Energy Efficiency
Climate Change
Sustainability

Sustainable buildings: Developing cities for the future

Anothony Abbotts, Director Group Sustainability
Anthony Abbotts
12 June 2020

Sustainable buildings reduce the impact on our environment and its inhabitants. Here is what it takes for a modern building to be sustainable and resilient.

vertical garden a concept of sustainable building, eco building landscape climbing plants

Although sustainable development benefits the generations of the future, they can in the same way be sound property investments. Sustainable architecture and design principles can help city governments achieve their carbon goals, and now, many property funds also look for sustainable ratings before acquiring new assets. Although external and corporate drivers influence these investments, it has been documented that sustainable properties – and portfolios – increase in value. Factors such as increased rental incomes, decreased operational risks and sustainable regulations or certifications make the acquisition of these types of properties attractive to professional real estate investors.

Using sustainable design practices and considerations for every building going forward can help make future cities more resilient and improve the quality of life for inhabitants. It is also good for business as it can reduce operational budgets and increase property values.

Sustainable design principles for a resilient built environment

As the majority of humans are indoors for about 90 percent of the time, built environments are not just vital to our health but also critical for the preservation of the environment. Sustainability in the built environment merges these ideals into a habitat for present and future populations by taking a holistic approach towards urban design.

Whenever a new building or renovation project comes up, enforcing sustainable and green design principles can help ease the burden on the world’s resources. It is also essential for decision-makers to take a step back and consider the long-term implications of their plans. Considering the lifecycle of buildings, including setting requirements for re-use  and recycling of waste from building renovation and demolition can lead to more sustainable architecture and design practices that add resilience to cities of the future.

Every building’s lifecycle is essential. From the energy supply that sustains a comfortable and healthy indoor climate for the inhabitants, to the source of the raw materials that make up its entire structure until its end of life state when the building has served its purpose – sustainable designs will address all these concerns. A high degree of reuse andrecycling of the building materials can help turn a present structure into a resource bank for the future, while at the same time reduce the amount of embodied carbon of the building. A sustainable design takes the construction, occupation, deconstruction, and disposal of the building and its raw materials into account before development even starts.

Sustainable development as part of building regulations

To improve the efficiency of buildings, many governments, including cities in the EU, continue to legislate for more sustainable building practices. In an ideal world, investments in renovations, new developments, and upgrades to infrastructure would all focus on future sustainability using a holistic set of principles and performance measurements.

Ultimately, there is no single definition of what constitutes a sustainable building or system. Limiting the long-term impact on the environment, designing for reusability and fire resilience, and considering the resources required for the lifetime of the structure remain vital considerations for green and sustainable architecture.

The World Green Building Council (WGBC) defines a green building as a structure that aims to reduce or eliminate its negative impacts on the environment. It includes considerations for the preservation of precious natural resources and the construction, habitation and demolition of the property. These practices can also have positive impacts, including sustaining the economy and improving the quality of life for citizens.

In the EU, a variety of countries has taken steps to integrate sustainability parameters in their building regulation. France, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands created specific rating systems for sustainable developments.  

Some of these rating systems include:

Local and national governments are trying to use sustainable rating systems that help reduce energy demand and promotes circularity for the lifecycle of structures.

Sustainable solutions for city governments and developers

It is common for today’s buildings to serve a specific function. Once they outlive that function, the building may become obsolete. These mono-functional structures become outdated due to user preferences or changing social needs. It leads to a high rate of vacancy or requires premature demolition. Applying circularity principles to new structures and during renovation projects, cities can reduce their waste and become more resilient in the future. Although this is an area that could benefit from more regulation and faster updates in the industry, as we now have the technical solutions to do much more in this space.

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings can help city governments reduce their populations’ energy bills and improve their indoor as well as outdoor living conditions. Using sustainable materials that are highly reusable or recyclable will stimulate circularity within local economies.

Sustainable development is an existential imperative for today’s civilisations. By improving the resilience of our economies and infrastructure, city governments can protect the future prosperity of their populations. Investing in the future requires decision-makers to consider every building’s sustainability for its entire usable lifecycle.

ROCKWOOL Group remains committed to helping the world’s cities build sustainable buildings and develop circular construction techniques that support future populations.