The environmental value of sustainability has become a focal point of global attention as facts about how we are impacting the environment have come forward.
In order for the environment to be sustainable, it must be able to support the needs of all life on this planet for perpetuity. This means that the climate must remain consistent and livable, the habitats must continue to support plant and animal biodiversity, and the resources must not be depleted over time.
The built environment is a major part of how humans impact the world. In the United States, buildings alone use 75% of all electricity, produce 45% of all carbon emissions, and are responsible for 30% of all raw material use. A significant reduction in how we design and build could have a tremendous impact on creating a sustainable future.
The additional value in perception and public relations that results from environmental sustainability
High-performance buildings are more valuable than their direct tangible costs, as their market perception can add significant asset value. Green buildings have been proven to enjoy higher property value, sales, rents, and occupancy rates.1
What additional value is brought to the project through green design? How can more sustainable design reduce the risk of obsolescence, and how can this be economically valued?
The earth’s supply of sources used to support life
The built environment is a heavy consumer of natural resources. According to the Living Planet Report developed by the World Wildlife Foundation, humanity currently uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets.2 Significantly increasing resource efficiency can help bring the rate of consumption back in balance.
Does the project use as little energy and water as are practical? Is it made with materials and products with low embodied energy? Are buildings designed to avoid unnecessary waste?
The physical environment that supports plant and animal life
Rapid development of the built environment threatens the delicate balance of life on earth. If growth trends continue, by 2050 the number of threatened mammals and birds may increase by over ten percent.3 But smart design can avoid these threats and actually contribute to healthier ecosystems.
Does the project avoid removing or ruining “greenfield” sites? Does the project create new habitat through abundantly planted landscape? Do materials and products come from sustainability managed sources?
Prevailing weather conditions such as temperature, humidity, wind and precipitation that define the environment
Buildings are the largest single contributor to climate change, accounted for about half of all carbon emissions. The earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past century,4 and even slight temperature changes can produce dangerous shifts in weather conditions, resulting in flooding, droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels. Through smart design, architects and designers can help solve these growing problems.
Are greenhouse gas emissions acceptable, minimally contributing to rising global temperatures? Are materials produced using acceptable levels of emissions? Does the project connect to alternative and public transit, to reduce transportation-related emissions?
The physical state of the general population
The built environment can have a tremendous effect on the health of the local and global communities. For example, buildings contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, which are linked to rising respiratory ailments, such as asthma.
Are greenhouse gas emissions acceptable? Does the landscape contribute to biodiversity, avoiding an over-abundance of pollen-bearing trees, which exacerbate allergies? Are the materials safe, avoiding putting toxic chemicals into the environment?