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The Green Building Myth

Green BuildingGreen Building. Bonito Sustentavel. March 2015. blogspot.com

In an earlier post, I had tried to summarize the awesomeness of Green buildings, the paradigm shift it is promulgating and the general idea in terms of a definition of what it may be. You can read the article here.

But with the thousands of Green Buildings being constructed globally, it just makes sense that there should be a reduction in Green House Emissions yeah? Especially with the fact that buildings are major contributors to CO2 Emissions and Climate Change? Right?

I guess that based on these seemingly logical thoughts, we can develop this hypothesis:

" That Green Buildings will end, or at least reduce the effects of Climate Change. "

It only makes sense to arrive at this – I mean, 60,000 Green Buildings built with over 1 million square feet added everyday! It has to mean something! This hypothesis has to be true!

Well, I'm sorry to burst your bubble though: This isn't true. I'm so so sorry if you believed this. I actually believed it myself until I got to know better…

Source: Boden, T.A., Marland, G., and Andres, R.J. (2017). Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2Emissions. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A. doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2017.

Well, look at the chart above. I believe this gives you your true answer….

A steady increase in CO2 emissions since the 1900's. It's like this Green House guy didn't even recognize the coming of Green Buildings! Dude just kept rising and rising!

This leads to one question, why? What is really propelling the rise? We all know that over the years, demand for oil globally has dropped – and it will still continue to drop – So what then is really happening?

This then got me wondering just as you may be doing now, that if Green Buildings in itself is good, what then can be done to ensure that it at least partakes in reducing the effect of Climate Change? With a bit of research and watching a couple of TED Talks which I downloaded with office WIFI after work hours ( I hope my boss doesn't see this); I got to understand that some criteria needs to be met before the building can really take on the mantle of reducing the effects of Climate Change.

These criteria are just 3:

1. How Good is the Building?
2. What is it Replacing?
3. Where is it Located?

How Good is the Building?
If it fulfils the requirements of a Green Buildings, then it's good enough! For the likes of me that don't start reading articles from the beginning, here is the link again to my previous article. You'd find the requirements of Green Building there.

What is it Replacing?
Unfortunately, part of the criteria of most Green Building rating systems does not prioritize the use of Brownfield sites for assessing if a building is Green or not. So this means even though I make use of a Greenfield site and disturb the natural ecosystem, as long as I am able to fulfil other criteria for rating, I can still be handed a Green Building Certificate – be it LEED, BREEAM, etc.

I think this is wrong – really wrong!

A Green Building should replace something – always! It will certainly add to Green House emissions by occupying a Greenfield site, that is a site in which man-made activities have yet to occur. In other words, land that is still as God intended it- Natural. No matter how much the Building tries to 'reduce' its emissions, usually by utilizing a small Building footprint, there would still be emissions, and this emission will contribute to Climate Change. So you get why the graph keeps going up now right?

Utilizing a Brownfield site mitigates this to a large extent, and as a result, there is no new footprint disturbing a greenfield site thus, providing prospects for a Net Positive Building.

Where is it Located?
Google 'Green Homes' for instance and you'd discover this wonderful, plant covered Building located in the middle of nowhere!
Even though the Building might be Green in itself, adding up CO2 emissions from vehicular traffic from towns or cities that are miles away to that 'unknown' destination, then you'd realize the innocent looking Green Building is actually a full-time staff working hard to accomplish Climate Change. A rather ironic truth!

Location of buildings is what makes a 200 year old dilapidated home located in a walkable neighbourhood 5 times better than a Green Building located near Courage the Cowardly Dogs Home. (If by the way you're less than 30 years and you don't know where Courage the Cowardly Dog lived, then I don't understand what you watched during your childhood days…).

To check out if your community is walkable, simply log onto walkscore.com and put in your address.

So, I think we can conclude that it's not enough that we are building Green. You and I needs to ask ourselves this one question, irrespective of whether we're Professionals in the Built Environment of not:

does my Building fulfil these 3 criteria?

If not, then you might just be living in a building that's contributing to ending the world by 2100.

Adios !

Ezekiel Bassey
Bassey Ezekiel is an Architect with a load of passion for Design and the Environment !