Sustainable building: what is it?

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Sustainable construction aims to minimize the economic, social, and environmental impact of creating a usable structure. It involves designing and constructing energy-efficient buildings that are healthy for people and reduce pollution and waste. Sustainable construction uses green materials, locally available materials, and focuses on economic sustainability. Energy efficiency, solar panels, and wind turbines are used for on-site power generation, while water efficiency is achieved through low-flow toilets and rainwater harvesting. Building codes and certifications, such as LEED and Green Globes, promote sustainable construction.

Sustainable construction, also known as green construction, is concerned with the economic, social, and environmental impact of creating a usable structure. In other words, it requires designers and contractors to use building practices that do not cause long-term damage to the environment. Sustainable buildings are designed to be energy efficient, to be healthy for the people who live or work in them, and to reduce pollution and waste. Overall, this type of construction is based on the triple bottom line (TBL) principles of “people, planet and profit”.

How buildings affect the environment

Buildings use a large amount of energy: According to the US Department of Energy, approximately 18% of all energy used in the US is consumed by commercial buildings. The European Commission estimates that 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe come from buildings. They take up a lot of space and consume a lot of resources, both during construction and once they are used. The ultimate goal of sustainable construction is to minimize the impact of a building on the environment by carefully considering how it is designed, how it is constructed, how it is used and maintained, and possibly how it will be demolished once its useful life is over. .

Social sustainability

Social sustainability focuses on the people who use the building. Their current and future needs influence the design, which strives to create a highly flexible plan that allows the building to be easily repurposed as needs change. This sustainable design can be applied to a single family home, as well as a multi-story office building. A flexible design means the structure can be used for longer, preventing the negative impact of tearing down an old building and rebuilding a new one.

Sustainable buildings are also designed to make the environment inside the building healthy for the people who work there. Workers in an office building, for example, may be more comfortable and more productive when sitting in an office with natural light. Indoor air quality is also a key consideration, and a building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system should be both efficient and effective at removing pollen, mold spores, dust, and other pollutants that can make people sick. The materials used inside the building, from paint to insulation, are usually chosen because they are less likely to leach harmful chemicals or fibers that could injure people who spend time in the building.

Environmental sustainability

Measures to address environmental sustainability can include increasing a building’s energy efficiency, finding ways for the building to produce its own energy or heat, installing water abatement measures, and finding ways to reduce the waste. A building’s location and orientation can also make it more environmentally friendly; a commercial facility located away from areas where people are most likely to live will have a greater impact on the environment because employees and visitors will have to travel a greater distance to get there. A building designed to take advantage of existing infrastructure, on the other hand, often fits into its environment more efficiently.

Green materials

Choosing green materials is an important part of sustainable building. Green lumber, such as that certified by the US Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), comes from sustainably managed forests. These are woodlands where trees are selectively harvested, with a focus on supporting wildlife and biodiversity in the area, and new trees are planted to replace those removed, among other practices designed to keep the forest healthy. Materials from renewable resources are also used, as well as those that can be efficiently recycled or reused.

Other materials that are used are specifically designed to improve the efficiency of the building itself. For example, many plastics are used to insulate a building; while plastic itself may not be considered a “green” material, it often requires less energy to produce than other insulators. It also does its job well, which means it requires less energy to heat or cool the building over time.

Local materials

Using locally available materials is another way to promote environmental sustainability. This not only saves money but also reduces the energy needed and the pollution produced. Materials brought in from afar must be loaded onto a train or heavy truck, which requires energy (usually fossil fuels) to travel from place to place and produce carbon and other pollution in the process.
Economic sustainability

Sustainable building can also save you money in both the short and long term. As mentioned, using local materials immediately saves money because there are lower transportation costs. Using materials that are relatively easy to install, maintain, replace and repair also helps save money.

Energy efficiency
One of the most effective ways for a building to be both economically and environmentally sustainable is for it to be energy efficient. This means that it should be designed to use the least amount of energy needed, reducing the building’s energy costs. Good insulation can help a structure maintain a constant temperature and therefore use less energy for heating and cooling, but sunlight can also be used to run a passive heating system, helping to keep the building warm and reducing the amount of energy required. Double-glazed windows made with low-reflection glass can allow people inside to use natural light instead of electrical appliances, while still avoiding most heat losses. Lighting and appliances within the building should also be energy efficient.

Solar panels and wind turbines can also be installed to enable on-site power generation. While these methods may not always provide enough power to run all appliances within a building, especially a large commercial facility, they can offset some of the energy costs. Also, when these alternative energy sources perform at their best, they may be able to produce more energy than the building currently needs. This surplus can be stored or, with the right technology installed, resold to the power company.
Water Efficiency
Just as buildings use a lot of energy, they also use a lot of water. Sustainable construction looks for ways to reduce water usage and to reuse or recycle whenever possible. You can install low-flow or dual-flush toilets, many of which use 1/3 to 1/5 less water than standard toilets. Some types of sink faucets can shut themselves off when not in use and aerate the water so that less water comes out even if the water pressure is high.
You can also use rainwater for landscaping and irrigation around the building. By using plants native to the area, as well as planting ones that don’t need a lot of water, you can reduce the cost of keeping your landscape watered.
Building codes and certifications
Sustainable construction occurs in all stages of a building’s life, from design to construction, maintenance and beyond. The initial work is often overseen by a specialist firm familiar with the intricacies of this type of design. In the United States, businesses that meet certain criteria can earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC). The Green Building Initiative®, another US sustainability organization, also offers certification programs for buildings, known as Green Globes.
Some countries actively promote green building with rebates and other incentives to companies that practice it. It is also promoted through trade organizations that provide certifications for sustainable buildings that meet their standards. These organizations inspect buildings to determine whether they were built sustainably, and sometimes their certifications qualify buildings and companies that use green construction for awards, tax breaks, and other incentives.

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