Sustainable architecture, a further step towards halting climate change
Patricia Malo de Molina, Abengoa’s Chief Communication Officer
Combating climate change can be approached through numerous actions and initiatives, some of which have been dealt with in previous articles of this blog. In this case, I wish to refer to sustainable architecture, a term which was coined officially for the first time in the report entitled “Our Common Future”, presented by Gro Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway, at the 42nd session of the United Nations held in 1987.
Sustainable architecture is architecture which seeks to enhance the efficiency of the resources employed, is beneficial and productive for its occupants, maximizes return on investment throughout its lifecycle, and, through efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources, generates low environmental impact.
Some architecture experts, such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill have been pursuing energy efficiency in their architectural designs for years. Indeed, it is estimated that buildings of this kind can reduce general energy consumption by 30 percent; greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 35 percent; water use by between 30 and 50 percent; and lower costs by 50 to 90 percent compared to conventional designs.
Energy efficiency is achieved in these types of buildings by implementing efficient solar heating and cooling systems; the use of recycled materials with a low energy content, and by designing devices that enable energy self-supply.
Concern and interest behind favoring these designs has led to the creation of a variety of associations and institutions that share a common objective: environmentally-conscious building and construction. Thus, in 1997, the UNESCO created the Sustainable Building Alliance (SBA), a non-profit institution which brings together universities, research centers and architects dedicated to defining universal systems for the environmental assessment of buildings and urban zones.
Another noteworthy organization is the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), made up of members of the U.S. business community associated with the construction sector and concerned about environmental conservation. The USGBC has designed an international system for classifying sustainable buildings, a voluntary procedure known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in which a maximum score of 69 may be obtained.
The LEED certification system involves six scoring categories that vary in weight according to their importance in terms of sustainable architecture: energy and atmosphere (17 points), interior quality (15 points), sustainable location (14 points), material resources (13 points), water efficiency (5 points), and innovation and design (5 points). Based on the results of this assessment, building projects are awarded the corresponding level of certification: platinum (52 to 69 points), gold (39 to 51 points), silver (33 to 38 points), and certified (26 to 32 points).
Spain, on the other hand, introduced its new Technical Building Code in 2006. In addition to providing a regulatory framework for building projects, the code is intended to promote innovation and technological development in construction, limiting a building’s energy demand, fomenting higher efficiency of heating and lighting installations, and requiring that a minimum portion of the energy supply come from thermal solar and photovoltaic sources.
In addition to the benefits of this approach to building as far as protecting the environment is concerned, these structures are also cost-effective in the long run. In fact, according to a study conducted by Siemens and McGraw-Hill Construction, which conducted among 190 U.S. companies, revealed that 63 percent of the CEOs surveyed recognized the benefits, both financial and in terms of market differentiation, of boasting an environmentally sustainable building. In fact, 57 percent of these executives expressed their belief that promoting sustainable building within their companies would also favor corporate innovation.
This trend is gaining ground in Europe, where many companies have opted for headquarters that are both sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Noteworthy architectural examples are the Iberdrola Tower in Bilbao; the Agbar Tower in Barcelona; Metrovacesa’s Alvento business park; Madrid’s Glass Tower, and the Sanitas headquarters in Madrid.
At Abengoa we have also embraced a commitment to ecological building, manifested in the construction of our new headquarters, Campus Palmas Altas. This building features cutting-edge environmental technologies that help minimize electricity use: photovoltaic panels, a trigeneration plant, hydrogen cells, and efficient HVAC and lighting systems, among others.
It seems evident that ecological building, besides being an environmental alternative, offers an attractive option from an economic standpoint. And, furthermore, when combined with state-of-the-art architectural design, acts as a symbol in the dawn of a new environmental paradigm.