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22 March 2019

How is sustainability transforming the built environment?

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Sustainability

Sustainability is the process of maintaining change in a balanced environment, in which the use of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony, and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined in terms of three interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economy and society. Economy and society are constrained by environmental limits.

Sustainable building (aka green construction or green building) refers to both a structure and the application of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient through a building’s life cycle. This extends from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, and renovation, including demolition.

There are several associated built environment goals. The first is to design future projects to minimize energy and water consumption, as well as wastewater production. Second is to incorporate sustainable design principles into capital investment decisions. Finally, the aim is to base capital investment decisions on life cycle cost, including the cost of known future expenditures. 

Positive impacts:

Sustainability in buildings refers to their ability to be environmentally responsible throughout their life cycle, from planning and design through to operation and maintenance. It is based on energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material selection and the building’s effect on the site, while also addressing the impact on human health and the environment. It does this by: 

  1. Reducing waste, pollution and degradation of the environment
  2. Efficiently using energy and water, along with other resources
  3. Protecting occupant health and productivity

Ultimately, and intuitively, a greener and more efficient design and operation has less impact on the environment, as well as minimizing harmful effects on human health and the environment.

Beyond new developments, existing buildings need to be upgraded to be more energy efficient and use renewable energy sources to lower greenhouse gas emission.

The economic and social benefits associated with green building, as listed below, are also significant. 

Economic benefits:

  • Reducing operating costs
  • Improving occupants’ productivity
  • Creating market for green products

Social benefits:

  • Improving quality of life
  • Minimizing strain on local environment
  • Improving occupants’ health and comfort
  • Promote a better planet
  • Sustain environment without disrupting natural habitat  

LEED and WELL certification:

LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world, with a LEED-certified building offering considerable cost savings to owners, in terms of maintenance costs over the building’s life cycle. LEED sustainability standards for design have now become a part of architectural design on a standard level, leading to the next level of occupant wellbeing, with the new WELL Building Standards .

WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being through seven concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. The below seven concepts are pillars upon which sustainability relates to the human side of a building:  

  • Air – achieve optimal indoor air quality to support the health and well-being of building occupants. This promotes strategies to remove airborne contaminants, and promote pollution prevention and air purification.
  • Water – optimize the quality of water available to building occupants and promote accessibility. This encourages strategies to ensure water is safe, clean and easily accessible through filtration, treatment and strategic placement.
  • Nourishment – encourage healthier eating habits and food cultures that lead to better health. This includes availability and promotion of healthy food choices.
  • Light – minimize disruptions to the circadian rhythms of building occupants, enhance productivity, and improve physical energy and mood levels. This is done by implementing strategies for better illumination, by providing criteria for window performance and design, light output and control, and appropriate visual activity.
  • Fitness – encourage integration of physical activity into the everyday life of building occupants by utilizing building design, accommodating fitness regiments, and providing the space and opportunity for an active lifestyle.
  • Comfort – design of an environment that is distraction-free, productive, and comfortable for the occupants, by promoting strategies to meet accessibility design standards, providing comfortable furnishings and workstations, controlling acoustics and thermal conditions, and reducing known discomforts.
  • Mind – support the mental and emotional health and well-being of the occupants, by providing regular feedback and knowledge to them about their indoor environment. This is done through design elements, relaxation spaces, and health treatments and benefits.

In summary, the age-old adage that the smallest changes can make a big impact rings true in the case of sustainability – the seemingly small measures implemented in green building processes are making all the difference. However, the importance of education, training, and the encouragement of occupant to implement best management practices for optimal sustainability cannot be underestimated. 

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