“Sustainable development is the most vibrant and powerful force to impact the building design and construction field in more than a decade” (Cassidy 1). The market demand for green buildings is doubling every three years, and the advancement of energy-efficient technology is booming. There is immense value in promoting environmentally responsible design and construction to mitigate the costs of climate change. But how are these changes implemented, and why are they important?
II. Types of Green Technologies
Fundamentally, there are “net-zero” buildings which produce equal power to that they consume, and if they produce a surplus, they are called “energy-plus” buildings. Reaching these goals takes intentionality through every step of the construction process, and there are many emerging technologies that work towards the goal of net-zero (or plus) energy efficiency. HVAC systems are efficient heating and cooling systems, that when paired with green roofs and green insulation can really reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Green roofs or a rooftop garden is a space or lawn of vegetation that can reduce temperatures indoors and air quality outdoors (Tobias). Insulation in general holds in heat, but the green aspect comes in when the builder eliminates the need for high-end finishes made from non-renewable materials (i.e. denim insulation, cellulose insulation, and cotton insulations). Instead, products that can be used include sheep’s wool, Icynene spray foam, and ThermaCork (Miller). Solar power also has a huge effect on energy production and consumption in buildings, and it can be done in two ways. Most commonly, active solar power is used when functional panels provide heating and electricity. They have a high-cost installation process but lower electricity and heat bills in the future. On the flip side, passive solar power uses the sun’s rays to warm the house through strategic window placement and heat-absorbing surfaces which reduces the need for a heating system in the winter. Lastly, water conservation is of key importance to green architecture. This includes installing efficient fixtures, reusing greywater, recycling of treated water, and ensuring potable water be used for only that.
III. Advantages & Disadvantages
There are many advantages to promoting energy-efficient and green architecture. The technologies involved in the process reduce pollution, decrease use of natural resources and fuels, increase water efficiency, and improve air quality. To environmentalists, these buildings are a dream (Benefits of green building). To consumers, there are tax benefits to living in these buildings as there is a higher property value, and on average, they are 14% less expensive to operate. It would be smart for builders to appeal to ever growing climate conscious consumers and promote more of these construction practices. According to the World Green Building Trends SmartMarket Report “A notably high level of green growth is expected in the US, but the data suggest that more measurement of green benefits… would help strengthen the business case for green” (Dodge Data & Analytics). Basically the benefits need to be further studies for business to trust the long term success in investing in green infrastructure.
Now, there are downsides. The building process is a difficult and expensive task. Since these are newer concepts and systems, the mechanics and automation needed to install it are also new and pricey. In addition, green architects prefer working with wood rather than steel and concrete, which is an environmentally sound decision. But what isn’t fully taken into account is the deforestation effects. Not all builders will plant equal amounts of trees as they tear down for construction, so it could have catastrophic results on forests and air quality. Furthermore, new buildings with eco-friendly amenities tend to be costly to live in. It needs to be an intentional part of the process of construction to not push out folks in the name of environmental progress. Gentrification is a real issue that could very well be affected by the changing demographics of the construction industry.
IV. LEED Certification
In the early 1990s, the world was waking up to the reality of climate change brought about by humans. At an AIA meeting in 1993, David Gottfried, Rick Fedrizzi, and Mike Italiano brought up their proposal for a standardized building efficiency rating system, forming the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED 1.0 was developed and released as a pilot program in 1998. LEED is best described as “a leading-edge system for designing, constructing, and certifying the world’s greenest and best buildings” (Cassidy 8). LEED functions effectively because it is a relatively simple rating system. Buildings have 5 categories that must be met and receive assigned point values for meeting requirements in those categories. After points are totaled, a building can be certified or receive higher certification levels of silver, gold, and platinum. Creating one standard rating system for all buildings makes expectations clearer and promotes clean and renewable structures.
V. Seattle Examples
VI. Why Does This Matter?
Given that the demand for eco-friendly architecture is growing at a high rate, it may become the new normal. Furthermore, as industries continue on the current trajectory of valuing sustainability, they could aid in saving the planet as long as done in such a way as to not generate new problems. An important aspect in making sure self-supporting properties are completed in the right way is keeping in mind affordability. Rising costs could result in displacement of residents and changes to the local economies. Generally speaking, all aspects of the climate justice movement are interconnected and interdependent. Therefore, it is important to recognize the fragile nature of problem-solving intentionally in order to achieve some semblance of true climate justice.