With the Copenhagen Climate Conference starting today, there has never been a greater time for every industry to look at their impact on the environment. Traditionally, chemical, transport and food industries are criticised for their impact on the environment, but there is one sector that utilises a third of the world's energy - construction and building operation.
Whilst, we all think about switching off the office lights and finding more energy efficient servers, the truth of the matter is that in Europe, almost 50 percent of total emissions come from buildings - not just in how they are constructed, but how they are run. That's where green buildings and sustainable building design comes in.
Sustainable building design
General construction work uses an inordinate amount of energy, water and raw materials and more often than not, generate large amounts of waste and potentially harmful atmospheric emissions. As a result, companies are facing demands to make environmentally friendly and eco-efficient buildings, whilst at the same time minimising their actual impact on the environment. As such, sustainable building design is becoming more and more important, with designers and construction firms finding the most eco-friendly ways to get buildings made.
Lessening the impact on the environment can range from deciding to retrofit a building instead of building a new one to actually coming up with a way of making more environmentally friendly bricks. There is also an interest in taking a 'synergistic approach' to building design, ensuring that the scheme "supports an increased commitment to environmental stewardship and conservation, and results in an optimal balance of cost, environmental, societal, and human benefits while meeting the mission and function of the intended facility or infrastructure."
Recent examples of such projects include the new UN Global Compact Centre, which is being constructed in one of the most polluted areas in North America, San Francisco's Hunter's Point Shipyard; a former shipyard filled with radiation and industrial toxins. The proposed centre would be part of the United Nations "Global Compact" and would be focused on promoting sustainable and clean technologies, but it would also serve as an example of how toxic sites can be transformed into centres of innovation and inspiration.
Meanwhile in Europe, a building in Bristol, England was dubbed the 'greenest office building in the country' due to its innovative design and stringent site management to ensure a high level of environmental performance in both the construction and use of the building.
Amongst its green technologies is the building's ability to harvest rainwater to cut water consumption, intelligent lighting systems to cut electricity use, natural ventilation and a ground source heat pump that reduces heating and cooling costs.
It is schemes like this that are the cornerstones of green buildings and sustainable building design. Avoiding using natural resources like water, opting instead to recycle, can cuts down building costs by an estimated 10 percent or £180,000 per year.
If the Copenhagen Conference progresses as many environmental groups hope it to, then green buildings will soon become the norm, instead of being the exception.
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