Creating Sustainable Design and Architecture

Creating Sustainable Design and Architecture

What does it mean to be Sustainable?

Responsible sustainable design requires a full understanding of the factors involved in creating environmentally friendly products, buildings, living, and work environments. It is not enough to use a few “green” products then call the product/building sustainable. True sustainability means taking no more than you produce and leaving no trace behind when you are done. This is a high standard to meet and not everyone can do it. However, a project can still be eco-friendly even if it hasn’t reached the highest sustainable mark.

Eco-friendly typically is used to describe something that isn’t causing harm to the environment and is making progress towards a sustainable world. Being sustainable with architecture involves a holistic approach of thinking about future use, environmental impact from site selection, environmental quality for building users, community connectivity etc.

Greening our world one product or building at a time.

Green (sustainable) design is the practice of designing products and buildings so that they make a minimal negative impact on the environment both during production and for the life of the product. For architecture, this includes proper site selection, careful building placement, energy efficient design, daylighting techniques, choosing renewable materials, and even considering what will happen when the building use changes.

Health Benefits of Green Design

Even if you don’t worry about environmental impacts, green approaches can still be an appealing choice. For instance, many decisions that lead to more sustainable building design will also improve quality of life for inhabitants.

The most commonly know benefit of sustainable materials is the reduction of indoor air pollutants.  The air inside a standard home is up to 5x worse than outside (refer to EPA guide for more information). Careful material selection calls for use of finishes which reduce the level of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) within indoor spaces.  VOCs can cause numerous immediate health issues as well as increase long-term risk of developing cancer and negatively impact Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

Green Building Systems

For architecture, there are various methods and rating systems that can be utilized to evaluate sustainable design efforts.

Popular green building certification programs in the United States are LEED, Green Building Initiative, and Energy Star. But it is not necessary for a building to have approval from an organization for it to be sustainable. The purpose of such programs is to develop standards that communicate to the designer what they need to consider and let the client and public know just how “green” the product or building is. In short, certification takes away the need to wonder if someone is not being entirely truthful about their project’s sustainable efforts.  If desired by the owner, an architect can demonstrate sustainable measures taken to achieve a green home without certification.

Affording Sustainable Design

In some cases, such as zero VOC paint, making sustainable choices does not add significant costs to a project.  For other solutions, such as solar panels, you must consider the life cycle costs of a building in ordered to determine budget impact.  With the cost of solar panels lowering, many owners will find they are an approachable sustainable power option to move closer to a net zero home.  For my own home, we chose a power company that utilizes wind turbines.

Please comment below on your sustainable goals.  Do you have a green project you are planning or have built?