Eco-friendly buildings and construction techniques have taken center stage as a trend that is here to stay. From sustainable home builds to billion-dollar commercial developments, eco-friendly buildings are becoming the norm.
So what, exactly, is an eco-friendly building? What makes it sustainable? And how can you use these principles to make your own home more eco-friendly?
In this guide, we exploring everything you need to know about eco-friendly buildings. We cover what defines an eco-friendly building, the goals, techniques, and materials used in sustainable construction, and how to make your building more eco-friendly.
We also look at five examples of eco-friendly buildings from around the world to inspire and motivate you to go a little greener!
Let’s jump right in!
Skip to What You Need
- 1 What is an Eco-friendly Building?
- 2 Eco-friendly Building: Goals, Techniques, and Materials
- 3 What Are the Benefits of Eco-Friendly Buildings?
- 4 5 Eco-Friendly Buildings to See Around the World
- 5 3 Ways to Make Your Building More Eco-friendly
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 References and Useful Resources
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Eco-friendly Building?
An eco-friendly building is a building that uses fewer natural resources and produces fewer emissions and waste. Some green buildings even create a positive impact on the environment around them and contribute to improving the global climate.
Check out this video by Undecided with Matt Ferrell on Green Buildings and the Future of Construction for a quick snapshot:
Eco-friendly buildings are also designed to be beneficial to the people within those spaces. Improved ventilation, insulation, and natural lighting have a positive effect on the occupants of the building and lead to improved health, productivity, and overall quality of life.
So, what exactly makes a building eco-friendly?
Here are some of the features that define a building as eco-friendly:
- Energy efficiency and conservation: measures to reduce energy consumption and maximize the efficiency of the energy used.
- Renewable Energy: using renewable energy like solar and wind power to meet the needs of the building in whole or in part.
- Effective use of water: water use reduction efficiency and greywater recycling.
- Effective waste and emissions management: use of measures to reduce waste generation and facilitate reuse and recycling. Implementation of measures to minimize or offset emissions and pollution, especially air and water pollution.
- Sustainable Construction Materials: the building is built with materials that are non-toxic, ethically, and sustainably sourced from suppliers with the least environmental impact.
- Environmentally Conscious Construction Methods: the use of construction techniques that focus on reducing the impact of construction on the surrounding natural environment by reducing noise and light pollution and protecting local flora and fauna from harm during the construction phase.
- Harmonious Design: buildings designed to make the most of features like natural lighting and ventilation for heating/cooling. Designed to fit harmoniously into the surrounding natural environment and contribute to the preservation of local ecology.
- Socially Responsible Design: buildings designed to be beneficial to their human occupants and improve their health and well-being.
- Circular Life-cycle Design: buildings designed with their full life-cycle in mind, from conception to operation, and from renovation and adaptation to eventual demolition.
Green or sustainable buildings are designed to be eco-friendly and can include any number of the features above.
The features chosen will depend on the type of building, its location, and intended use. Different countries and cities also have different building regulations and those need to be met in conjunction with the building and city’s green objectives.
Eco-friendly Building: Goals, Techniques, and Materials
Now that we have looked at what makes a building eco-friendly, let’s look at why these features are important and the goals we aim to achieve through sustainable construction practices.
The primary aim of any eco-friendly building is to minimize the building’s negative impacts and maximize its positive contribution to the natural environment.
How this is achieved and how it ties into other objectives, such as improved occupant health and reduced maintenance costs, will depend on the type of structure, the location, and the intended use of the building.
The most efficient and effective methods to employ will vary widely based on these factors. The things that make an urban office block eco-friendly won’t necessarily be the most important considerations for countryside hotel or a small, rural, hospital.
