasingly sophisticated high-performance buildings, recruit, develop, and train highly skilled maintenance personnel.
Designers can specify materials and systems that require less water, energy, and toxic chemicals / cleaners to maintain, are cost-effective, and reduce life-cycle costs. Additionally, design facilities with metering to track the progress of sustainability initiatives, such as reductions in energy and water use, as well as waste generation, both in the facility and on-site.
Example: To make daily bicycle use more convenient, the City of Pasadena, California, installs bike racks in the public right-of-way. The locations of the racks are determined by public requests made through the Citizen Service Center.