Green Building Strategy: Optimizing the built environment for sustainable success

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Architects must take the lead towards a more sustainable industry – one green building strategy at a time.  Designing with green building strategies has proven benefits for the building, its occupants and the environment. In the United States alone, over 40% of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings. There is no doubt we can expect similar numbers from other countries. So what is the solution?

Luckily, there are many. In this article, we will explain what green buildings and how implementing a single green building strategy can help shape a healthier world.

Use of vegetation as a green building strategy

What makes a green building?

Before we talk about green building strategies, let us first define what a green building is. Most green building councils define a green building as one that amplifies the positive impact, and reduces negative ones, on the environment and enhances the wellbeing of the occupants. Green buildings have existed long before the talk of sustainability, before green building ratings like LEED and BREEAM or even before green building councils or organizations were established. 

Green building as a concept is holistic, based on the understanding of both the positive and negative impacts on the environment and the occupants. This is vital, especially today, as the industry makes tremendous efforts to amplify the positive impacts while lessening the negative ones throughout the life cycle of a building. 

Defining A Green Building Strategy

A green building strategy can cover any design and construction element of the project. It is an actionable strategy that contributes to the green building concept and has a positive environmental impact.

The aim of implementing these strategies in design and construction is to create a decarbonized and sustainable built environment. Some use the term interchangeably with sustainable design strategies; however, it must be emphasized that green building strategies are usually focused on the environmental impact the building may bring.

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Sechelt water resource centre

Green building strategies are occasionally based on vernacular techniques. However, they can also rely on cutting-edge technology, with smart systems for temperature detection and regulation and circular systems. Sometimes, it can be a convergence of high-tech and natural building models. It’s crucial to distinguish genuine strategies from mere symbolic gestures like planting trees without comprehensive considerations. True green building embraces a holistic approach, harmonizing traditional wisdom with innovative solutions for a truly sustainable and efficient built environment.

Benefits Of Green Building Strategies

Green Buildings Are Healthy Buildings.

Green building strategy implementation is an important step that ensures minimal damage to the environment. Furthermore, as these buildings would be closely connected to nature, they can also improve the health and wellbeing of its users. Green buildings make use of natural ventilation and daylighting which can drastically improve indoor environmental quality. Studies have shown that such spaces are better for occupants for comfort, productivity and general wellbeing. 

Reach The Net-Zero Goals By 2050

Most countries have signed on to the Paris Agreement to reach net zero emissions by 2050. For many, this remains a pledge only. The United Nations has called on the participating countries to uphold their pledge with credible actions. The AEC industry is a crucial sector worldwide in the fight against climate change and integrating green building strategies will surely be a positive contribution to this fight.

Get Certified With Green Rating Systems

Do you know that green building rating systems follow these strategies closely? The major categories under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating scorecard by USGBC correspond to every green building strategy in sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy, materials, indoor environmental quality and more. It will be easier to fulfill the criteria for LEED green building ratings if the building already follows certain green building strategies. 
Not all green buildings are LEED-certified (yet), but all LEED-certified buildings are undoubtedly green and sustainable.

Top 5 Green Building Strategies

Before we get to the strategies, let us make two things clear. One, be aware of greenwashing – practices that are even barely superficial, yet claim to be sustainable or bring environmental benefits. 

Secondly, green building strategies need to be site and context-specific so it is important to understand the surrounding environment, the site and its features. Bear in mind that the type of green building strategy, for example, passive design strategies, and how they are implemented in design will depend on the type of project (or design) and the region. However, we can generally categorize them into common elements. 

If you want to see some true green buildings, check out the work of these 15 inspirational green architects who are shaping a better built environment. 

Green Building Strategy 1: Passive Design Strategies

As a green building strategy, passive design strategies leverage the nature surrounding the site to optimize the design. Rather than installing mechanical and electrical interventions, the design should encourage natural ventilation to cool down the interiors. Implementing passive design strategies brings the occupants closer to nature which in return can boost their wellbeing and productivity. What makes these strategies even more needed is that they lower energy consumption due to less reliance on electrical appliances. A noticeable trend towards passive design strategies has emerged in the past decade as the built environment industry aims for net-zero emissions.

Green Building Strategy 2: Integrating Renewable Energy

By this point, it is not hard to convince any person of the advantages of renewable energy. Adopting it seems entirely different matters for most. We can make a building greener by making use of renewable energy sources (the most commonly available being solar panels) for lighting, heating and cooling purposes. Its reliance on naturally replenishing resources ensures sustainability, contributing to long-term resilience and independence for green buildings. If fossil fuels remain in use, we will have an even unhealthier world full of pollution.
Here is an example of how solar energy can be super efficient – How is the Google Project Sunroof Intelligently Promoting Solar Energy?

