The 7 Coolest Examples of Green Buildings
Sustainability has become a point of strategy for every business. Collectively undertaken, small efforts can make a big difference to the environmental impact of businesses. However, the race is on towards a green future. This means those businesses without innovative environmental policies are missing a trick when it comes to overall competitiveness.
Where did people start talking about green buildings?
A decade ago, green buildings were a novelty. Today, they are increasingly becoming the norm – from full green buildings to sustainable design elements. Looking to green your buildings, but don’t know where to start? This article holds inspiration and considerations for your next green building or renovation.
What are GREEN ELEMENTS for green buildings?
Generally speaking, green buildings look at the sustainability of four key design areas:
Green Building Procurement
Partner with a building contractor and architect with an interest in or experience with green buildings. Most builders and architects these days should be able to present you with sustainably-sourced materials. These materials are becoming more popular and so information is more readily accessible. This will allow you to evaluate the whole supply chain to see if it meets your requirements and expectations.
Considerations around green materials for your new green building or refurbishment:
- They come from natural and renewable sources.
- They are obtained and managed sustainably.
- Locally-sourced materials are often preferable for the reduced environmental impact of transportation.
- Re-used materials prevent the environmental degradation and energy requirements of the constant supply of new raw materials. You can also procure new materials made from recycled content.
- Check whether the material itself is recyclable or reusable.
- The longevity of the material. The more regularly it needs to be replaced, the less sustainable it is. On this point, also look at whether certain qualities or features of the material have a shelf-life too.
- Evaluate the waste profile attached to the material and opt for minimal waste wherever possible.
Green building best practice
The sun has long been lauded as one of the top forms of clean energy. If you are planning a new build, this presents a clean slate for your solar infrastructure. Essentially, this is because you will be able to optimally situate your building and position your panels for performance (and the best return on investment on your solar technology).
The passive solar design should be the main aim of commercial buildings in the construction process. This allows buildings to be lit, heated, and cooled using the sun and without extensive mechanisms.
Another way of leveraging solar energy is through the use of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building exteriors – such as the roof, skylights, or facades. BIPVS are increasingly being incorporated into the construction of new buildings as either the principal or ancillary source of electrical power.
Integrated photovoltaics offer a ‘two-in-one’ benefit by both reducing the amount spent on traditional building materials and labour and by reducing the building’s dependence on the conventional energy grid. Thus, the initial investment in BIPVs will pay itself off over time.
The different forms of BIPVs
- Flat roofs with a thin film solar cell attached to the roofing membrane
- Pitched roofs with solar roof tiles, solar shingles, or metal pitched roofs with PV functionality
- Modules mounted on the facade of the building over the existing structure
- Photovoltaic window glazing for windows and skylights (these create further energy savings due to their thermal insulation properties).
GO FOR NATURAL LIGHTING
Natural light is greatly under-utilized, particularly in commercial spaces. Lighting can be energy-intensive. Changes around lighting are often one of the first changes made in the name of sustainability. Design options around natural lighting vary. These days, the use of performance and energy-efficient windows usually means your lighting usage will come down while you light your business premises. Incorporating natural lighting into your passive solar strategy means laying the framework for all the benefits by clever placement of windows and skylights.
GO FOR LOW-ENERGY APPLIANCES
Modern electrical appliances can offer superior performance at lower energy consumption than their historic counterparts. Look for those with the best Energy Star ratings. If you have legacy appliances, try to phase them out over time in favour of more energy-efficient alternatives.
GO FOR HIGH-LEVEL INSULATION AND VENTILATION
Heating and cooling often large commercial and industrial spaces can be extremely energy-intensive – hiking bills and affecting your green profile. Optimal insulation has a direct impact on your commercial building’s energy consumption as it removes the need for intensive heating. Using the building’s thermal mass capacity can assist with this, allowing the building to naturally retain heat. Additionally, ventilation can reduce the need for unnecessary air-conditioning and HVAC usage.
GO GREEN – EVERYWHERE
Living walls and roofs are becoming a regular feature amongst commercial buildings – even in busy cities. As much as they are pleasing to look at, they can serve a more meaningful purpose than just mere aesthetics. These include potential insulating properties, which is another way to reduce the need for heating and cooling. They can also serve as catchments for rainwater.
Water harvesting can be as far-reaching or as simple as you choose. Sustainable plumbing options exist to help your commercial building use its water responsibly. The first option is rainwater harvesting. This depends on a catchment system on the building to capture and store rainwater for different applications or recharge our ever-dwindling groundwater sources.
You don’t need clean water for everything. Greywater harvesting is another way to divert the need for fresh, potable water in different parts of the commercial space. This gives greywater life beyond the drainpipe in other applications within your building. These include irrigation and flushing toilets.
There are also other water-savvy ways to re-think water in commercial buildings. This includes water-efficient appliances and technologies designed to reduce drips, leaks, and unnecessary pressure and flow. Also, give some thought to water heating. Often, water is heated for a few menial tasks in business buildings and there is a high energy cost attached to this. Consider installing solar geysers or point-of-use water heaters for this purpose.
