Green buildings are gaining momentum around the globe given their economical and environmental value. Within the last 10 years, the international market for green construction projects has grown remarkably, and is expected to continue growing in the coming years.
According to Dodge Data & Analytics’ World Green Building Trends SmartMarket report, 2018 saw green building trends rise globally such as:
- Increased use of rating systems to make better buildings, and as a result yielded higher marketability and competitive advantage compared to non-certified buildings.
- Climate change remains a prominent driver for green buildings, with over 70% of respondents in the study stating that lowered greenhouse gas emissions are their main reasons for transitioning to green building.
- The barriers to green buildings have declined gradually, but cost often mistakenly remains a concern.
- Social benefits such as occupant health and wellness has seen an increased drive in the green building industry, reflecting a shift in focus to people in the built environment, and not buildings alone.
- Since 2015, there has been an increase in new high-rise residential buildings
So what does 2019 have in store for the green building industry? We asked our team what they thought are some of the emerging (or ongoing) green building trends for 2019:
1. Net Zero Buildings
Buildings consume high percentages of the earth’s resources, making it imperative to transform the built environment into one that is resource efficient. We believe that 2019 will see a continued rise in certified net zero projects which seek to completely neutralise or positively redress their carbon emissions, water consumption, solid waste to landfill and/or their impacts on ecology.
The World Green Building Council launched a global initiative “Advancing Net Zero” to promote and accelerate the development of net zero carbon buildings to 100% by 2050 for all new and existing buildings. Whilst this is an ambitious goal, it is definitely encouraging building owners to re-evaluate how their buildings operate or are designed in order to remain mindful of the effects, both positive and negative, that such a structure and the operations within can have on the environment.
In the context of South Africa, the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) is not only meeting the specifications of the Advancing Net Zero programme, but has surpassed the boundaries of the framework by including not just carbon but water, waste and ecology in the certification as well. This has set a new frontier for property owners and investors to be awarded for going the extra mile in their journey to demonstrating leadership in sustainability.
In October 2017, the GBCSA announced the Net Zero certification at the annual Green Building Convention, where 4 pilot projects were certified net zero, including our project Two Dam Sustainable, a sustainable trout farm in Montagu, Western Cape that was certified Net Zero Carbon. The other projects that were named net zero are: 1.) Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre in Midrand certified Net Zero Carbon and Ecology, Gauteng, 2.) Estuaries Plaza in Century City, Cape Town certified Net Zero Water, and 3.) Greenfields Industrial Park in Cape Town certified Net Zero Carbon.
2. Existing Building Greening and Certification
With buildings consuming on average 30% of the world’s energy, and greenhouse gas emissions increasing year after year, the global interest in meeting the energy needs of the built environment in a more efficient and sustainable manner remains critical.
Countries around the world are waking up to the urgency of keeping carbon emissions low to mitigate climate change, which places high demand on existing buildings to become greener and more energy efficient. This results in a higher need for both existing and new buildings to be certified green, which we believe is a trend that will enjoy continued growth in 2019. One of the factors that will contribute to the surge of buildings becoming certified in the context of South Africa is the potential introduction of the carbon tax in 2019.
But what is a carbon tax?
A carbon tax penalises companies and individuals that exceed their carbon budget with higher tax rates. The carbon tax in South Africa is schedule to be in effect from the 1st of June 2019. The purpose of this will be to incentivise businesses and indirectly individuals to re-evaluate their carbon intensive behaviours to become more cognisant of their consumption levels so as to choose low carbon alternatives and ultimately reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The carbon tax will therefore enable South Africa to meet its nationally-determined contribution commitments according to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, as well as reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in line with the National Climate Change Response Policy and National Development Plan (Frankson, 2018).
There is no limit to the extent to which a building can be energy efficient. We believe 2019 will see a continued increase in buildings introducing small scale innovations such as the installation of LED lights, motion sensors and energy-efficient appliances, as well as larger scale initiatives such as photovoltaic system installations and wind turbines as well as incorporating energy efficiency into the design phase of a building to passively optimise natural light, ventilation and insulation.
Green building certification systems will therefore, in our opinion, gain popularity due to building owners and investors seeking solutions to decrease their carbon consumption. Rating systems such as EDGE and Green Star will allow building owners and investors to ensure resource efficiency, especially energy, when aiming to meet carbon tax restrictions.
A green building certification like EDGE, which stands for Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies, is aimed at increasing resource efficiency in terms of energy, water and materials, and requires buildings to achieve a minimum saving of 20% in operational energy, water usage as well as embodied energy.
Green Star Certification
The Green Star SA certification was developed by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) and recognises environmental leadership in the green building industry, specifically pertaining to South Africa and Africa. The certification promotes integrated, whole building design while reducing the environmental impact of the built environment. The Green Star SA tools are based on 9 categories, each with a range of credits that address sustainability aspects of a buildings design, construction, and operation.
Such certifications aid building owners and investors in reducing the carbon footprint of their buildings and in turn contribute towards meeting their assigned carbon tax restrictions.
3. Smart Buildings Coupled with Distributed Energy Systems
You have probably heard the term “smart building” being used to describe the advancement of technological developments within the built environment. A smart building is a structure that makes use of automated processes to optimise a building’s performance through controlling operations such as heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, security and other systems (Tracy, 2016). Through the use of sensors, meters, actuators and controllers, a smart building is able to collect data and manage it according to various functions and services, thus facilitating building owners, operators and managers to improve a building’s performance as well as minimise its environmental impact.
With non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels becoming increasingly unreliable and unhealthy for the planet, more diverse and complex systems of energy generation are creating opportunities for building owners to seek new avenues of energy sources. Both existing as well as new buildings need to be built with renewable energy sources and smart energy systems at their core. With the integration of Distributed Energy Systems (DES), buildings can achieve exactly that.
