What is a 'green' building?

Today, this answer may be easier to answer than a few years back. An article was published recently in ISRATIMES which gives a fairly good answer to this question by looking at a building holistically and broadly. [read in PDF]

In terms of following certain guidelines or complying with certain requirements that will obtain a building the status 'green', one will find in Europe (and in Greece starting January 4, 2009), that 'green' buildings are those that comply with the EU Directive 2002/91 for the energy performance of buildings and is verified by the Intelligent Energy Europe tools, or if it is non-residential it is awarded a GreenBuilding partner status, or complies with the Passive House concept, or applies the CEN standards for construction, energy, and the environment. In the US, and many parts of the world, 'green' buildings are considered those that have been certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, or are designed based on the Green Building Guidelines of the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC). In Israel 'green' buildings are considered those that have been designed, built and operate by the new Isreali Standard 5281 for 'Buildings with reduced environmental impact" (or 'Green buildings') and have gathered 55-74 points ('green' building) or 75 points and more ('green' building with distinction). In the UK 'green' buildings follow the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and tools, and the Environmental Profiles Methodology, a standardised method of identifying and assessing the environmental effects associated with building materials based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) - that is their extraction, processing, use and maintenance, and their eventual disposal. In Japan and Asia, the CASBEE assessment system is used.

Recently, two new sets of regulations were voted in Greece. One with regard to the Energy Conservation in Buildings (FEK 407B / 9.4.2010) and the other for the Recycling of construction debris (FEK 1312B / 24.8.2010). Both after a long delay of more than 6 years.

Recently, the National Association of Home Builders introduced a new set of building guidelines called 'Green Home Buidling', and a 'green' rating system and a practical assessment tool for architects and contractors.

On a local government level, building 'green' is what the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)-Local Governments for Sustainability strive for, namely, help local governments, national and regional local government organizations to achieve sustainable development, with tools and platforms, such as Local Sustainability. Also, what the Aalborg committments which were signed by more than 500 local governments, promoting sustainable development in local governments, that define 'green' building as follows (theme 5: Planning and Design):

Strategic role for urban planning and design in addressing environmental, social, economic, health and cultural issues for the benefit of all:
1. re-use and regenerate derelict or disadvantaged areas.
- Reduced proportion of unfit residential and commercial buildings.
- Increase in the number of services and infrastructure facilities within regeneration areas.
2. avoid urban sprawl, achieving appropriate urban densities and prioritising brownfield site over greenfield site development.
- Increase the proportion of brownfield sites used for development.
- Ensure the conservation of the greenfield sites.
3. ensure the mixed use of buildings and developments, with a good balance of jobs, housing and services giving priority to residential use in city centres.
- Deliver a plan for brownfield site utilisation.
- Reduced proportion of new building on greenfield sites.
4. ensure appropriate conservation, renovation and use/re-use of our urban cultural heritage.
- Reduced number of buildings of communal and cultural value demolished per year.
- Increased proportion of disused buildings and urban spaces returned to active use.
5. apply requirements for sustainable design and construction and promote high quality architecture and building technologies.
- Have sustainability requirements included for construction and renovation in development plans.
- Increased proportion of buildings with an energy consumption of less than 70 kWh/sqm (single-family-buildings) and less than 55 kWh/sqm (multi-family-buildings) (low-energy-standard).
- Develop, adopt and implement a sustainable construction program (guidelines, labelling, tax incentives etc.).
- Decreased amount of construction and demolition waste.

On a global scale, 'green' building is also what the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) is trying to accomplish, namely, to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

One of my favorite definitions of 'green' building, is by William McDonough, co-author of "Cradle to Cradle":

"The building is like a tree: Enmeshed in local energy flows, it accrues solar income, filters water-absorbing it quickly and releasing it slowly-and creates habitat for living things."

Architect William McDonough and chemist Michale Braungart have established the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) which has developed a certification system called Cradle to Cradle Certification which provide a company a means to tangibly, credibly measure achievement in environmentally-intelligent design and helps customers purchase and specify products that are pursuing a broader definition of quality. This means using environmentally safe and healthy materials; design for material reutilization, such as recycling or composting; the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency; efficient use of water, and maximum water quality associated with production; and instituting strategies for social responsibility.

In William McDonough's words the definition of sustainability and sustainable design:

"In Jeffersonian terms, we might say sustainability is an appreciation for the legacy of your designs, an interest in the long-term health of nature and human culture. Sustainable design puts that sensibility into practice. Conventional approaches to sustainable design focus primarily on outlining strategies for architectural systems that make efficient use of energy and materials. Sustainable land planning and site design strategies emphasize an environmentally responsive use of vegetation, water, and other natural systems. While these strategies represent a marked improvement over land development patterns over the past decades, they tend to rely on minimizing human impact on the environment, striving only to be "less bad." And being less bad, or in this case, being more efficient, is not necessarily good.

This is especially true when it comes to selecting architectural materials. Most building materials are not designed with human health in mind. Many commonly contain toxic substances such as formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds, which off-gas into building interiors. In energy-efficient buildings, which tend to be tightly sealed to reduce heating and cooling costs, toxic chemicals accumulate in concentrations that make indoor air quality on average three times worse than the most noxious urban air.

Thankfully, sustainable design is not about being efficient. Instead, we encourage an affirmative design agenda, one that allows the human impact on the environment to be positive, vital and good. This new conception of sustainable design finds its roots in the desire to discover fit and fitting spaces for human habitation-the desire to become native to one's place. For us, natural communities and ecosystems serve as models of interdependence, with each member relying on and contributing to the well being of the whole. Informing good design, this vision affirms the possibility of developing healthy and creatively interactive relationships between the natural environment and human settlements."

Last, but not least, it is important to review the "One Planet Living" concept developed and applied by BioRegional Consulting in the BedZed project in London, which is also the set of principles applied to the design and planning of Ecovillage project in Kramim, Negev (Israel). This concept is based on ten principles that guide the design, construction and maintenance of a building, ensuring that the building will consume no more than the energy and resources entitled to each one of the residents (one planet instead of two or three planets per resident). The principles include zero energy from fossil fuels, zero carbon emissions, zero waste, use of sustainable transportation and/or car pooling, use of sustainable and local materials transported no more than a radius of 50 klm of the property, consumption of local produce and food, sustainable managment and recycling of water, regeneration of natural habitats and wildlife, protection of cultural heritage, equity and fair trade and support of the local community, and health and happiness for the residents.