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Last edited 13 Oct 2021
Environmental - sustainable - green design
With huge emphasis being placed on global warming and the various agents that may or may not be responsible, many terms are used to describe the situation, some of which are not synonymous and may mislead if used incorrectly. Three terms that are commonly used are environmental, sustainability and green design. They are defined below.
This is a very general and indeed neutral term which can cover anything to do with the environment. It does not necessarily have to have any connotations linked to saving the planet and eco-friendliness or sustainability (see below). For example, a term such as ‘environmental science’ is a carbon-neutral term about all the subjects that try to describe how the physical environment is and behaves, with no particular emphasis on emissions, CO2 or recycling although these can be part of it. Similarly, ‘environmental factors’ can refer to the various agents acting upon individuals and which may have shaped their character with no necessary link to ecology.
Sustainable is a term that has clear environmental and ecological connotations. In general parlance, it means something that can be repeated without causing harmful impact. In modern environmental usage, a sustainable activity can be repeated ad infinitum without depleting the earth’s resources or having harmful impacts, whether to people, animals, society or the planet. Using timber in construction, for example, may be deemed sustainable if the origin (the woodland or forest from which the wood came) is managed sustainably and new saplings are planted to replace what has been uprooted. However, it is unsustainable if vast tracts of the Amazon (a major absorber of CO2) are cleared for cultivation and rearing livestock and which cannot be reasonably replaced. Generating electricity from coal is also not sustainable, because first, it results in vast amounts of CO2 emissions and b, because coal reserves are in finite supply, they cannot be renewed like wood can.
Green design is a term that is reserved for those aspects of design that consciously strive to make the end product as sustainable and as ecologically friendly as possible. Green design is possible in numerous areas such as, for example, in car and aircraft design to achieve better aerodynamics and save fuel.
In construction, a house that is designed along ‘green’ principles may incorporate a host of features that reduce the building’s carbon footprint. This can include thicker walls with greater insulation, optimal solar orientation, brises soleils for shading, geothermal piles, using a high content of recycled materials which do not have a high embodied energy content, require minimal maintenance and have a long life cycle; the ability to be easily recycled at the end of their service life is also important in green design. Where offices are concerned, green design may encompass biophilic design principles. Any building designed according to green principles is necessarily sustainable and environmentally friendly.
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