If you search for the definition of sustainability you will find something like: “Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions.” So I ask you then, how could a society become more sustainable than through sustainable design? That is constructing the places that we live and work to be healthy, energy efficient, comfortable, long lasting and inviting?
Sustainable design in our buildings
Sustainable design has not been the focus of the construction of buildings in North America and most of the world during our modern times. It seems that our economic system and the throw away mentality of most of the goods that we consume has been shifted into how we think about our homes and workplaces. When you consider that a home (or any other building for that matter) is at least a 50 to 100 year gamble on the price and availability of the energy necessary to heat and cool that building, this thought pattern is very backwards indeed. This mentality has perpetuated itself into a problem because currently North America buildings consume the most energy per sector in the economy. If you are concerned about climate change, this is a real problem. It’s absurdity becomes more obvious when you consider that we can actually build homes and other buildings to produce as much, if not more energy than they consume on a yearly annual basis. Compound this with the understanding that many buildings focus on amenities which not only cost money when installed new but are meant to be replaced (and hence discarded) as peoples tastes change. This illustrates a lack of sustainable design because of the depletion of resources associated with replacing components. While aesthetic preferences are wired into our human psychology, they shouldn’t outweigh the long term concerns. This focus on temporary style rather than enduring performance has created a situation that is the exact opposite of sustainable.
So I ask you, shouldn’t we be planning our society in a way that these long term assets contribute to making a better world while also reducing our societal dependence on non-sustainable sources of energy, namely fossil fuels? The good news is that with a little bit of thought and planning, every new home and building can be constructed to produce or harvest energy in a cost-effective manner while providing beautiful lighting, and a healthy inviting space. This can even be done without adding significantly to project cost or while greatly reducing the monthly costs associated with heating or cooling even in the harshest of climates. With the proper understanding, this mindset transfers to existing buildings which can become more sustainable through energy and water efficiency. This is really quite simple. You can learn more about this for free here.
To sum up, sustainable design means that few materials are wasted during construction, the building being created has a long life, minimal negative impact to its surroundings and it uses energy intelligently to provide its occupants with a safe, healthy, comfortable and cost-effective place to be. A sustainable building that takes these things into account is one which is truly future proof™.