While the green building movement has been around since the 1970s, it’s only in recent decades that the move toward more sustainable, environmentally-friendly construction has really taken off. This dramatic growth in the industry has created a quickly-shifting landscape of regulatory and technological changes that can make it difficult to pin down the definition of a sustainable construction project.
So just what is it that makes a building green? There are a number of definitions floating around out there, but most of them center on three fundamental aspects of design and construction:
- The efficient use of resources, particularly energy and water.
- Reduction of pollution and the building’s harmful impact on the environment.
- Improved indoor environmental quality.
These three goals can be broken down into five broad categories by which green buildings are evaluated.
Energy efficiency is the issue most people associate with green buildings, and indeed it’s one the biggest considerations for green designers and builders. Features such as HVAC systems, lighting, and building materials all play a role in determining a building’s energy footprint.
Design elements that reduce water consumption over the lifetime of the building are another way that builders can conserve resources. Some of the ways water efficiency can be improved include the incorporation of plumbing and irrigation systems designed to minimize waste and the use of water-conserving fixtures.
In addition to using resources wisely, a green building will also incorporate materials that were produced sustainably. These supplies can come from renewable resources or from recycled material and are often manufactured locally to minimize the environmental impact of transportation.
Green construction isn’t just about the building—the site itself is also an important part of a green building project. Consideration for issues such as accessibility, climate, and locally available materials, as well as an evaluation of the project’s likely impact on the surrounding environment, are all a necessary part of green construction.
Indoor Environmental Quality
The last element to be considered in a green building project is occupant health and safety. Issues like indoor air quality and access to daylight need to be considered in the design and modeling stage of the construction process, with particular attention being paid to the ventilation system and the choice of building materials.
It should be clear from these general guidelines that a green building isn’t created by just tacking on a few fixtures or swapping out the light bulbs. In order to construct a sustainable building, all the parts—from the HVAC system to the plumbing to the windowpanes—need to be designed to work together. It’s only with the collaboration of everyone involved, from designers and engineers to contractors and maintenance staff, that all these elements can work together to create a truly green building.