The United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The property development industry has the opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of both the building construction phase and the ongoing consumption of energy through the long-term use of the building.
The most obvious improvement to energy consumption comes from the more efficient use of resources such as water and energy as well as materials used in the construction of the property.
The material used in both the build and the fit-out also plays a significant role in the environmental impact of a new building. To choose construction materials that are truly sustainable, consideration must be given to:
The embodied energy of the materials
Embodied energy is generated through the development of the material itself via such activities as mining, manufacturing and transportation. The recycling and repurposing of used ones is an ideal way to reduce high levels of embodied energy. If construction calls for new products, then brick or timber are the best choices and will generate the lowest embodied energy levels. At the other end of the spectrum, options such as plastics will contribute to a high level of embodied energy for the new construction.
The ongoing maintenance and eventual disposal of the materials
A common analysis used to assess the environmental impact of a building is the life cycle assessment (LCA). The LCA is a scientific tool that tests the impact of materials at each stage.
- The resources required to manufacture the material or product.
- The energy used to transport the same.
- The resources and energy used to dispose it. The ability to recycle the material or product once it is no longer needed in this particular development will have a positive impact on this assessment.
Green operational product and process is essential
Efficient energy and water systems are essential if a building is to be truly sustainable. Renewable energy, water conservation and efficient waste disposal should be planned as part of the design stage. Some simple and practical steps in the ongoing efficiency of the building include sufficient insulation, the filling of gaps to limit energy loss, efficient lighting options and usage of energy efficient appliances throughout the property.