Graphics defining net zero carbon buildings
Source: world gbc

Green Building Strategy 3: Focus On Energy Efficiency 

If we can control and mitigate high energy consumption in buildings, we are already on the right path towards sustainability. An energy-efficient building still offers maximum operational efficiency and comfort with the minimum possible energy consumption. This is not only limited to the operation stage of the building’s life cycle; at every stage, stakeholders involved should incorporate measures to ensure energy efficiency. 

Green Building Strategy 4: Prioritize The Site And Nature

Every green building strategy is associated closely with nature. The orientation of the building can have a great effect on ventilation and daylighting. If the building is to be naturally ventilated, it is important to orientate the building accordingly to maximize natural ventilation. The same goes for daylighting. The building should be bright and comfortable while reducing heat gain. Any natural features on site such as vegetation should be incorporated into the design as much as possible to sustain them. Manipulating these features to their advantage will create a design that has high efficiency with low energy consumption.  

Green Building Strategy 5: Sustainable Materials

Embracing sustainable materials is a pivotal factor in constructing a greener future. It extends beyond mere energy efficiency or looking ‘green’; it is about selecting materials that not only safeguard the environment but also contribute to the well-being of the users. Opting for construction materials that are non-harmful and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is our way of minimizing adverse effects on the site. Preferably, these sustainable materials should also be produced from renewable sources as well as be organic and compostable. 

Read more: 10 Best Energy-efficient Building Materials to Construct Sustainable Homes

Brown wooden book shelf with books

LEED Certification: A Holistic Green Building Strategy

LEED certification framework provides efficient, healthy and sustainable buildings with environmental, social and governance (ESG) benefits. It addresses not only ecological issues but also equity, health and resilience. We know LEED is one of the most widely used green building certifications; why is it itself a holistic green building strategy? Let us review what categories are covered under LEED certification.

Location And Transportation

This category covers the site and its accessibility. The project should aim to raise resilience, and economic and social vitality of communities and should conserve environmentally sensitive lands, farmland and wildlife. One credit under this category – Access to Quality Transit – emphasized the need to encourage multimodal transportation choices, or at least reduce vehicular usage which will also reduce pollutants and hazards related to it. Bicycle facilities, such as repair shops, and bicycle paths, should be promoted to encourage this greener and healthier mode of transportation. 

Sustainable Sites

Another category that covers the site in better detail, it reminds the architects and developers of the importance of assessing site conditions, and environmental, cultural and social factors before designing. Credits covered include open space, rainwater management, heat island reduction and light pollution reduction.

Water Efficiency

Conserving water has become imperative as the world deals with rising temperatures and draughts. Moreover, there is still electrical energy involved to cleanse, store and release from the various stations and sources. An appropriate green building strategy can help optimize water use by reducing both outdoor and indoor water use without affecting efficiency. 

Energy And Atmosphere

The Energy and Atmosphere category ensures projects meet owner requirements, emphasizing energy efficiency to curb environmental and economic impacts. By tracking and managing energy use at both building and system levels, it identifies savings opportunities and better performance. The vital role of responsible energy management in creating resilient, eco-friendly built environments is highlighted in this category.

Leed certification categories

Materials And Resources

An architect should optimize the environmental performance of materials and related products. We should only encourage the design and build community to use materials and products which have lifecycle information available, or better yet, have EPD (Environmental Product Declarations). Raw materials should be extracted in a responsible manner, especially if they come from a non-renewable resource. Disposing construction waste in landfills should be avoided; instead, materials should be recovered, reused or recycled as much as possible. 

Indoor Environmental Quality

Being green is not just about the environment. We should also focus on occupants’ wellbeing. This category highlights the important air quality strategies and assessment, thermal comfort, lighting, quality view and acoustic performance. 

Integrative Process

All these points above are basically systems that are closely interrelated. LEED understands the importance of this relationship and how these systems should support each other for high-performance and cost-effective projects.

Innovation

Where will we all be without the innovation we have now in design and technology? This category encourages AEC professionals to strive for innovative performance with LEED expertise in building design and construction, operation and management. 

Regional Priority

LEED provides an incentive for meeting credits that address priorities in environment, public health and social equity that are geographically specific.

If you want to learn more about LEED and sustainability, make sure to check out our articles and free resources.

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