Sustainable construction and innovation to protect the environment
The role of sustainable construction construction in climate change mitigation is very important. Cities not only consume most of the total energy produced. The energy consumption of buildings amounts to anything from 25% to 40% of all the electricity produced on the planet and is responsible for half of the CO2 emissions.
A big part of the energy expenditure is used on air conditioning and illumination. The most outstanding advances of sustainable construction are related to technological innovation. So, the result are greener, healthier, and more accessible buildings.
Advances in sustainable construction
The advances in sustainable construction are awesome. A housing project in Navarra, in Spain, is presented as a “positive energy standard”, going beyond the idea of zero energy buildings. There is a housing community in Canada which has obtained the certification for energy efficiency as well.
Decades ago, the benefits of sustainable construction were a luxury reserved for large corporate buildings. Nowadays, they are a reality for all kinds of constructions.
It is interesting to highlight the three elements that make sustainable construction possible: innovation in construction technology, new materials, and green technologies.
Innovation in construction technologies
This involves active and passive design. The active design uses technologies to reduce environmental impact. Passive design refers to the harnessing of natural elements to improve illumination, ventilation, and air conditioning.
Both include the responsible use of materials as well as the reduction in cost, time, and supplies of resources such as water and fuel. They propose flexible designs and greater adaptability and accessibility for users.
These materials must offer better uses and durability when compared to traditional materials. They must be more efficient in energy expenditure too and in environmental impact reduction. New “old materials” are prioritized, and elements recovered from demolitions or regional materials are used. Universidad de Valencia, for example, developed an ecological concrete, composed mostly (85%) of rice husk ash waste and foil.
Their role is to increase comfort and security and to reduce the ecological footprint. Also known as ecological technologies, they include smart systems applied to energy and water saving and to the generation of self-generated power, among other advances.
Case analysis in sustainable construction
Although sustainable construction can be seen more easily in buildings ecologically designed from nothing, its principles can apply to existing constructions.
- Khayelitsha neighborhood, Cape Town, South Africa. A settlement of 2,000 houses. Measures were taken here in several aspects: energy saving, CO2 emission reduction, solar energy use, and low consumption of illumination devices. 40% energy saving was achieved, and 76 jobs were created.
- Buenos Aires government seat, Argentina. Norman Foster, the well-known British architect, designed it. It combines environmental efficiency with flexible workspaces and harnessing of natural light. Recycled and local materials were used. The building can generate its own power and recycle its own waste.
- Torre Iberdrola, Bilbao, Spain. Cesar Pelli, the renowned Argentinian architect, designed it. It is the seat of the corporate group. An impressive 165-meter high crystal tower is also respectful of the environment. It has an energy recovery system that reduces the carbon footprint. Its flexible interior design encourages teamwork and knowledge transfer.
- Elithis Tower Dijon, Bourgogne, France. In 2009, it was considered the first positive energy tower in the world. Its bioclimatic design connects the building with the natural environment.
Not only ecology
The achievement of environmental goals is not the only aim of sustainable construction. In fact, ecological construction is closely linked to the ambitious global developmental agenda expressed in the Millennium Goals. These goals will not be reached if traditional construction is not minimized.
Some similarities between ecological construction and the Millennium Goals:
- Both seek to promote healthy lifestyles and wellbeing. This is even more relevant in the context of the new habits and needs currently imposed by the COVID pandemic.
- The goals and the construction promote sustainable energies.
- Climate change is a concern for both.
- They encourage inclusive economic growth.
- Decent working standards are part of their concerns. In fact, ILO considers construction work a dangerous occupation causing 30% of all fatal work accidents. Construction workers are exposed to a considerable variety of risks.
Sustainable construction is not a luxury. It is a requirement. It is relevant not only because it protects health and the environment but also because it is a new engine for the economy.Sustainable construction principles apply to new buildings and to existing constructions as well. Nevertheless, the achievement of energy efficiency does not exclude the practice of good habits for saving water and energy that we have. The planet will be thankful!
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