But what are Distributed Energy Systems?
Distributed Energy Systems (DES) is a term coined to encompass an array of generation, storage, energy monitoring and control solutions. DES covers energy in the forms of electricity, heating and cooling, thus offering building owners and energy consumers various opportunities to reduce cost as well as improve the reliability and security of additional revenue (Distributed Energy Systems, 2018).
A smart energy building is therefore able to integrate DES into its design and operations according to users’ requirements to lower energy costs, increase energy efficiency and secure energy supply whilst reducing carbon emissions.
4. Resilience against Climate Change
With extreme climate conditions becoming a reality around the world, from droughts, flooding and tsunamis, to wildfires and hurricanes, a main green building trend that will carry over into 2019 will be the resilience of buildings against climate change. Building owners will therefore need to consider mitigation measures in the design and construction of their buildings so that they operate on a resilient level against extreme weather pattern changes.
This has been occurring on a micro scale in Cape Town due to the extreme drought conditions experienced in and around the city. The drought significantly affected the building, construction, and property industries, and saw many households and businesses alike having to reassess their current water consumption and decide to install water-saving and drought-resistant technology to mitigate the effects of low water supply. This included systems such as rainwater tanks, grey water reuse, flow restriction interventions and many other creative innovations to save, store and reuse water. Building owners thus need to take this in stride as the water crisis remains prominent in the Cape presently and in the foreseeable future due to climate changes.
5. Eco-Friendly Initiatives
2018 was the year of the anti-single-use-movement, and the proof is in the pudding with “single use” being named word of the year. We believe that the environmental movement of refusing single use packaging will spill over into 2019 and gain even more traction, with buildings, businesses, cities and even some countries banning some single use items. Common items such as coffee cups, straws, plastic bags, plastic cutlery and polystyrene takeaway boxes will be replaced with eco-friendly alternatives such as wooden cutlery, biodegradable packaging and reusable coffee cups and straws.
The effects of climate change has also resulted in built areas being affected severely by changes in weather patterns. The demand for water saving devices such as toilet stops and low-flow tap fittings will therefore continue growing, especially in drought-stricken areas such as the Western Cape.
The value of having plants present indoors is also increasingly being recognised and integrated into the design of buildings. More and more businesses are becoming aware of the benefits of having greenery present in their offices, which include:
- Filtering out toxins, providing occupants with cleaner, fresher air.
- Providing occupants with a connection to nature, which boosts environmental consciousness.
- Improving acoustics by reducing the amount of reverberates in a room.
- Reducing stress by uplifting occupants’ mood which increases well-being and performance.
- Increasing creativity and productivity by psychologically engaging occupants.
- Reducing sick days and absenteeism through improved air quality which also reduces fatigue, concentration problems, and illnesses.
6. Alternative Building Materials
While civilisation has heavily relied on concrete to build structures, its carbon footprint has led architects and engineers to look into alternative building materials. There has been a surge in alternative building material interest around the world, and 2019 will see accelerated growth in such materials being used that are both durable and have lower environmental impacts. Take a look at some alternative building materials to conventional concrete:
Grasscrete is a method of laying concrete flooring, walkways, parking lots and driveways in a way that allows patterns of grass and flora to grow. This creates a natural bio-filter and reduces the need for concrete usage while improving storm-water absorption and drainage.
Bamboo has been used as a traditional building material for centuries, and has recently gained popularity for its sustainability in green buildings. Bamboo is a cost-effective building material as it is easily grown and harvested, making it a sustainable building material source, not to mention its aesthetic appeal too in building design.
Plastics lifespan in building and construction application is 30 to 50 years, making it a durable and long-lasting building material. With the growing plastic pollution crisis threatening the natural environment, researchers are starting to create concrete that has added recycled plastics, which reduces the need of mining and extracting new building material components. This way, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced as well as the amount of plastic entering landfills and polluting the environment.
Wood has long been used as a sustainable building material source, because not only do trees absorb carbon dioxide, but also require a lot less energy-intensive processing methods when transformed into construction products. Using wood in construction also results in buildings having less embodied energy. One of the downsides to tree plantations, however, is the eradication of biodiversity to make way for growing trees, but if it is properly managed and sustainably grown, such plantations can ensure that biodiversity is protected.
Mycelium is an eco-friendly building material that is completely natural. Made from the root structure of fungi and mushrooms, mycelium can be grown around a composite of other natural materials then air-dried to create a lightweight insulation material that can be used in place of bricks and other shapes used in construction.
Hempcrete, made from hemp wood, water and lime, is a sustainable building material that is durable and long-lasting. The hemp bricks are non-toxic, solvent free, mold resistant as well as fire and pest resistant. Hempcrete is also passively self-regulating of temperatures and humidity, making it a great building material that assists in thermal comfort regulation of a building.
Light Steel Frame Structures
Light steel frame building consists of structural wall frames and roof trusses. It has been used as an alternative building technology to conventional building materials due to its durability, cost-effectiveness, low environmental footprint and design flexibility.
Reused Shipping Containers
Using shipping containers as a building alternative after their lifespan has become a trend in the building industry, with architects making use of this durable material source to create interesting, modern structures. Referred to as “cargotecture” or “container architecture”, reused shipping containers can be transformed into any structure: from houses and schools to stores, restaurants and even hotels. They are a durable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly material source as no concrete is needed in construction, and are quicker to assemble compared to other building materials.
While these trends remain predictions based on what we as Ecolution have observed in the green building industry, we believe that each of these factors will experience heightened awareness and development in the coming year(s), with emphasis on sustainable alternatives not only in building materials but also everyday products and functions in response to the global environmental crises.
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