Our world faces energy concerns, global warming, climate change, water shortages, soaring housing costs, economic instability, and dwindling natural resources. In addition, an inordinate amount of construction waste is produced each day. It is essential to begin taking steps to prevent this pattern from continuing to take us down the road t environmental destruction. The engineers, architects and developers of today, more than ever, share an obligation to create new and innovative structures to turn this cycle around. Buildings and development have an enormous impact on our quality of life and the quality of our environment, both in construction and in operations. Buildings expend 40% of the world’s energy, 25% of its wood harvest and account for 16% of its water consumption 1, all resources we cannot afford to waste. Buildings of the future need to take the step beyond shelter and work places and perform as efficient, economic, environmentally sound spaces in which we can thrive and endure. It is our responsibility to utilize our knowledge and scientific research to move forward in the realm of design. Sustainable design, or “green building,” looks to create high performance buildings that improve our health as well as the health of the environment we live in.
What is Green Building?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Green or sustainable building is the practice of creating healthier and more resource-efficient models of construction, renovation, operation, maintenance, and demolition.”2 Among the many constituents of sustainable design are improvements in water usage, waste reduction, use of recycled materials, reduced energy consumption, and an aesthetically pleasing environment for inhabitants. Not only do green buildings incorporate environmentally sound construction of the buildings, but also a healthy interior environment for those utilizing the building when completed.
The start of the sustainable development movement began as early as 1962 with Rachel Carson’s publication Silent Spring, a book which linked the increasingly high levels of agricultural pesticides to deterioration of human and animal health. This was, in a sense, the first stepping-stone in realizing the link between our environment, economy, and our social well being. In the past 40 years great progress has been made in the area of sustainable development on a global level. In 2002 South Africa held the World Summit on Sustainable Development bringing together world government officials, United Nations agencies and other large influential groups along with concerned citizens to assess the global change since the last United Nations Conference on Environment and Development back in 1992.3
Timeline of Sustainable Design
Here in the United States organizations like the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) bring together leaders in the building industry, “working to promote buildings that are environmentally...