IN the midst of our current climate emergency, the building and construction sector makes up 39 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. According to the World Green Building Council, 28 percent of emissions come from operational carbon that comes from emissions to heat, cool and light the building. The remaining 11 percent comes from materials and construction processes throughout the building’s life cycle. Since the world’s population is forecast to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, the demand for more buildings will increase as well. If the sector neglects its role in creating more environmentally responsible solutions and alternatives, its climate impact and emissions will continue to increase drastically.
As a major source of greenhouse gas emission, the sector needs to radically change its philosophy and practices and direct these toward environmental stewardship to promptly decrease carbon emissions and ultimately achieve 100-percent net zero emissions. Building more sustainable structures is actually in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Goal No. 11 of Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Different kinds of carbon are emitted during a structure’s life cycle. Upfront carbon comes from the production, transportation and installation of materials before the structure is used. Operational carbon refers to emissions during the in-use phase of the building. There are several ways to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Huge amounts of energy are consumed in the extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal of materials today. So, opt for materials that are locally and sustainably sourced, reusable, have recycled content, and are highly durably yet have low or zero carbon. In addition, select building materials with environmental product declarations and health product declarations, which transparently indicate the products’ environmental impacts and the chemicals found in the materials. These serve as quality marks that can contribute to the structure’s green building certification. During the building’s operations, resource and energy consumption can be significantly reduced by installing on-site renewable energy technologies like solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines and biomass systems; water recycling and harvesting systems; low-flow plumbing fixtures; water-efficient landscaping; smart lighting; green insulation; natural lighting and ventilation systems; and modern glazing solutions; among others. Fortunately, an increasing number of companies have taken the stand to practice environmental protection in constructing buildings.
The Edge, Amsterdam
The Edge is considered the world’s smartest and most sustainable office building. It received the sustainability score of 98.4 percent from the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, which is the world’s earliest established method of rating and certifying the sustainability of buildings. With more than 5,900 square meters of solar panels, the building is self-sufficient; it can produce 102 percent of its energy requirements. It also uses 70-percent less electricity than other office buildings. The photovoltaic panels found on its roof and south-facing façade form the largest array in any European office building, and the structure’s aquifer thermal energy storage system provides energy for its heating and cooling requirements. Rainwater harvested on-site is reused to flush toilets and irrigate its numerous landscaped areas. More than 30,000 sensors constantly measure lighting levels, temperature and humidity, movement, and occupancy. And these are integrated in the building’s LED lighting system. This configuration increases energy efficiency because the sensors can automatically adjust energy use based on the registered data. Its facades are uniquely designed based on its orientation and purpose. The load-bearing walls to the east, west, and south feature solid openable panels for ventilation and small openings that provide thermal mass and shading. The louvers of the south façade were designed according to sun angles to allow additional shading for the workspaces, resulting in reduced solar heat gain.
Undoubtedly, the employees of the Edge’s main tenant, Deloitte, are enjoying working in a healthier and sophisticated work environment because of the building’s unparalleled sustainable features.
Bullitt Center, Seattle
The Bullitt Center is the first office building to receive Living Building certification because of its remarkable architectural and engineering feats geared toward sustainable design and construction. The building has 575 solar panels on its rooftop, and it generates more energy that it uses. It has several energy-saving methods like natural daylighting, passive ventilation, and a ground source heat pump. The Bullitt Center has its own water and waste management system, and it only uses the water it collects on-site. Each year, it can collect 128,000 gallons of rainwater, which is treated to supply potable and non-potable water. The gray water system can filter 500 gallons of water from sinks and showers per day, and these are channeled to the green roof for irrigation. Waste from the toilet system is stored in the composting toilet system where the decomposition process prevents the release of methane gas and other dangerous odors. Decomposed matter is then transferred offsite and converted to fertilizer. The timber framing used in the building came from a local and renewable source, and 545 metric tons of carbon dioxide is absorbed in the timber used.
Council House 2 (CH2), Melbourne
The CH2 houses offices for 540 of Melbourne’s city workers and retail spaces on the ground floor. Its water conservation methods include water recycling and sewer mining, a method that recycles water from the street’s sewer; rainwater harvesting; and a self-watering system for landscaping; among others. CH2 generates its own power through its solar panels and micro-turbine. Its windows are designed with double glazing, timber window frames, chilled beams, and underfloor hydronic grills that control glare, enhance the use of natural light, and assist in the cooling and heating processes in the building.
These amazing innovations we see now in sustainable buildings will continue to evolve and improve. As research and sustainable methods progress, I hope more companies will utilize readily available technologies that will significantly lessen their structure’s impact on the environment. More importantly, government buildings should be the exemplars, not the exempted, for environment-friendly and resilient design. A sustainable design revolution is key in creating more sustainable and resilient communities and cities.