Each year, the construction industry accounts for 6.9 billion U.S. tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This quantity is only surpassed by the transport and energy industries. To minimize our construction footprint, green building is becoming increasingly popular. Because of their optimized construction, these buildings also have positive social, economic and environmental benefits. We’ll review their top five advantages below.

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1) Green buildings enhance well-being and productivity

One of the key considerations of designing green buildings is selecting materials that are eco-friendly and do not release harmful substances into the air. Unfortunately, indoor air pollution is one of five environmental risks to public health. Building materials can release harmful substances like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, airborne microbes, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and PM10 (particulate matter the size of 10 microns or less). These fumes and particulate matter can spur health problems like respiratory diseases, allergies, and in extreme cases, cancer. Increasing the surface area of green roofs and walls by 20% could help absorb these emissions from the air and even save up to $190,000 in pollution removal!

Related: Can we live in buildings made from living materials?

Plants can also help hospital patients recover faster. Studies have shown that green infrastructure, such as green walls, balcony plants and even views of greenery have healing benefits. They can speed up recovery by 15%, reduce hospital stays, limit the spread of secondary infections and even lower the need of pain medication by up to 22%. This is beneficial for patients and also boosts the health and well-being of hospital staff.

Furthermore, plants can help increase workplace productivity. This is because they maintain healthy interiors and are aesthetically pleasing, which improve physical and mental well-being and consequently workplace productivity.

However, incorporating green infrastructure into interiors does not have to be as elaborate as putting up a green wall. Even houseplants can help limit spores and microbes and increase indoor humidity to boost inhabitant well-being.

Plant wall with bamboo-like roof

2) Green roofs regulate thermal comfort

Green infrastructure can also be optimized as a form of insulation to create comfortable interior environments. This also lessens energy requirements for thermal comfort. For example, green roofs can reduce energy by 5% for heating in the winter and up to 33% for cooling in the summer.

Since plants are great at keeping spaces cool, they can also be used to mitigate the urban heat island effect. The heat island effect is caused by infrastructure in urban areas which absorbs and re-emits heat from the sun. Because of modern construction materials, this reemission of heat is much stronger in urban areas compared to rural areas with natural elements like waterbodies and forests. In fact, simulations show that if 7% of rooftops in urban areas were green roofs, urban summer temperatures could be reduced by up to two degrees Celsius.

3) Green architecture optimizes energy use

As mentioned in the previous section, green infrastructure is a great insulator. It limits the energy required for heating and cooling, which accounts for 43% of energy use in the United States. This in turn contributes to air pollution, as these thermal regulation systems expel greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Green buildings also incorporate energy-efficient systems that require less energy and limit emissions where possible. Overall, studies show that green architecture consumes approximately 25% less energy and releases 34% less CO2 than regular buildings.

Alongside efficient energy systems, green buildings often adopt renewable resources for power. These include solar, wind and hydroelectric systems, to name a few. This prevents the burning of non-renewable resources, such as gas, oil and coal, which are extremely pollutant, toxic and costly in the long term, compared to their renewable counterparts. Moreover, processes to extract these non-renewable resources damage local habitats and threaten the biodiversity of endemic flora and fauna.

4) Green construction is cost-effective

Though eco-friendly construction often has high upfront costs, it is more cost-effective in the long run. Green properties have lower maintenance costs and increased asset value compared to traditional buildings. Since green architectural design maximizes system efficiency and durability, energy consumption and resource usage are all optimized. As a result of this optimization, day-to-day costs are minimized. Consequently, typical commercial buildings report 20% higher maintenance costs than green buildings.

Because green buildings are less expensive to maintain and have so many benefits, their value improves over time. In fact, reports show that green building owners around the world have seen asset value increases of 10% or more on their properties.

Building with a plant wall inside

5) Green buildings are key to protecting the planet

Noticeably, green buildings have several environmental features. While many have been covered above, there are further advantages of green architecture. Besides limiting carbon emissions and energy usage, green buildings use an average of 11% less water than typical buildings and prevent over 80 million tons of waste from ending up in landfills.

Several green buildings incorporate resilient design strategies. Alongside renewable energy generation and efficiency, the architecture is designed to respond to context-specific factors. This includes passive design strategies that mitigate climatic conditions, as well as rainwater-catchment systems for optimal water use.

Material choice is also a key feature of green building design. By implementing sustainably sourced and/or recycled or upcycled materials where possible, there is less strain on natural resources. Typically, sustainable materials are those which are locally sourced and easily regenerated. These also tend to require less maintenance and upkeep than other materials. Though they vary by region, sustainable materials include clay, cork, cross-laminated timber and bamboo. Additionally, by relying on eco-friendly materials, there is limited extraction of raw materials for concrete and metal. These extraction processes are extremely harmful to local ecosystems and destroy habitats for living organisms.

Yes, to building green

By incorporating green infrastructure in buildings, we can create opportunities to sequester carbon and enhance biodiversity within cities. By supporting plants, animals and microorganisms to thrive, we can create healthy urban ecosystems. These healthy ecosystems assist our bustling cities by regulating climate, purifying the air and preventing excess damage from natural phenomena like floods.

Overall, opting for green buildings is a sustainable choice for new construction. Its multiple benefits encompass aspects of social, economic and environmental sustainability. By designing and building more eco-friendly, we can positively impact our well-being, cut down costs and even improve biodiversity and climate resilience within our cities.

via World Economic Forum, US Green Building Council, NewSchool of Architecture & Design

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