The definition of sustainable building has evolved over the years. Many architects and developers can probably recall a time when the term “green building” hit the scene— not very long ago—in the early 2000s. But “green” isn’t cutting it anymore. Early adopters claimed that “green” building had fewer impacts on the natural environment, but as we all know now, a building can do much more than that. A sustainable building brings people’s comfort, a building’s longevity, and a whole host of other concepts into the fold stemming beyond environmental impact.
Years of worldwide research support the movement from green to sustainable buildings. In their review of green building research, Jian Zuo and Zhen-Yu Zhao found “studies can generally be classified into three categories…the definition and scope of green buildings; benefits and costs of green buildings; and ways to achieve green building.” By analyzing the research surrounding these concepts, Zuo and Zhao realized that ideas related to the social impacts of sustainability have yet to be heavily investigated. And those are perhaps the most important. We will surely soon be seeing research and language fully shift away from “green” to “sustainable” as social factors are taken more into consideration.
Obviously, there is much work to be done to understand the true value of sustainable projects, but many people responsible for building and construction still hold some common misconceptions. It’s clear we’ve already debunked the myth that sustainable design is “just a phase,” but let’s bust some more myths.
Myth 1: You don’t have to think about sustainability early in design
It’s easy to think that tacking some solar panels on a roof or installing a geothermal heating system five years from now is what it takes to make a building sustainable, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. To reach goals like limited energy consumption and occupant comfort, sustainability needs to be a priority up front. With the powers of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and building simulation tools, you can analyze possibilities for thermal, lighting, and air quality as well as energy performance to make design decisions that will increase your building’s long-term sustainability.
Myth 2: Buildings that prioritize sustainability are more expensive
Most major studies to prove the cost effectiveness of sustainable design are more than ten years old at this point. Why? Because this isn’t a conversation anyone seems to be having anymore. Sustainable design has been proven time and time again to be a cost-effective way to build, particularly when looking at the entire life-cycle costs of a building. Upfront investment in consultants and technology will allow you to make decisions about things like building orientation and massing and energy consuming HVAC and mechanical systems that will limit long-term expenses.
Myth 3: Sustainable building projects have longer timelines
Contrary to popular belief, sustainable building projects don’t necessarily take more time than ones where sustainability isn’t a priority. In fact, they can sometimes be completed in even shorter time frames. Because sustainable design projects require integrated design strategies and technologies, project teams and contractors usually collaborate more efficiently. This can lead to a whole host of benefits—easier communication, more accurate execution, and most importantly, a timely delivery.
Myth 4: Sustainable buildings can’t be beautiful
As sustainable design grows in popularity, so does the understanding that environmentally friendly, energy efficient buildings can be beautifully and innovatively designed. By now, organizations that measure and certify sustainable buildings like BREEAM have awards criteria that include design innovation and discovery in addition to sustainability-specific factors like building performance. Spurred by climate change and global conversations about sustainable development, innovations in building materials and methods drive more diverse and elegant design in both new construction and renovation projects. The move towards sustainable buildings is, in fact, bringing with it a new era for design achievement.