The Next Wave: From Natural Sustainability to Human Sustainability
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The focus of 2016 was all about environment and development. When world leaders adopted the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the 1st of January 2016, it was a turning point for mankind as we battled from ever-increasing climate change and economic inequality. The purpose of SDGs was to disconnect economic development from climate change to ensure the environment is protected while development continues.
Today, almost 4 years later, sustainable development is looking more achievable than we initially thought it’ll be, thanks to some new trends in the construction industry. Green construction is one such trend: “A green building is a building that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment. Green buildings preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life.”
The footprint of green buildings is increasing worldwide at a rapid pace.
What are the Green Buildings and Green Construction?
You might wonder what is the entire green fuss about? Green buildings are buildings that leave a minimum harmful impact on the environment and green construction refers to the methods used for the construction of such buildings.
Efforts are made to benefit the environment with green buildings. This is achieved in many ways with the help of Eco-friendly building materials, energy-efficient lighting, plenty of greenery and special designing techniques.
To understand how this industry is changing how to achieving the UN's SDGs, Entrepreneur India got in a conversation with Sapna Khakharia Gohil: Director, Design- The Canvas, an architectural design studio. Having been in the industry for over 15 years she has seen the industry evolving, from being concrete to going green.
The Newbies in the Green club
New buildings are joining the green construction revolution in several ways and Gohil breaks it for us:
#1. Rainwater Harvesting
While designing a building, the architect plans it in such a way that the rooftop and other open areas of the building (i.e. lawns/gardens, balconies, terraces) are used to filter the rainwater and store it for later use. This helps in supporting the water cycle, which is essential to fight the increasing problem of drought in many areas, explains Khakharia Gohil.
Reports have stated that the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has been successful in recharging over 8 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of groundwater after the revival of rainwater harvesting in 2016.
#2. Biodegradable Building Material
Gohil believes that construction starts with destruction. Whenever we want to build something new, we destroy what existed before our arrival. Often the leftovers resulting from destruction are harmful to our environment and they end up contaminating our soil, water, air, and other natural resources.
The usage of biodegradable material in construction is one way through which we can combat this problem. Biodegradable materials get decomposed easily into the soil itself by micro-organisms and are not harmful to nature in any way. Here how you can achieve it:
Usage of Biodegradable insulation materials in place of fiberglass. Since fiberglass is very difficult to be recycled or degraded naturally, degradable materials like cotton, wool, cellulose, paper to name a few, are better options.
Use of hemp while building foundations: In many countries outside the US, hemp is used to construct the foundation for various types of buildings as well as used for insulation
Cork can also be used for a variety of internal and external purposes. It has already been used in some prominent places (i.e. in the Library of Congress for its checkerboard flooring). It’s a great choice as a construction material because it’s both; recyclable and renewable, and its harvesting causes no harm to trees because it grows naturally in 10 years. It’s also a fire retardant, waterproof and a great insulator.
#3. Improved Lighting and Energy-efficient Lighting
Lighting is another area where considerable strides have been made by the construction industry. Gohil points out that nowadays buildings are designed in such a way that they allow plenty of outdoor lighting to illuminate the rooms, thus eliminating the requirement of artificial lighting in the daytime. To top that, modern energy-efficient lights are used during the night time, which consumes much less energy than conventional lights.
#4. Planting and Greenery
Making a building green through planting is also a part of green construction. Open spaces are left where trees can be planted to provide clean air and a cool environment inside the building.
“All sorts of buildings - whether residential or commercial – are implementing this construction idea, and there’s a good chance that you might have seen it already,” she said.
How green buildings are helping in the achievement of SDGs
The 17 sustainable development goals are far-ranging from ‘eradicating poverty and hunger’ to ‘providing clean air and water’ to ‘development of sustainable cities’.
A lot of these can be achieved by green buildings as it only helps in the development of sustainable infrastructure for our cities but increase the quality of life, points out Gohil.
Goal #3 Good Health and Wellbeing
Out of 17, this is the third goal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lung respiratory diseases caused by poor indoor living conditions are among the top 10 causes of death, worldwide. Green buildings' designs improve the quality of life, give us access to more natural lighting, greenery, and reduced emissions.
Goal #6: Clean Drinking Water and Sanitation
We’ve only a finite quantity of water on Earth. Rapid economic development, deforestation, rapid colonization is leading to water cycle breaking, creating droughts and floods situation. Green buildings try to solve the problem with rainwater harvesting, plantation and Eco-friendly sewage treatment.
Goal #7: Affordable and Clean Energy
The use of solar energy in green buildings helps in this goal, as it reduces our reliance on electricity produced from coal and other natural resources. This is both Eco-friendly as well as affordable.
Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
According to the Canada Green Building Council, there were more than 300,000 full-time jobs in the green building industry of Canada in 2014. The industry also contributed $23.45 billion to the GDP of Canada in the same year. That is because the life-cycle of green buildings provides even more opportunities for employment, something which others can learn from.
Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
According to rough estimates, more than two-thirds of the world population will reside in urban areas by 2030. In such a situation, green buildings are the key, as they’re designed while keeping future environmental changes in mind. All one needs is the governments to layout those standards across cities and states. Mandaue, Philippines is the perfect example of the same.
Goal #13: Climate Action
As per US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), buildings directly account for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions, and on top of that, the production of electricity - accounts for 28% of GHG emissions. Green buildings can help in combating this, as they produce lesser emissions. By using a combination of the reduction in energy requirements, use of renewable energy and fuel switching, green buildings are expected to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 84 gigatonnes in the next 30 years.
The Road Ahead
The future of green buildings and sustainable green construction is undeniably the future. Green Building Councils (GBCs) have been established in almost all major countries, and they’re taking this trend further by working in collaboration with the World Green Building Council (WGBC).
Giving some figure Gohil said, " As per the studies and reports the green building materials market is expected to become a $254 billion industry in 2020, and we’re moving towards the future of net-zero energy buildings (where a building produces as much energy as it consumes). Now it’s only a matter of which countries take the lead in this game, and it will be very interesting to see."