Our environment and how we manage it will be the single most important aspect of life on earth in the twenty first century. One of the ways we can contribute to this management is to think in terms of sustainable development.
Each of us can make a real difference, and the best way of bringing about change may well be at the individual level. Think global, act local, is the environmentalist’s watchword. Where better to start than in our own individual environments: at home and at work.
Buildings account for over half of total energy use in the developed world and produce over half of climate-change gases. Air conditioning alone pumps more climate-change gases into the atmosphere than any other form of technology. What is equally serious is that buildings constructed today have a useful life of less than a century, which means more frequent replacement and greater waste.
Building a house from scratch provides the widest scope for incorporating ecological principles into the design process. Although it is not always possible to reduce the environmental impact of buildings to zero. For those who can only adapt pre-existing surroundings, make a series of minor alterations or simply adjust their lifestyle, green choices and alternatives still offer an important opportunity to minimise damage done to the environment.
But we should not only consider where we live in terms of incorporating sustainable building principles. We as building design practitioners should be at the for front of encouraging and educating the business world to adopt such principles whether it be for a new office building, shops or a public building.
One of the central challenges in Eco design is setting priorities. In other words, determining which efforts and strategies will do the most good. In general terms, sustainable building involves taking into account the following considerations:
Energy efficiency Buildings make their greatest impact on the environment through the energy they consume over their lifetime, so in most cases the first priority is to design and build for increased energy efficiency.
Eco strategies that may be adopted include: improving insulation, specifying low- emissivity or other types of high-performance glazing, using renewable sources of energy, installing energy-efficient appliances, and designing and sighting for passive solar gain/minimal heat loss (or the reverse in hot regions) and optimum volume-to-surface area ratio.
Material choice and use Buildings are vast consumers of materials. Eco strategies that may be adopted include: reducing material use and waste associated with construction; choosing materials that have low-environmental impact or are salvaged and recycled; and avoiding materials and decorative finishes with toxic constituents.
Site impact Eco design means sensitive land use: choosing brownfield over greenfield sites for new-build projects; minimising disruption to existing trees and other aspects of the local habitat; and adopting sustainable approaches to gardening and landscaping.
Water use and efficiency The need to save water depends to a great extent on locale, but reducing water usage is likely to become a more critical issue in the future.
Eco strategies that may be adopted include: using water-efficient plumbing systems and appliances; installing composting toilets; collecting rainwater; and recycling grey water.
Longevity and flexibility Buildings should not be regarded as disposable, nor should they be designed for obsolescence. By prolonging a building’s effective usefulness its environmental impact is minimised over time. Eco strategies that may be adopted include: designing for durability, ease of maintenance and repair; enhancing flexibility so that a building can be adapted to suit future needs; and restoring or recycling existing buildings.
The following links set out a comprehensive guide to building with sustainable principles: