Green Building: What is it? The Four Cornerstones of Green Building

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Green building is beyond the trends of innovative, colorful facades and materials. Green building is a new way of thinking that propels communities to the future.

In a step forward from conventional practices, green building is the application of design, construction, management, and demolition practices that minimizes the impact of buildings on environmental, economic and social resources. Although the latest trends and innovative designs are often showcased, green building is more than just what is on the surface. The practice of green design, by nature, must take a holistic approach that is sensitive to the impacts of the built environment on valuable natural resources. This holistic approach can be described as having four cornerstones that include the design, construction, management, and demolition phases of development. The Ecology of Place: Planning for Environment, Economy and Community (Beatly and Manning; Island Press; 1997) describes the four prongs of green building:

Plan Environmentally Sensitive Sites

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It is obvious to say that the placement of buildings take up space along a plot of land. However, it is most important to consider what will be replaced or destructed as a result of placing a built structure upon land that was previously untouched. Buildings disrupt natural habitats, aquifers, natural lighting, wind, and can contribute to storm water runoff and erosion. Furthermore, the built environment can impact the integrity of surrounding sites as a result of the construction, operation, and demolition phases of building. All of these factors must be considered during the design phase of a building, and steps must be taken to mitigate the potential harmful impact.

Increase Energy Efficiency

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This cornerstone of green building is often given the most consideration due to the large amount of attention given to the global warming crisis. There are many ways in which the building process can conserve energy. For one, energy savings begin in the design stage when deciding where built structures will be placed, what materials will be used, and where will materials be coming from. The most thought out plans place buildings that take advantage of natural sunlight and wind energy that use materials that require less energy to produce, reuse, recover, and recycle.

Conserve Water and Other Natural Resources

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Green buildings and designs plan for the most efficient on-site water use that is not limited to installing water saving appliances such as washing machines, toilets, shower heads, or sinks. For example, using water-saving vegetation can save the amount of water used for irrigation purposes. Drip irrigation saves a tremendous amount of water compared to sprinkler or hose systems. Installing rainwater-harvesting systems can use rainwater for irrigation purposes instead of relying on more tap water. Additionally, graywater systems can reuse water from a building’s system for irrigation, as well.

Improve Interior Building Quality

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Improve Interior Building Quality. Image by

This last facet of green building is often forgotten, as it is not often considered that paints, carpets, and other indoor materials can be rather toxic. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, indoor air can include harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), mold, allergens, and other toxins that can lead to various health risks. In addition, conventional designs of building interiors restrict proper airflow and lighting, which can create environments that are displeasing for people to live in work in. Green buildings take advantage of natural sun lighting, efficient designs and cleaning systems, and consist of materials that are toxin-free.

As mentioned before, green building is not just the application of technologies and materials. The most effective technology in green building is change in individual behavior that is sensitive to local, regional, and global impact. Improving the environment means changing the way people go about their day-to-day routine. Whether it is turning off light switches, or using computer screen saving devices, using drip irrigation, or using a more fuel efficient car, it is the small things that reduce the footprint left on the Earth.


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