Green Building’s Impact on Health
The effect of the built environment on human health is gaining focus. As business and building owners, we are responsible for the well-being of the people who work within the buildings we operate. Here are a few considerations for your new build or renovation:
What are the health implications of the materials you’re using?
Non-toxic, non-VOC building materials are an investment in the health of the people who will occupy the built space. This reduces the chances of illness and allergy and improves air quality too. With many being moisture-resistant, this also deters illness-causing moulds from developing.
Indoor air quality is becoming increasingly important – particularly in major cities, where air pollution is a concern. Good ventilation and a humidity-controlled building environment work towards creating good air quality for the building’s occupants.
During the building process
There are a few ways the building process can be sustainably achieved too. Using local labour is one such measure. Another would be to innovate around ways to serve the community. For instance, if you decide to incorporate a green or living wall or a green roof into your building design, planting vegetables could provide a valuable food source to disadvantaged members of the community.
After the build is done
Keep an eye on industry developments.
Green buildings’ growth in popularity has seen a cost reduction on these technologies. This is especially the case if you are implementing green design elements incrementally over time.
Green technology means nothing if you can’t compare performance.
Monitor your energy and water consumption. This will help you to quickly become aware of any unusual patterns and identify what costs you most and when. Once your building is done, keeping your finger on the pulse of patterns and behaviour will help you to develop your energy strategy around procurement and management in the future.
Identify key equipment and upgrade when the time is right.
Very often, the latest HVAC and machinery releases tend to be the most efficient, with modern technologies geared at minimizing their environmental impact.
Well-maintained equipment functions more efficiently.
This is both from an emission’s and an energy perspective. Schedule regular maintenance for your equipment to ensure it is working at its best.
Building a green building – and then build a green culture.
A green building means nothing if the people within it don’t help you to achieve your green aims. Training your staff on environmental awareness within the workplace has a number of benefits. This generally boosts morale and assists in developing green practices in their homes too. Awareness and mindfulness around best green practices also mean you are assured that efforts are made on the ground to achieve your green aims.
Green law is changing.
The government has set environmental targets that require businesses to be more sustainable. As such, regulations around sustainability are becoming increasingly rigorous. They are also evolving as pressure mounts for change. Make sure your business keeps abreast of statutory changes and industry best practice and ensure you meet the basic compliance requirements. Your competitors will be doing the same, so try to stay ahead of the curve to boost your green reputation.
Don’t do it alone.
Throughout the green process, there will be untold advantages to working with experts, who will advise you on what is best. Energy and water experts can assist with procurement, monitoring, management, and strategy. Waste specialists can also work with you to optimize recycling and divert waste from landfills.
The benefits of green building design
Smart green building design will save money on your energy bills and contribute to overall savings. An improved bottom line means money can be applied to growing your business in other ways.
- Energy efficiency often has the effect of increasing the lifespan of the equipment.
- It’s not enough to simply pay lip service to sustainability in business. With more and more businesses building an environmental profile around their business, real sustainable practices give your business a competitive edge and make you more attractive to potential customers.
- Environmental requirements now frequently appear in contracts. If your environmental profile is insufficient, this can see great companies lose the deal. Green building design can contribute to relationship-building with stakeholders.
- Green buildings are set to become the norm, which means business and building owners will see the benefits of incentives including tax breaks, grants, and similar benefits.
- As green buildings are the buildings of the future, they are an investment for resale.
- Where you generate energy using renewable measures, there is an opportunity for you to sell the surplus energy you generate back to the grid.
- Natural lighting has been seen to contribute to improved health, productivity, and morale of a building’s occupants.
Are there any downsides to green building?
Like anything, the green building comes with both pros and cons, especially this early stage.
Possible disadvantages include:
- The initial building cost, which can be more expensive than conventional buildings.
- Funding for projects from banks hard to get since a lot of the technology and methods are still relatively new.
- Green construction materials are not always as readily available as traditional materials
- Similarly, finding artisans and service providers specializing in green design can be more challenging than procuring traditional suppliers.
- Green building can be more complex, and thus more expensive and time-consuming to build.
- Some ‘green’ materials are not really ‘green’ – you’ll need to do your research to ensure that you are truly making an impact.
Related article: Top 10 Technological Breakthroughs in the Solar Industry 2019
Do the Advantages of Green Buildings Outweigh the Disadvantages?
The answer is yes in some cases. To decide whether to go for green building obviously need to take multiple factors into consideration. While there are still a number of technical hurdles to overcome, the green building holds its role in the fight against the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Claire Fraser is a writer for Smarter Business, one of the UK’s leading independent
consultancies, helping businesses secure the most comprehensive savings solutions from
utilities contract management and procurement to merchant services, waste management,
business loans and facilities maintenance.