The importance of buildings in society and everyday human life can’t be underestimated. They are the center of just about everything we do — from work to play — and for most people living without them is unimaginable. However, traditional structures are damaging the environment and green buildings just might be one of the most powerful tools we can develop in the fight against climate change.
According to National Geographic, by 2050 nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Even though the cities of the world cover just two percent of Earth’s land area, they are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — with nearly one-third of those emissions coming from buildings.
Those numbers are the result of traditional construction, and the exciting thing is green buildings could drastically change things. Already, green buildings in the United States have reduced CO2 emissions by 34 percent.
What are green buildings?
There is no specific standard for green buildings, but some of the features are energy efficiency, less water usage, better indoor air quality, improved acoustics and green roof systems.
Those goals can be achieved via various methods including using alternative energy sources like solar panels, high-efficiency light fixtures and natural light, not to mention, incorporating sustainable and eco-friendly building materials into the design.
But the benefits of green buildings are not just limited improving the environment, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to green buildings and their extensive benefits.
Green buildings save money
The initial construction costs for a green building might be a bit higher, but they are cheaper to operate and maintain, which ultimately makes them a good long term investment.
According to the California Sustainable Building Task Force, a two percent investment in green design will save you more than ten times that investment in the long run. So, if you have a $1 million building project and invested $20,000 in green design, it will lead to $200,000 in savings over 20 years.
Using renewable energy sources significantly reduces the cost of power, heating and cooling, making maintenance costs 20 percent lower than traditional buildings.
In general, the resale value of green buildings is higher because potential buyers know that their utility costs will be lower than normal. Federal tax incentives are also available for both residential and commercial green buildings, with many local and state governments following suit.
Extensive environmental benefits
This is the most expected benefit of green buildings, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. The reduced energy consumption, water conservation, lower emissions and reduced waste from green buildings is invaluable to the fight against climate change.
Physical and mental health
At first, the green building concept was all about reducing environmental impact. But now, studies have shown that working in a green building is good for both physical and mental health, and this has led to many building developers adding space for health and wellness activities.
Many green buildings create an environment for better physical activity by using vacant areas for green spaces, yoga studios and gyms, making bike racks more accessible, or adding things like massage chairs and sleep chambers to reduce stress, boost job satisfaction and cut down on absenteeism.
Another growing trend in green buildings is better use of staircases. For decades, architects have hidden staircases so well that you can’t even find them in some buildings. But now, staircases are coming back and this means workers are taking more steps every day.
Employee perception of green buildings is that they are cleaner and better maintained, and the use of non-toxic chemicals and better ventilation has led to a reduction in sick building syndrome.
According to the EPA, poor air quality and indoor pollutants in non-green buildings have caused some lung cancer deaths and many cases of asthma.
A UCLA study showed that employees who work in green buildings were 16 percent more productive than those who work in traditional buildings.
Study author Professor Magali Delmas says employees in green buildings and those who adopt green practices are “more motivated, received more training, and benefit from better interpersonal relationships.”
A Harvard study also showed that employees in green buildings were better at making decisions and reaching goals. Also, including green elements in a building led to a higher level of perceived well being and better task completion.
Engineering consulting firm Cundall found during a survey that green elements like eco-friendly flooring, green views, improved acoustics and better air quality led to the attraction of more workers, improved employee retention and also made employees prouder of their workplace.
In the previously mentioned Harvard study, it also found that better lighting design in a building — natural light, LED, task lighting, dimmers — has helped circadian rhythms, which means you sleep better at night. Ditching fluorescent lighting and opting for energy-efficient lighting in green buildings also made occupants happier and more productive.
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