Environmentally sustainable design can be defined as the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment and services to adhere to social, economic and ecologically sustainable principles. These environmentally-friendly designs carry significant weight when determining the value of a building due to its future impact on society and the environment.
Sustainable design and building practices do not only reduce the negative effects on the environment but they also provide a myriad of benefits with regards to economics, productivity and enhanced public relations. Environmentally sustainable buildings also have significant operational cost saving reducing energy required to heat and cool the building, more efficient lighting systems and help optimize the life-cycle economic performance.
Improved thermal comfort and lighting help increase comfort levels experienced by building occupants and as a result help improve employee performance, reduce absenteeism and staff turnover rate.
Triple Bottom Line: Economics, Ecology & Equity
The triple bottom line is traditionally an accounting framework, coined by John Elkington, to evaluate a company’s performance from a broader perspective. This entailed looking environmental and social factors in conjunction with the financial indicators.
When applied to the design and construction industry it offers a more holistic approach to evaluating the true cost and benefits of building green.
The Economic Effect of Sustainable Design
Perhaps the most significant benefit of building green is the economic benefit of doing so. With intelligent design first costs of a sustainable building can be similar to if not lower than those in a non-sustainable building. Here are a list of the key economic benefits of eco-friendly architecture:
- Lower Operating Costs – Green building can achieve between 25% and 50% in energy savings while due to the increasing costs of utilities the payback period for energy and water saving practices is significantly reduced. This is particularly true in China where the average payback is 6 years due to lower construction costs.
- Higher Returns on Assets – Various studies have shown that green buildings achieve higher rentals, roughly 6%, when compared to the equivalent non-green building.
- Increased Property Value – Decreased operating costs, rental premiums and utility risk reduction all contribute to the increased property value. Sustainable buildings achieve on average 7% higher property valuations than non-green buildings.
(Source: World Green Building Trends 2016, Dodge Data & Analytics, 2016)
Ecological Benefits of Building Green
Green involvement is expected to increase rapidly in Asia, with specific emphasis on China. China also has a high level of interest in the health impacts of green building. Protecting natural resources and improved indoor air quality are important drivers for green building.
It is certainly undeniable that sustainable buildings vastly improve the environmental impact as compared to their traditional counterparts. Here is a list of the key ecological benefits:
- Energy reduction – The drive to create Net Zero Energy (NZE) buildings call for the use of smart energy systems. Using radiant heating and cooling systems significantly reduce energy loads required to keep the building at optimal thermal comfort while solar panels and other power alternatives ensure a more sustainable energy source for the building.
- Waste Reduction – Reducing, reusing and recycling contribute to both cost savings and waste reduction. Treating wastewater and using recycled or reclaimed materials during construction ensure the building has the smallest environmental footprint possible.
- Water Reduction – Implementing rainwater catchments, recycling water and the use of closed loop systems ensure the building is resilient in the event of a natural disaster and reduces its reliance on the world’s most precious natural resource.
A recent study, conducted by Dodge Data and Analytics, showed that ecological factors were the largest determinant for building green in Asia. In countries like China protecting natural resources and improving indoor air quality took top trumps with 49% and 42% respectively while globally those results were significantly lower sitting at 37% and 17%.
Social Implications of Environmentally Sustainable Design
Robust growth is expected in the level of green activity in Asia. This market is differentiated by its drive to build green for benefits beyond energy use reduction, including protecting natural resources and improving indoor air quality. There is, however, a significant focus on building healthier communities and sustainable business practices.
The social benefits of eco-friendly architecture extend to both the company and the community within which it operates:
- Increased Marketability – Green buildings help differentiate a brand in the eye of the consumer as it is viewed as technologically advanced, and environmentally and socially responsible.
- Increased Productivity – Sustainable buildings increase the overall well-being of their occupants. Optimal thermal comfort and the use of natural light provide a higher quality internal environment. This can improve productivity by up to 20% and is a significant advantage to the company.
- Attract and Retain Employees – Green spaces appeal more to educated young graduates. A dynamic engaging office space plays a vital role in attracting and keeping staff engaged.
- Lower Churn – With increased comfort and satisfaction experienced in green buildings, building owners achieve lower tenant churn rates than in similar non-sustainable buildings.
Building Green Makes Economic Sense
It is clear to see any negative perceptions about green buildings are no longer pertinent and the main drivers behind that fact are the unquestionable economic benefit. The list goes on and on: lower operating costs, increased property values, increased attractiveness for future tenants, waste reduction, and increased occupant productivity to name a few.
The only question that remains is if environmentally sustainable design and construction is comparable in cost to non-green buildings and there is a significant reduction in long-term life-cycle, why wouldn’t architects and owners take more eco-friendly approach to building design?