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What is a Green Building? Understanding Sustainability and Certifications

According to the World Green Building Council, 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.” This means that all types of buildings such as houses, offices, schools, malls, warehouses, stadiums, hospitals, hotels, schools, and more can be constructed or operated to be green buildings.

How do you build a green building?

It is important to note that there is no “one size fits all” approach to what can be considered a green building; as long as it ‘eliminates negative impacts on our climate and natural environment’. Building sustainably also means designs, construction methods and operations are locally sensitive and responsive as the highest sustainability performance happens when buildings are considered within the location and climate they are being built in. This is where bioclimatic architecture comes into place. Sustainable design is also achieved at its best when projects are considered within their programmatic needs and the activities they help us fulfill. This is what makes green buildings innovative but also what makes building them challenging for most. If you do not know where to begin building a green building, what aspects of current buildings make them detrimental to the environment, and how to address and counter these, it can be quite challenging. There are many aspects to consider when looking to build a green building. Using a set of sustainability pillars such as site and habitat preservation, transportation and connectivity, noise and air pollution, or the life cycle of materials will help guide in addressing the sustainability of green buildings holistically.

What are the green building sustainability pillars?

At GBCE we have developed a set of pillars that cover all fundamentals of integrated sustainability and bring meaningful and impactful results to the design, construction and operation of green buildings. This holistic approach contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation, the preservation of natural capital, effectively managing limited resources, and building resilient green and healthy cities in line with green buildings and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our sustainability pillars are listed below and include a brief description of what we consider in each pillar to be fundamental when designing green buildings:

Site and Wildlife Preservation: planning and designing as to preserve and restore the existing natural habitats and wildlife.

Transportation and Connectivity: connecting the project to existing transportation systems, reducing the need for travel and providing alternative fuel and fuel efficient ways of traveling to, from and within the site

Energy Efficiency and Conservation: minimizing the energy demand by incorporating passive design strategies in accordance with the local climatic conditions and supplementing the building with clean energy and energy efficient active systems and controls

Water Efficiency and Conservation: using water efficiently by minimizing water use, installing efficient controls, protecting potable sources, harvesting rainwater, reusing wastewater to supply the building with outdoor, indoor and process water needs

Carbon Emissions Remediation: reducing carbon emissions by minimizing building energy demand and supplying the building with low carbon and renewable resources

Indoor Environmental Quality: designing a building that enhances the health, comfort and well-being of its occupants

Resources Use and Waste Generation: choosing eco-friendly materials and minimizing waste by means of reducing, reusing, recycling and salvaging materials resources

Community and Cultural Heritage: involving the community and designing a project that integrates and respects the local culture

In line with these pillars, we identify and recommend sustainable features which are the most relevant to our client's project’s goals, program, budget, and schedule and that correspond to their business brand, mission, and customers. At GBCE we favor a bioclimatic design that taps into local climate and architectural features, therefore our green buildings consume significantly lower energy and water resources than conventional ones.

Do I need certification for my building to be green?

If we take into consideration the definition of a green building, it is not necessary for a building to have certification for it to be considered a green building. However choosing to gain certification provides validation of a project’s sustainability achievements and is a demonstration of its environmental and social performance.

There are numerous certifications available and they differ by reach (local or international), by scope (building or operations), by industry (cross market or sectorial) , by priority sustainability target (environmental or social) but all have a common objective to produce a positive outcome on the planet and people. At GBCE we work with our clients to attain third-party certification such as LEED, WELL, EDGE, TREES among others; these certifications are recognized worldwide by organizations and corporations as a guarantee of quality and sustainability practice.

Wrapping it Up

In conclusion, a green building is a building that is designed and built to have a reduced or no negative impact on the environment and emissions. It can also be used to create positive impacts by challenging the current planning processes and embedding environmental conservation into the green building blueprints. Although not necessary to be considered a green building, certification acts as trusted verification that the building meets sustainability targets and has a positive impact on the environment.

The Green Design Brief: To support project managers, architects, and designers to produce sustainable, resilient, and healthy building environments that people want to live in seamlessly, we have written a comprehensive technical green design guide covering these pillars in depth. The Green Design Brief includes green design specifications, examples of green materials and numerous eco-friendly design concepts that you can apply to your next green building project.


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