Sustainable architecture is widely considered to be a contemporary phenomenon, reaching far corners of the globe with its vision and mission statement. However, the ideology behind the green design has existed over centuries, with many civilisations focusing on natural construction. E.g., the ancient stepwells of Rajasthan and Gujrat were intelligently designed to ensure adequate fresh groundwater to collect naturally. The local communities also ensured that indigenous materials were used to construct the stepwells, ensuring the sustainability of the complex.
In the 20th century, the philosophy of green architecture took shape in the U.S., with architects focusing on sustainability in construction to counter the negative effects of fossil fuel and environmental pollution. Key areas such as water efficiency, energy efficiency, air quality, and material utilisation optimisation gave rise to the green buildings movement we are witnessing. In fact, waste reduction and sustainable design are still essential aspects of the modern Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards that buildings comply with today.
Reducing environmental pollution
Decreasing the negative impact of green-house emissions, air pollution, and manufacturing by-products is a key goal that businesses, individuals, and public sectors must focus on. According to the World Green Building Council, building and construction sectors contribute 39% of all carbon emissions worldwide, with operational emissions (heat, cooling, lighting, etc.) reaching 28%. It is estimated that if the cement industry were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of CO2 in the environment.
According to AQI, with air quality reaching severe levels across India (Mumbai 330, Delhi 255), steps in the right direction must be taken immediately. In fact, 2019 saw a direct loss of GDP value by $36.8 billion due to deaths and disability caused by damaging air pollution in India. This is precisely why green building architecture and sustainable practices must be brought to the forefront if we need to make any significant progress.
Green architecture ensures the optimal utilisation of materials to ensure minimal impact on the environment. One of the main benefits that countries adopt sustainable design experience is the upliftment of their environment. While several industries are following green manufacturing practices and sustainable logistics to curtail emissions, construction practices can adopt green practices to reflect real change. With the number of buildings likely to grow in the coming decades, we need to focus on sustainable energy use, design, and waste management, to protect our environment.
Long-term scale-driven energy savings
Buildings designed with sustainability and green architecture as key goals save energy and resources singularly and impact the global consumption of energy long-term. According to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) estimates, if every building in urban areas within the country adopted green building principles, India could save more than 8,400 megawatts of power each year. This can directly help in illuminating an additional 550,000 homes in urban and rural zones within India.
That is why countries worldwide are increasing their efforts within the green energy space, to reduce their reliance on traditional energy sources and shift towards renewable alternatives. As green buildings are designed to work in harmony with natural elements of the environment, they can curb energy consumption of up to 40% when compared with conventional strategies. Energy savings, at a global scale, is one of the key benefits of sustainability and green architecture.
Additionally, green buildings also contribute to cost savings in terms of lower requirement of maintenance and operational expenses. This is even more so impactful in high-activity zones such as commercial properties and industrial plants. As energy savings are designed into every project’s schematics, green buildings are that much more cost-effective than traditional complexes.
Even looking at the example of India’s first on-site net-zero building, Indira Paryavaran Bhawan, shows us the potential of scale-driven sustainable living. The building, constructed in 2013, is rated five-star GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) by MNRE and LEED India Platinum by the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). It houses its own sustainable solar power plant and sewage treatment facility while using a sophisticated geothermal heat exchange system to reduce reliance on traditional systems. Over 75% of floor space receives natural lighting, contributing directly to energy savings as well.
Enhancement in quality of living
Spaces that are designed to be sustainable and green, are much more conducive to quality living, as they work with the natural elements to promote a healthier lifestyle. They allow people inhabiting a space to breathe freely and to be less reliant on artificial lighting, cooling, and heating systems. Apart from the significant cost savings that green buildings drive, residents can also feel more in tune with nature when they live within greener spaces.
The better air and water quality within green buildings also ensure that residents are not exposed to volatile organic compounds, chemicals, and other harmful substances associated with regions with poor natural quality. Traditional “sick buildings” may be using harmful building materials that release toxic fumes and carcinogens into the atmosphere that can lead to significant disorders. Ecologically responsible development also ensures that no bi-products or waste materials seep into the environment, thereby enabling cleaner living in these areas.
Green buildings also directly enhance the output of enterprise workforces, as more organisations opt for greener design and architecture. In office spaces, research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that greener buildings impacted cognitive scores of workers by 61%, suggesting that well ventilated and energy-efficient buildings directly impacted productivity. From an ROI standpoint and a quality of work-life perspective, sustainability and green architecture is net positive in its impact.
Green architecture and sustainable living offer overarching benefits, in terms of improvement in environment, energy savings, and enhancement of quality of life. The green philosophy is ancient in its origins but is seeing a modern revolution in its implementation and growth. We understand the role of the construction industry holistically and how it can impact CO2 emissions, soil quality, pollution, etc. With industries increasingly shifting towards sustainable architecture, they are unlocking a myriad of opportunities for themselves long-term.