Some Thoughts on Green Buildings & Sustainable Development

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Something to think about and some ideas that you could use next time you play simcity or make very important decisions about how the planets resources are used!

 

 As a society we are dependent on our built environment and our natural environment. It is evident that the built environment has significant impacts on our natural environment and the health of our society. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure that our built environment does not negatively affect the sustainability of our society and nature. The built environment is a significant contributor to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and influences the manner in which we as a society utilize our resources. There is also proof that green buildings promote the health and productivity of the buildings’ inhabitants and uses.Consequently we need to ensure that our built environment reduces and minimized GHG emissions and also facilitates the sustainable use of our resources.

“… green buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more than standard buildings during construction, but can reduce waste output by 70 percent, water usage by 40 percent and energy usage by 30 to 50 percent.” (www.worldgbc.org)

Thus it makes perfect sense for all new buildings to be green. However, the concept of green building and the green building sector have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have made much of an impact on the built environment landscape. 

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How many of the buildings that you use/ see every day may be categorized as green buildings that are contributing to the sustainability of the planet and society?

 “Green buildings represent 2 percent of the commercial buildings and 0.3 percent of new homes in the US.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=green-buildings-may-be-cheapest-way-to-slow-global-warming)

 The concept of green buildings and the greening of the construction and building is a dynamic and evolving debate that covers (and brings together) a plethora of stakeholders, professions and topics. This in my opinion is the reason that the green building sector hasn’t moved beyond building certification, passing of (some) legislation and the development of a few green buildings that may or may not be facilitating the establishment of a sustainable society. It is evident that green building could in fact contribute to sustainable development; however, there are a few barriers that need to be overcome before the green building sector is able make a more sustainable development impact. The key issue in this regard relates to the skills and stakeholders involved.

In order for the green buildings sector to be able to make a more effective development impact and contribute successfully towards sustainable development the following should be considered;

  • Fast tracking of the creation of an enabling environment. This includes policy frameworks, legislation and regulation through increased public sector involvement. This would create a demand for green buildings and greening technologies as well as create incentives and tax benefits.
  • Broadening of the skills set in the construction sector and the use of multidisciplinary teamsthat do not only include the standard construction industry type of skills.
    • The members of these teams need to be able to effectively work and communicate across professions.  
    • Team work, coordination and leadership skills are core skills in green building (www.uncsd2012.org)
    • Increased awareness and capacity building initiatives that include non- construction sector stakeholders. This would;
      • Ensure that people understand why it is important to build green buildings
      • Show the public that there is another way of building
      • Highlight the cost and health benefits of green buildings.
      • Increase the demand for green buildings.
      • The need to move away from an energy efficiency focus in green buildings towards a more sustainable development focus. There needs to be a more integrated approach that goes beyond energy, emissions, heating, cooling and solar panels etc Waste, transport costs, water and biodiversity should be integrated into the planning and build process.
      • A move away from green buildings being seen as primarily large scale developments to a broader focus which includes green buildings within the residential sector. This would also have the effect of making green buildings accessible to a larger portion of the population.
      • A move away from a tick box approach to green buildings towards an increased focus on the actual performance of the building.
      • Green buildings need to be contextualized within a broader development and planning framework. Of particular importance is the need to focus less on individual green buildings and increase the focus on green developments which incorporate and integrate green buildings and green design.
        • A green building that is inaccessible would negate the benefits of being green if it is associated with high travel costs and travel related GHG emissions.
        • A green building that provides bicycle parking yet is located in area that is not conducive to bicycle use is a waste of bicycle parking space.   
        • Green buildings need to be integrated into the service provision and infrastructure needs of the surrounding environment. A green building that doesn’t contribute to the sustainability of the area that it is situated in is not really that sustainable or green.
        • Green buildings could be used to provide services to the surrounding area. Examples are
          • A building that generates excess electricity (solar, wind, biogas etc) that is then feed into the grid.
          • A building that harvests rain water that can be used to water parks or gardens in proximity.
          • Rooftop gardens that provide green spaces or act as green lungs in dense urban areas.  
          • Rooftop gardens that provide food to surrounding areas
          • etc

References and additional reading FYI:

www.gbcsa.org.za

www.worldgbc.org

www.uncsf2012.org

Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure

(After the previos post about Waterless Jeans I though it a good idea to provide some context of the issue of water and water as a resource etc.. so here goes!)

Demand on Water Resources (Undited Nations Population Division)

A few facts related to Water and Ecosystem Infrastructure.

  • 75% of our natural resources are over utilized. This has far reaching impacts for our ecosystems and economies. An example is the Aral Sea. Aral Sea was 4thlargest fresh water system.
    • It is 10% of its original size.
    • Pollution and over utilization of the water yield of the lake has resulted in the Aral Sea no longer being able to provide Ecosystem Services such as water and fish and resulting in economic hardship and unemployment
    • Approximately 60 000 fishermen have lost their jobs.  
    • 50% of South Africa’s water extractions come from surface water resources such as lakes, rivers and dams. This has significant implications for the development of the country, the health of water resources as well as water users.

Aral Sea: not much water left.

Ecosystem Infrastructure refers to the services that are provided by natural ecosystems. These ecosystem services include servicessuch as water purification; flood control, recreational amenities, and climate stabilization. Ecosystem services may be considered as “free” services provided by nature and are particularly important when looked at within the context of services that support economic and social development.

Linkages between ecosystem services and human well being (www.maps.grida.no)

I recently attended a presentation on the importance of ensuring integrated planning the provision of water services. The presentation linked water as a natural resource critical for economic and social development with the importance of ecosystem infrastructure such as watersheds. An example of ecosystem infrastructure in water service provision would be the financial cost savings that are possible through the effective development and management of dams and watersheds in relation to dam siltation.

  • The siltation of a dam involves the gradual build up of silt behind the dam wall. Siltation often negatively affects the health and usefulness of a dam and results in a reduction of water yield from the dam.
  • The average cost of building a dam is (approximately) R20 per cubic meter of water stored.
  • The average cost of de-silitation is (approximately) R8 per cubic meter
  • If a watershed is managed in a sustainable manner the risks and costs posed by siltation of dams are preventable.
  • Thus it makes financial sense to prevent siltation through the management of the ecosystem infrastructure associated with water and dams. This can be done through watershed management and the management of land uses within watersheds.
  • Some examples of watershed management initiatives that increase water yielded and prevent erosion and therefore siltation are: alien clearing, sustainable land use practices, erosion prevention etc

The concluding message from the presentation was; it is essential to ensure that the integrity and health of our water resources and associated ecosystem infrastructure are maintained in order to enable sustainable development and a transition to a green economy. It is therefore fundamental to recognise ecosystem services and infrastructure as strategic and fundamental element of infrastructure development and service provision.

This also stresses that recognition that a key step towards incorporating ecosystem infrastructure into the infrastructure planning and development processes is required to facilitate and support sustained and healthy economic growth and a transition to a greener economy. In addition, the recognition of the strategic importance of ecosystem infrastructure in infrastructure provision and development planning is central to the debate surrounding the value of ecosystem services and elements. The value of such services and resources need to be looked at from an integrated point of view as opposed to merely being considered as resources to be exploited.

We need to change the manner in which we value and use our natural resources.

For more informtaion on the above topics:

Aral Sea on Wikipedia

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

WHO fact file