5 Indicators to assess Sustainability in Built Environment

Sustainability is something that is being focused on by every industry for the wellbeing of our environment, society, and the economy. We have prepared a 5 point checklist for you to understand sustainability in the built environment, as you run down these points, you’ll realize how deeply intertwined they are. For a building to be called sustainable, it must meet these baseline criteria. 

Climate responsiveness

The focus of climate-responsive architecture is on occupant comfort, health, and wellbeing. The process involves assessing the climate on-site and then conceptualizing passive design for the building accordingly. Over time, basic frameworks for each climatic zone have been established, and integrating that wisdom into a structure by making site-specific modifications helps to a large extent. A good book to refer would be the Manual of Tropical Housing & Building by Otto Koenigsberger. Furthermore, using different tools and simulations for energy modeling, daylight studies, lighting models, etc. for a detailed analysis before design increases precision. Bioclimatic charts should be studied, and the building orientation should be in a way that natural ventilation suffices for the cooling requirement and natural light penetrates well inside the building, reducing the need for energy consumption.

Appropriate Material Selection

 Materials play a crucial role in determining the cost, degree of heat transfer, and durability of the constructed structure. Opting for locally available materials saves the operating costs and pollutants emitted during transportation, thereby attaining minimal embodied energy. Going by Gandhi’s philosophy, many green practitioners also try to fix a radius (say 30km from the site) within which all the building material is procured. Subsequently, these materials enhance our relationship with our vernacular wisdom, culture and establish a higher sense of belonging.

Minimizing the use of virgin material can also be a way to reduce the footprint and attain a higher rating in the case of green buildings. Due consideration should be given to the life-cycle assessment during the selection of materials and resources and their impact. Simply following the R-cycle in ascending order to achieve sustainability, Reduce Reuse Repurpose Recycle guides in making better decisions.

Water Efficiency 

Reducing consumption is the primary task for a building to be water-efficient, this can be done by using fixtures that have relatively lower water consumption. It is always a good idea to select water-saving toilets, faucets, reducing the flow of water in taps and showers, using sprinklers or drip irrigation systems for watering the landscape area. Installing devices like water meters also help in keeping a check and recording the consumption periodically. Large campuses can provide for rainwater harvesting systems to reduce the burden on municipal mains. Urban areas have a dense fabric and hence rooftop harvesting is advisable. However, at the site level, porosity in the ground surface can be maintained so that it lets water percolate easily and reduces surface runoff.

Energy Efficiency

We already understand that climate responsiveness and passive design can be a way to reduce the energy demands of a building, but there is more than that can be done. Employing the use of renewable sources like solar energy and being self-reliant for meeting the power demands of a house rather than relying on fossil fuels is one way to go about it. Appliances are major consumers of power in every household, air conditioners, washing machines, televisions, etc, cautious selection of which based on detailed calculations and their performance efficiency should be evaluated before decision making. Appliances are star-rated and labeled from one to five by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency for their performance, which can be a guiding light in the selection.

Contextual rootedness (local & social)

Our buildings should reflect who we are and our values, that’s when a structure feels accessible, ergonomic, and livable. Being true to the surroundings, the immediate context of the site, and the larger context which can be the city are imperial for a sustainable operation of the building. Responding to the above principles efficiently will in turn make the building contextually rooted, but it needs to boost other social aspects as well, for example locally sourced materials will contribute to the upliftment of the regional economy. 

Globalization has surfaced over and similar buildings with glass facades are exceedingly prevalent in most parts of the world these days. Materials like glass might not prove to be a wonderous for hot countries like Dubai or India if it is not effectively shaded and ends up increasing the energy demands of the building. Professionals in the fraternity must question the contextual belonging of such structures and strive for innovative solutions.

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