5 Ways to Approach the Future of Green Building

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Key steps to create a more sustainable industry

Home model for eco-friendly build
November 01, 2021

Eric Corey Freed is an award-winning architect, author, and global speaker with a passion for sustainable building and biophilic and regenerative design. His green building initiatives offer solutions for the construction industry to combat what the United Nations reports is a rather hefty 38% contribution to global carbon emissions.

But first and foremost, what is biophilic and regenerative design? If it’s as practical as he and other green building pioneers suggest, then why hasn’t it been more widely implemented in global construction?

Though foreign to many, the design concepts posed by Freed in a recent interview with Green Places, an organization hoping to make it easier for small businesses to be more sustainable, are standard practice for sustainable builders and seek to integrate buildings into regional ecosystems, not the other way around. In fact, by forcing our natural environment to adapt to us, we’ve already had a pretty substantial impact on the world around us. 

This shouldn’t be news, however. Just this past summer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced a ‘code red for humanity’ as a result of detrimental carbon emission rates. But let’s rewind a moment. Where do we begin?

Step 1: Face the facts

Before committing to sustainable building practices, we need to understand why a builder or remodeler might want to switch over to green building practices. The short answer: consequences. 

“It turns out that buildings are the worst offenders of the environment,” said architect Freed “Essentially more than half of the world's carbon comes from the design, construction, and operation of buildings. As humans, we spend roughly 90% of our time indoors, and 72% of the world's electricity goes to buildings. In terms of their environmental footprint, buildings are really bad, so by paying attention to these things we can greatly reduce their impact.”

Despite Freeman’s harrowing assessment of the environmental toll our buildings have on the environment, there’s no need to revert back to caveman-esque survival mode and demolish a home for the sake of Mother Nature’s good health. Our buildings have evolved along with us, from caves and lean-tos to fortresses, stadiums, cathedrals, skyscrapers, homes and millions of other structural wonders. Instead of giving them up, Freed suggests that perhaps it’s time to make them better so that our planet can keep us (and them) around for a while longer.

Step 2: Weigh the costs

Believe it or not, building sustainably may actually be more cost effective than traditional methods if you calculate savings over a long period of time. Investing in eco-friendly products and construction methods now may mean bypassing costly emissions later. “We have to break out of this mindset that doing the right thing somehow costs more money when in fact it will save us money in the long run. We have so many problems right now that could be addressed and possibly even fixed through the use of more sustainable business practices,” Freeman explained.

We can learn from states like California, where residents are offered financial incentives for installing solar panels and minimum energy standards are monitored in all new residential and nonresidential construction projects in an effort to make the state carbon neutral by 2045.

Said Freed, “I know that California has the 6th largest economy in the world. It seems like some of these states are hesitant to adopt their practices because they fear it will be so expensive, so where’s the disconnect? How can their economy be thriving if others say their policies cost too much money?”

Step 3: Cut out the toxins

A zero-waste building strategy would cut out unnecessary toxins commonly used by builders who tend to stick with their tried and true products rather than implementing eco-friendly supplies.

“Think of all the paints, caulking, sealants, adhesives, and all that liquidy gooey stuff in a building: all of those chemicals contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs,” Freeman said. “Those VOCs are known carcinogens. What makes it worse is that they have zero VOC versions of all those products available. While 15 years ago they were difficult to find, today they are pretty ubiquitous.”

If building chemicals aren’t good for the planet, they’re likely not good for us either. By making simple, smarter choices, contractors can reduce their carbon emissions and adopt safer and healthier building practices.

Step 4: Focus on the 5 main buckets

According to Freeman, builders should tick off a zero-waste, low-energy “bucket” list to ensure maximum carbon offsetting in every sustainable building project. His “buckets,” or green building strategies, are aimed at conserving energy and reducing harmful emissions while accommodating the environmental surroundings of each construction project:

  1. “Operational Energy (how much energy will it use?)”
  2. “Embodied Energy (how much energy went into constructing the building and materials?)”
  3. “Healthy Materials (how can we avoid harmful chemicals?)”
  4. “Resiliency (how can we adapt to a warmer, wetter world?)”
  5. “Zero Waste (how can we design out waste?)”

By rethinking traditional building operations to adapt to a changing climate, we can all stay ahead of the game, one bucket at a time.

Step 5: The snowball effect

We all leave behind our own carbon footprints regardless of the actions we might take to mitigate our impact on the plant, but Freeman encourages us all to focus on larger institutional changes rather than personal action. 

“Instead, we really need to ask our legislators and regulators to take bold steps to ensure a green future for everyone,” he said. “Vote with your dollars and support companies that are making these positive changes (conversely, do not support companies that don’t!).”

Bit by bit, despite pushback (in the many forms and places it appears) and the seemingly impending climate crisis knocking on our front doors, builders and remodelers can be part of a greater snowball effect, one capable of bringing real change to the construction industry and to the greater global community, as well. 

“You know, perhaps the biggest problem with climate change is not that people don't understand it, but rather that people feel climate change is such an insurmountably large problem that we don’t see how we can play a role in solving it. It’s so big that it has become an out of context problem. Maybe once people start to understand that, then they can start to realize that every snowflake in the avalanche pleads not guilty, but every snowflake can contribute to the avalanche.” 

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