What is a Green Building?

Green building by quinet on Flickr

What’s the definition of a ‘Green Building’?

It’s the name of a building that I used to pass by, for many years while going to class (true story)!

Still there? Great!

Traditionally, building construction cared chiefly for the bottom line. An apartment or commercial space was built and then rented or sold with the main objective of maximum profit for the owner, while providing for the needs of the renter or buyer.

Green Building takes this much further: it’s construction that respects the tenets of sustainability. Sustainability strives to cater for the needs of present generations without compromising the needs of future generations. The famed bottom line becomes the triple bottom line, which can be loosely defined as planet, people and profit.

  • Planet: ‘Green’ or sustainable construction seeks mainly to preserve the environment by minimizing pollution and waste and answering the increasing challenges of global warming and the greenhouse effect. Recycling material and minimizing unnecessary transportation are some ways to help ‘save’ the planet.
  • People: The occupants of the built space should not only feel safe and comfortable; green construction aims to increase the livability and well-being of the people who will ultimately work, live or shop in the finished structure. The green building would show significant gains in thermal comfort, indoor air quality and ambient lighting, for example.
  • Profit: Instead of measuring immediate costs and potential gains when construction is completed, this element is where one would look at ‘life cycle costs’. One should include the cost of maintaining and decommissioning the building in the initial calculations, bearing in mind that ‘green’ construction could command higher rental rates or sale prices compared to traditional buildings.

How do we go about erecting a green building? The process is different that traditional construction. A new work methodology is employed at the beginning of the project: it’s called the whole building approach or integrated building design. This is where traditional building milestones are transcended: everyone is involved in the initial design meetings. This includes design consultants, the main contractor and the end-users of the facility, as well as all other important project stakeholders.

Jumping to the end result, how do we know that the completed structure is ‘green’? This is where a formal process is followed, governed by certification bodies such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the US Green Building Council, BREEAM (UK), Green Star (Australia) and Estidama from the Abu-Dhabi Urban Planning Council.

Basically, the building’s ‘green’ performance is measured by sophisticated rating standards, where each feature that improves one of the many sub-components of the triple bottom line’s three tenets, is given points. These points are then added up in order to gain certification for the finished construction, addressing domains such as materials employed, indoor air quality, energy considerations, water conservation and resource preservation. It goes without saying that some requirements do not gain any points and are mandatory: it is useless to discuss the quality of indoor air for the occupants if smoking is allowed inside the structure, for instance. A finished building could be assessed and found to have gained LEED ‘Platinum’ certification, in recognition for meeting a very high number of the stringent requirements imposed. It is of course frequent to combine attractive Architectural design with ‘green’ certification.

However, from the initial design effort until the award of the building certification, there is a long process of communication with the body that will monitor the implementation of such requirements. How to make sure, for example, that the structure is being designed and built according to LEED or Estidama requirements? This is where the organizations that have come up with the guides and rules for measuring ‘green cred’ step in again, by providing certifications for individuals in addition to those that are meant for the buildings themselves.

Someone will be needed to guide the company preparing the design in the production and submission of the necessary paperwork for building certification throughout the project’s timeline. Specifications, drawings and checklists form the bulk of the submitted documents, which will go back and forth many times: that person will therefore need to be the main point of contact with the certifying body. That individual will have to possess a LEED AP certification, for instance, in order to be able to lead the whole process. The certifications are delivered to qualified individuals by the means of rigorous examinations.

The journey to acquire and keep such certifications, as well as a review of some of the strict requirements that green buildings address, will be covered in subsequent installments. Stay tuned!

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