Green buildings mainstream sustainability in planning, layout, orientation and design, while making choice of material, source of energy, fit outs and technology. The idea is to reduce life cycle impacts/risks.
Several green rating systems have emerged in the last decade that guide and inspire architects, planners, builders and material / equipment suppliers to come up with buildings with various shades of green. Focus has also emerged on low carbon buildings where greenness of the building is assessed based on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. These buildings are called as low carbon or climate responsive.
In the early years, constructing green buildings was considered to lead to cost overruns by factors as high as 20% but today because of the favourable policies / regulations, market demand/recognition, technology / material innovations, the cost differential between a green and a “conventional” building has greatly reduced. When costed over life cycle, green buildings are in fact more competitive. A recent report of evaluation of 22 green buildings post construction has shown significant operational savings (See http://www.gsa.gov/graphics/pbs/Green_Building_Performance.pdf)
We should by default build every building green.
While much attention is given to the greenness of the building on its “built form”, communication of its green features to the occupiers is often overlooked. The use phase of the life cycle of the building thus faces a disconnect and sustainability is confined to ‘half of the circle’.
Green buildings typically have a rainwater harvester, a vermi-compost pit and grey water recycling unit amongst several other features. You sometimes find rainwater harvesters discontinued as they become a source of mosquito breeding grounds or compost from vermi-compost pit does not get used in the gardens or practices of grey water recycling are abandoned due to foul smell. Reasons are several – some of these are low understanding / sensitivity, lack of ownership and many times sheer neglect and poor maintenance.
Efforts are needed to ensure that occupiers to a green building understand how to live green! Living green actually changes occupier’s mind-set and lifestyle so as to make staying in a green building more meaningful. This is where the term sustainable habitat comes in taking us beyond physical form of a green building or green infrastructure and bringing in sustainable lifestyles.
Several years ago, I visited Hammarby Sjöstad, an exciting district in Stockholm where the City imposed tough environmental requirements on buildings, technical installations and the traffic. Accordingly the Stockholm Water Company, Fortum and the Stockholm Waste Management Administration jointly developed a common eco-cycle model. (See http://www.hammarbysjostad.se/ and download the “environmental map” at http://www.hammarbysjostad.se/inenglish/pdf/HS%20env%20map%20nov%202011.pdf). I spent the whole day walking around the district and spoke with the residents.
While there are several innovative materials and technologies used, one of the unique initiatives of Hammarby Sjöstad is the Environmental Information Center. This Center is built to educate the occupiers of the green buildings and make them aware on how to live green. The Center showcases green materials, green gadgets/fit outs and green technologies. It holds short seminars, screens films and arranges exhibitions for residents as well as district neighbourhood. The Center called as GlashusEtt plays a role of a hub or environmental community centre.
Indeed, every green building townships we build should have a GlashusEtt. Mere physical green form is not enough. Green ratings or certificates may not be given one time on a permanent basis but renewed based on how the green buildings are actually used by the occupants. It’s like asking for a green occupancy certificate.
If we really intend to promote sustainability in our built forms, then let us not just build green but learn how to live green!