Introduction to Green Building
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability represents a balance that accommodates human needs without diminishing the health and productivity of natural systems. The American Institute of Architects defines sustainability as “the ability of society to continue functioning into the future without being forced into decline through exhaustion or overloading of the key resources on which that system depends.
What is Sustainable Development?
Sustainable development (also called Green Building or environmentally friendly development) is not a particular style, technique, or practice. Rather, it is a philosophy of land development and construction fostering environmental responsiveness, resource efficiency, and community and cultural sensitivity. These concepts are incorporated in different ways according to the kind of project, the goals for the project and the available budget.
While all projects can incorporate some level of sustainability into their design, all sustainable designs will not be the same. Ultimately, sustainable development requires looking at the development process differently. It requires a holistic approach.
Integrating the Process
The typical design process is a “stovepipe” process with each discipline working independently and sequentially. “Green building experts encourage project teamwork to promote an open exchange of ideas and generate integrated, whole-systems solutions. In the conventional, linear development process, key people are often left out of decision-making or brought in too late to make a full contribution. Collaboration, on the other hand, can reduce and sometimes eliminate both capital and operating costs while at the same time meeting environmental and social goals.” Sustainable development provides a framework for crossing between disciplines and integrating the process.
In the beginning, many early green designs focused on one issue at a time, mainly energy efficiency or use of recycled materials. But during the 1980s and 1990s, green designers began to realize the integration of all these factors would produce the best green results. Now, most green buildings have combined these factors into the following core topic areas: site selection, energy efficiency, water conservation, resource efficient materials and indoor environmental quality.
Below is a list of good starter websites that will provide general information, examples of projects as well as sound technical requirements. There usually is a section in these sites that is called “Links” or “Resources” that will contain a list of other websites with related information.
GreenBuilding.com – This a good general reference site for Green Building. It has an interesting historical time line and a good resource list.
BuildingGreen, Inc. – An independent publishing company committed to bringing unbiased information on green building. They have a monthly newsletter called “Environmental Building News” that is a must read. It brings in-depth research articles, industry news and product news and reviews. They also have a directory of green products and an extensive collection of case studies. As a subscriber to their website you will have the ability to conduct integrated searches of their newsletter archives, product directory and case studies.
Smart Communities Network – This site goes beyond just green building and provides information about the broader concepts of sustainability, land use planning, energy conservation and resource efficiency as well as information about building codes and ordinances, transportation and finance.
Energy Star – This is a website sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). It is focused on energy conservation. It has several sections that include products that qualify for the Energy Star certification as well as homes and buildings. There are two sections of particular note: new homes and home improvements. The new homes section has a set of guidelines that must be met to qualify for certification. The home improvement section has a new program called “Home Performance with Energy Star”. This program is an approach to remodeling of existing homes that identifies the most effective improvements for your money.
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) – This is the national standard for green building. They have developed a green rating system called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which is the national benchmark for determining different levels of green. When you go to their site you will see a button for LEED. Click on that button and it will take you to the website to see the technical information about the different building types and kinds of projects that can be rated. In many places, LEED is the criteria used.
Southface – This is a non-profit group based in Atlanta, Georgia. They have developed an excellent reputation around the country for providing technical assistance to government agencies, non-profit organizations, utilities and the private sector on sustainable design and construction, energy policy and technology transfer issues. They have developed a set of technical green guidelines for building and renovating homes called “Earth Craft House” that is similar to LEED. They have a great educational resource section.
Energy Efficient Building Association (EEBA) – This is a group that provides very technical information for building professionals. They have technical documents that discuss construction concepts and details for constructing better buildings.
Local Government Programs - There are two city-run Green Building programs that are of particular interest. They have fully embraced the concepts of sustainability and have incorporated Green Building as part of that larger effort. They also have Green Building programs that are focused on affordable housing. These cities are:
General Reference Documents
The following PDF documents which open in a new window, are general references that will provide you with additional information on the Green Building Program.
- Rocky Mountain Institute: Why Build Green
- Southface Institute: Community Tool Kit
- Rural Housing Magazine: Fall 2005
Revised November 4, 2013