By Nithin Sridhar
A new study published in ‘Environ Health Perspect’ has once again highlighted the advantage of constructing ‘Green Buildings’.
The study was conducted on 24 participants over six days when they were randomly exposed to conventional and green building environment on different days. The study showed that on average the cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the Green+ building days.
The largest effects were seen with respect to ‘Crisis Response’, ‘Information Usage’, and ‘Strategy’, all of which denote a higher level of decision making and cognitive functions. Thus, the study concludes that green buildings have a considerable positive influence on the cognitive functions of its occupants.
‘Green building’ is a concept in building construction wherein the aim is to construct such buildings which are energy & resource efficient, and more environment-friendly than the conventional buildings.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines the concept of green buildings as: “The practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.”
Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) has been championing the cause of green buildings since 2001. As of August 2013, over 2,115 green building projects spanning over 1.52 billion square feet area were registered with IGBC. But, considering the boom in the real estate and construction industry, India has still a long way to go.
From an environmental perspective, the conventional buildings have many disadvantages like excessive energy consumption, excessive use of water, air pollution, and wastage generation during construction and demolition. These disadvantages are addressed in the ‘green buildings’ by adopting various measures in design and construction that will make the buildings ‘green’.
International Energy Agency estimated in 2008 that existing buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world’s total primary energy consumption and for 24 percent of global CO2 emissions.
The energy usages can be minimized by implementing various measures like using LED lights for lighting purpose, making proper arrangements for natural ventilations so that energy consumption by HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) systems are reduced, weather stripping, use of solar energy wherever feasible, etc.
Natural ventilation, providing exclusive areas for smoking in case it’s required, and several other measures will minimize the internal air pollution in the buildings.
Apart from internal air pollution, chemical, and biological contaminations can make buildings ‘sick’ i.e. unhealthy for people to live in it. These can be minimized by using proper building materials and interior products that emit very low levels of volatile organic compounds. The organic compounds vaporize at room temperature and are harmful to humans. Hence, only materials with low emissions must be used.
Water usage is another issue in conventional buildings. Too much of water is wasted in showers and toilets. According to an estimate, around 3.5 gallons (13 liters) of water is wasted in a single flush in toilets. This wastage can be reduced by using low-flow fixtures on faucets and showerheads, dual flush toilets, etc. Further, waste water from showers and sinks can be recycled and reused within the building in the case of large buildings.
Construction and demolition are accompanied by the generation of large quantities of waste. But, these wastages can be minimized by recycling or reusing the generated wastages. Demolition or dismantling of a structure can be carried out with proper planning so that the maximum amount of materials can be reused.
One of the most important factors in constructing a green building is the materials that are used in constructing them. J. Cullen Howe in his book ‘The Law of Green Buildings’ says: “A crucial part of green buildings is the material that is used in their construction. Although definitions vary, green building materials are generally composed of renewable rather than non-renewable resources and are environmentally responsible because their impacts are considered over the life of the product. In addition, green building materials generally result in reduced maintenance and replacement costs over the life of the building, conserve energy, and improve occupant health and productivity. Green building materials can be selected by evaluating characteristics such as reused and recycled content, zero or low off-gassing of harmful air emissions, zero or low toxicity, sustainable and renewable harvested materials, high recyclability, durability, longevity, and local production.”
Thus, by adopting these changes in the design, construction, and the accessories, the builders can easily build green buildings that are environmentally responsible, economically viable, and which provide a healthy and comfortable environment to the occupants.
According to IGBC, green buildings can reduce energy consumption by 20-30% and save water by around 30-50%. Though the initial cost of construction may be considerably more than conventional buildings, on a long run, they are many times more financially beneficial than conventional buildings.
Additionally, the health benefits that green buildings provide are irreplaceable. This is now further reinforced by the latest study that has found higher order cognitive functions among the people who are exposed to the green building environment.
Therefore, it is high time that the concept of green buildings is given more push by the governments, more awareness is created and incentives are offered, so that an environmental friendly urbanization can be accomplished across the country.