Sustainable architecture: saving the environment

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Sustainable architecture embraces practices designed to preserve the planet’s environment and stop the depletion of the planet’s natural resources. Sustainable architecture provides many benefits including improved air quality and improved water quality.

In addition to the positive environmental outcomes, other poignant benefits include those that are economic and social. Without economic benefits, sustainable architecture would not be a viable choice for developers. Also, the social benefits of green architecture have made for healthier workplaces that are more productive. An additional social benefit is that people who work in green buildings tend to take green practices to their homes. This is a high impact, win-win scenario for the environment.

The easily identified environmental benefits of sustainable architecture include:

  • Protection of the ecosystem
  • Reduced emissions improvement in air and water quality
  • Conservation of water reduced
  • Waste streams conservation and restoration of natural resources
  • Waste reduction
  • Temperature control

Traditionally, residential and commercial buildings have consumed a significant percentage of our natural resources. These structures have a tremendous impact on the environment. Most existing buildings use steel, concrete and glass, all energy-intensive materials; buildings naturally have what is described as ‘embodied’ energy. According to Building Green 2003, lifecycle assessments have revealed that the typical office building in developed nations contains 2 to 4 gigajoules per square metre of embodied energy.

Green energy expert, William Bordass, has been quoted saying; ‘Typically, embodied energy [in a building] is equivalent to five to ten years of operational energy.’

Sustainable Architecture Points to Efficient Operations

In addition to using sustainable, green building products, green architecture seeks to maximise the efficiency of the home or commercial building operations. This is where air quality, water quality, waste reduction, temperature control, reduced emissions and conservation practices are developed and implemented. This efficiency is the environment’s best defense against deterioration of the ecosystem.

Complete lifecycle assessments include many elements, including:

  • The chain of economic activities related to the building
  • Analysis of the construction operation
  • Analysis of demolition
  • Analysis of reuse options
  • Evaluation of all goods used during construction
  • Evaluation of all services used to construct the building

In sustainable architecture, you will often hear the term ‘ecological footprint’. This is an expansive term that includes:

  • Resource consumption
  • Waste generation
  • Impacts of mining
  • Impact of transportation
  • Impact of manufacturing operations
  • Amount of energy consumed
  • Sources of pollution
  • Other negative environmental impacts related to constructing, operating, and demolishing buildings.

Sustainable construction addresses all negative environmental aspects of the building or renovation and applies the best possible remedy that will reduce damage and improve the ecosystem.