After all the years of green buildings adoption, the real-estate and construction sector still contributes considerably to environmental destruction. Recent research shows that the building and construction sector still consumes about 15% of global clean water resources; about 40% of the world’s energy; and still contributes about 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions (UNEP, 2018). In addition to that, the global market for buildings is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 9% from 2016 to 2020 (Reddy, 2016). To avoid the negative impacts of climate change and to reduce other harmful effects of environmental degradation; it is imperative to tackle the effects that buildings have on the environment.
Energy efficiency and decreasing the impact that buildings and construction materials have on the environment is one of the best approaches to reduce people’s impact on the biosphere and environment in general.
The demand for green buildings has been on the increase globally; so much so, that the global market for green buildings is now worth about $1 trillion and is projected to grow even more in the coming years.
For that reason, the current practices in green buildings is to build houses that are affordable, comfortable, and attractive; houses that do not destroy the environment or the biosphere in their construction, use, or deconstruction. That said, the main four objectives of many green builders in 2018 are first to minimize the effects that buildings and building materials have on the environment. Secondly, the environmental impacts because of occupancy of buildings should be reduced. Thirdly, the impacts that the buildings have on the environment at the end of their life should be limited.
And lastly, the movement aims to optimize the human experience of buildings, that is, ensure that buildings enhance the health, comfort, and the wellbeing of not only those who inhabit them but those who live close or around them. Green buildings are renowned for energy efficiency and low or zero greenhouse emissions. Another common practice currently is to construct buildings that leverage on these aspects of green buildings to benefit communities in the way of not drawing too much from the local infrastructure or local amenities like water, electricity and so forth.
Until now, green buildings have aimed to be sustainable through energy efficiency and through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Future green buildings, however, will incorporate other strategies like innovative green building materials, green roofs, retrofitting buildings that are not yet green, and so forth.
Retrofitting generally entails refurbishing or upgrading conventional buildings to the level of green buildings concerning energy consumption, energy efficiency, user experience, impact on the environment and so forth. Mostly, it entails implementation of energy-efficient systems. In many cases, it involves replacing traditional HVACs with smart HVAC systems, reducing energy consumption through substituting conventional incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lamp (CFLs), and so forth.
Living roofs is another trend that is likely to take off soon. Living roofs are also called green roofs. A building whose roof is partly or completely covered with either soil or vegetation is said to have a living or green roof. These kinds of roofs have many benefits, they help the building blend well into the environment, and plants on the building absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen thereby providing climate stabilization. In addition to that, living roofs minimize rainwater runoffs, block or absorb pollutants in the air, provide habitats for birds, animals, and so forth; they also help reduce heating and cooling costs just to name a few benefits. In fact, research shows that if only 8% of all roofs in the city were to be made green, the ambient temperatures in the city would reduce by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit (EPA, 2018)
Because of the ever-increasing effects of climate change, all human activities soon may have to be carbon neutral. For the real-estate and construction sector, this will mean a move towards buildings that are completely carbon neutral. In fact, some countries like the United Kingdom (UK) had already taken steps to ensure that all new buildings in the future will be carbon neutral. Per this plan, all new homes built in the UK after 2016 were required by law to aim at adding zero carbon into the environment over the course of a year. That is, all homes built after 2016 had to find a way of ensuring that all emissions from heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, hot water, waste disposal, and so forth met the zero carbon home requirements set by the government.
Another emerging trend in green buildings is that of cradle-to-cradle design; this concept aims to design houses or buildings, systems and communities that have overall positive effects on the health of humans and the environment. This concept borrows from the closed-loop nutrient or food cycles in nature. Nutrient cycles in nature do not have wastes, the current conventional building designs can be considered cradle-to-grave because building materials are considered a waste management problem. Conversely, the cradle-to-cradle design concept would utilize materials that would biodegrade after use, materials that would even restore soil fertility after use. Ultimately, the future goal is to create buildings that function more like nature itself or trees that is, buildings that capture carbon dioxide, fix nitrogen, distil water, produce oxygen, collect solar energy, improve soils, provide habitat for fauna, change per the seasons, and are aesthetic (Reddy, 2016).