With governments and green building councils the world over setting themselves ever more ambitious targets to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there’s something of a green building revolution underway. According to the 2016 World Green Building Trends report, the percentage of international builders with at least 60% of their projects certified ‘green’ is set to double between 2015 and 2018. Here are some of the most exciting and interesting developments (we feel, at least!) over the past few years, and those set to change the future of green building.
Visible Light Communication
Just as we were getting used to the proliferation of Wi-Fi, there’s a new, greener kid on the block. The Visible Light Communication (VLC) system involves using pulses of light that are visible on the human spectrum to transmit data, essentially combining an energy-efficient LED lighting system with internet connectivity and networking capabilities similar to Wi-Fi. The major advantages for the green building field include reduced material requirements during construction, reduced energy expenses, and the option to include a built-in energy management system as part of the structure. In addition, this technology is faster than Wi-Fi by an order of magnitude, giving companies a real incentive to fit their new and existing buildings with VLC.
Whether it’s hurricanes, wild fires, floods, droughts or earthquakes, there are few countries on the planet whose roads and buildings are entirely safe from natural disasters. And every time an area is beset by one, expensive repairs that require new construction materials to be manufactured and shipped in have to be undertaken – quite aside from the obvious risks to life. These disasters cost lives, a huge amount of money, and place a further burden on the planet to provide the materials necessary for rebuilding.
But by designing buildings and infrastructure to be more resilient and better able to cope with these challenges from the get-go, much of the risk can be avoided. The adoption by the US Green Building Council of the RELi rating system in November of 2017 is a major step in this direction, as well as the Rockefeller Foundation’s funding of the 100 resilient cities of the world project. Elevated coastal roads, ‘self-healing’ concrete, and more flexible electric grids are just some of the technologies that could help cities become more resilient.
In areas where earthquakes are a possibility, innovative technologies such as geo cell engineering show great potential. This system, which involves the use of a three-dimensional lattice of NPA cells, dissipates energy and acts as a shock absorber under seismic loading.
In a landmark study conducted at the National Seismic Research Institute in Japan, Neoloy geocells were put to the test under conditions similar to a severe earthquake. As a flexible retention system, they were found to perform extremely well without cracking or failing, even under these extreme circumstances. Even better, they are a highly sustainable option, reducing the overall amount of aggregate required for the creation of walls, and allowing contractors to utilize whatever local soils or infill are readily available. Their use in retention walls and as a soil stabilization technique for roads and ports can help to make these structures better able to withstand natural disasters, as well as greener to build in the first place.
Modular and prefabricated construction
One of the issues with delivering all of the various resources and construction materials required for a building to site separately is that several vehicles and numerous deliveries are required, negatively influencing the project’s carbon footprint. But if different rooms, building segments or even the entire structure can be delivered ready-made (or at least ready to be assembled on site) you can achieve the same end with fewer deliveries. Additional benefits include reduced construction waste, as the provider only delivers the exact amount of materials which are required. Reduced construction time and the fact that negative weather conditions have little impact on the build process, as well as reduced safety risks to construction workers are major selling points too. Despite these advantages, commercial construction companies have been slow to embrace the possibilities – but that appears to be changing. In 2017, international hotel giant Marriott committed to using modular construction techniques in 13% of the new hotels built this year – mostly in the form of modular bathrooms and guest rooms.
LEED certification is driving the increased use of green building materials
Green roofs, permeable pavement, energy efficient windows and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, reclaimed wood and recycled concrete are just some of the strategies and materials building owners are embracing in their quest to obtain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. As the world’s most prestigious and widely accepted global green building rating system, the demand for certification is growing rapidly, and driving serious change as it does.
It’s an exciting time in the world of construction, and between increased consumer demand for more sustainable building practices, and through formalized initiatives like the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we can expect even more positive change to come!