Today’s interest in green buildings began in the 1970s when crude oil prices jumped from $3.00 a barrel to $12.00 in less than six months. The world’s dependence on oil resulted in gas rationing, spikes in heating fuels, and double-digit inflation. It also started research into energy efficiency that led to experiments in building green.
The 1990s saw the modern green building movement solidify. Governments and private environmental friendly groups created guidelines to minimize the negative impact of buildings through:
- Efficient use of energy, water, and other natural resources
- Protection of human health and improved employee productivity
- Reduced waste and pollution on the environment
The green building movement focused on sustainable materials that could be recycled or reused. Healthy indoor environments were proposed to minimize pollutants, and sound landscaping practices were designed to reduce water usage. Its momentum was directed towards environmental preservation.
The 21st century’s green buildings retain the fundamentals of the original movement but have expanded their scope to include:
- Building design, construction, and operation that eliminates adverse impacts on people and the environment
- Buildings that preserve natural resources and improve quality of life
- Building methods that make positive impacts on the environment and society
The benefits of green building have evolved to include not only environmental impacts, but also their economic and social implications.
What Qualifies as a Green Building?
What makes a building “green” are specific features that move the world closer to a sustainable existence with strong economic growth. Among these features are:
- Efficient use of natural resources with increased use of renewable energy
- Reuse and recycling of materials to reduce pollution and waste
- Improvement of the quality of the indoor environment by using non-toxic materials that are sustainable and ethically produced.
- Incorporation of the environment in design, construction, and operation
- Consideration of the occupants’ quality of life in design, construction, and operation
- Design for resiliency with features that adapt to a changing environment
Green buildings come in all sizes. From high-rise office buildings to small strip malls, building green has become a driving force as more industries are faced with the growing emphasis on environmental, social, and governance responsibilities (ESG).
Having systems in place to promote and sustain reuse are essential to the success of green building development. One such system is the Gridd® Adaptive Cabling Distribution® System, which is designed to be reconfigured as often as needed without the need for special tools. Components are made of 100% US sourced steel, can be reconfigured an unlimited number of times without breaking down, and do not need to go to a landfill. Further, the Gridd raised flooring system can be picked up, moved, and reinstalled in a new room, building, or campus seamlessly.
Efficient Use of Natural Resources
Constructing green buildings means looking at the facility’s life cycle to minimize energy and water usage. It incorporates energy-saving technologies to help reduce energy use once the building is occupied. Green buildings also consider environmental conditions like reducing water usage in a building, and direct wastewater away from overtaxed drains.
Organizations can help reduce natural resource usage by:
- Replacing legacy windows, HVAC units, and boilers
- Installing new insulation and roofs that minimize energy loss
- Using technology to regulate lighting, heating, and environmental controls.
- Adding renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, or wind.
With the strategic implementation of conservation methods, stakeholders can help qualify their buildings as green, or move closer to this footprint if the qualification process is not an option at this time.
Reduce Pollution and Waste
Management companies can contribute to a green building designation through:
- Recycling programs. Organizations must provide resources that make recycling easy for building occupants. They may want to consider incentives to help motivate people to participate.
- Cleaning supplies. Replacing chemical-based cleaning supplies with eco-friendly cleaners reduces pollutants in a building.
- Preventive maintenance. Keeping up with building maintenance can reduce emissions from healing systems. Checking that environmental sensors are functioning correctly optimizes technology energy usage.
Reducing pollution and waste extends beyond building materials and methods. It includes managing the environmental impact throughout the building’s lifecycle.
Improve Quality of Indoor Environment
New construction can incorporate the latest technology to improve indoor environmental quality; however, managers of older buildings should consider some of the following as a way to move their operation closer to that of a green building:
- Use environmental-friendly cleaning techniques and follow OSHA safety guidelines when using chemical products to clean offices and other areas throughout a building.
- Consult the EPA list of volatile organic compounds (VOC) to avoid using products with chemicals that can have adverse health effects.
- Have the indoor air quality in a facility tested.
- Schedule ventilation systems servicing on a regular basis to ensure particles are being adequately removed and in-building air filters are optimized.
- Conduct a BASE study to evaluate areas for safety improvement.
Using the internet of things (IoT) technology can help monitor the indoor environment, making it possible for businesses to maintain optimum environmental control.
Incorporate the Outdoors
The design and construction of green buildings should incorporate the environment into the design. Facilities should maximize green spaces and enhance animal and land preservation. They should try to preserve as much of nature as possible.
Today’s workers are looking for what is called a “Walk in the Park.” They want workspaces that connect workers to nature while maintaining an urban and connected feel. Designers and architects can contribute to the mixing of indoor and outdoor spaces by:
- Creating outdoor workspaces.
- Incorporating more open indoor spaces that take advantage of the urban landscape.
- Adding covered outdoor spaces that merge with the indoors.
These spaces can be incorporated after construction is complete to upgrade older buildings to meet green standards.
Consider Quality of Life
Green buildings do not separate people from their communities; instead, they add positive economic and social impacts through urban or community planning. Some features include transportation, communication, and amenities. For designers, thoughtful placement of these features can enhance a facility’s appeal.
- Transportation. Consider adding covered parking in hot environments to reduce the heat build-up inside cars. Lower temperatures mean less air conditioning is required to cool vehicles.
- Communication. Ensure internet connections use the latest technology to minimize energy usage and ensure productive work environments.
- Amenities. Look at a building’s tenants to see what added features can improve the quality of life while saving the environment. Maybe it’s a coffee shop on the main floor to save fuel and time for occupants looking for a caffeine hit.
These features not only make a property more appealing but also address the ESG responsibilities that many consumers are expecting.
Design for Resiliency
Resiliency should be central to building design and construction. The more flexible a design is, the longer it can remain in service.
Resiliency makes sustainability possible. As climates change and natural disasters intensify, businesses must include adaptive changes to withstand change. Systematic structural reviews and maintenance can help keep a building resilient. Making interior spaces flexible means spaces can adjust to different usages over time. The spaces do not need to be demolished and rebuilt, reducing construction’s environmental impact.