However, overall, the features we listed above should always aim to achieve the following goals:
- Efficient resource use
- Provision for resource recycling
- Effective waste management and minimization
- Promoting human health, well-being, and productivity
- Limiting/offsetting carbon emissions and air pollution
- Environmentally friendly throughout the life cycle, including materials recovery at demolition
- Reduced operational and maintenance costs
- Multi-use and able to be adapted to different uses over time
- Aesthetically pleasing design that is attractive and adds value to the surrounding area
- Utilizing sustainable materials and techniques, throughout the building’s lifetime
When buildings are designed with the goals above in mind, they become more eco-friendly and more sustainable in the long term. They’re effective and efficient spaces that are highly usable and enjoyable for the people inside them and beneficial to the environment around them.
Eco-Friendly Building Techniques
Sustainable construction methods have evolved considerably over the last decade and are constantly being refined and improved.
Awareness of environmental issues and the impacts of the construction process on the natural environment have increased, leading to better ‘best practices’ for the industry and tighter legislation controlling how construction is conducted.
These vary from location to location and are usually considered during the design and planning stages of development. However, the guiding principles behind these measures remain the same and are closely aligned to the goals of eco-friendly construction above.
Have a look at this video by Jack Graham on sustainable construction:
When it comes to eco-friendly construction techniques, the key areas to consider are resource use and waste generation:
- Use resources and materials that are renewable, sustainable, and ethically sourced
- Make use of reclaimed and recycled materials as far as possible
- Limit the waste generated by construction, reuse as many materials as possible and dispose of any unusable materials as responsibly as possible
- Make use of methods and techniques that produce the least emissions and pollution
- Use locally sourced materials and labor
- Focus on energy and water conservation during and after the build
With the above in mind, eco-friendly building techniques often focus on temperature control and energy reduction through insulation, wall thickness, double glazing of windows, and other design measures to maximize the efficiency of the building.
Environmentally conscious builders will often make use of renewable energy during construction. They also focus on water conservation and recovery, using non-toxic materials and using materials that have been reclaimed or recycled.
Eco-friendly Building Materials
When it comes to eco-friendly building materials, some focus on using new materials with great ‘green credentials’ and those who focus on reusing materials that may not be as eco-friendly as their modern counterparts. Others combine these approaches.
The route taken is often determined by the specifics of the project, the budget, and the long-term aims of the development. New, innovative, eco-friendly materials can require a large initial investment, which will be recovered over time in savings on utilities (and tax concessions in some areas).
Reclaimed or repurposed materials are considerably cheaper but it can be challenging to find exactly what is needed, in the right quantity and to the right specifications. Generally, reclaimed materials are used in smaller, more flexible projects and home builds.
Examples of eco-friendly building materials include:
- Reclaimed Timber
- Recycled Steel
- Mycelium – mushroom insulation and particleboard replacement
- Bark siding
- Tesla Solar Roof Shingles
- Adobe And Rammed Earth
- Grasscrete Paving
- Insulated Concrete Forms
- Plant-Based Polyurethane Rigid Foam
- Straw Bales
- Structural Insulated Panels
- Plastic Composite Lumber
- Bamboo and Hemp
- Low-Emissivity Window Glass
- Vacuum Insulation Panels
Right, we have looked at the features that make a building eco-friendly, the goals of sustainable construction, and the methods and materials used to build eco-friendly buildings.
Now, let’s look at the benefits of eco-friendly buildings and why we should all be supporting sustainable construction and green buildings:
What Are the Benefits of Eco-Friendly Buildings?
Broadly, the benefits of eco-friendly buildings can be divided into three main categories: environmental, economic, and social benefits.
The benefits within each category overlap to some extent and different green buildings may provide more benefits in one area than another. However, all eco-friendly buildings offer at least some benefit in all three areas.
Let’s look at some of the key aspects within each category of benefits:
Environmental Benefits of Eco-Friendly Buildings
Eco-friendly buildings are built with the natural environment in mind. They are designed and constructed to conserve natural resources, produce less waste and emissions, and utilize sustainable materials, that have been ethically sourced.
In some cases, they can even result in positive impacts for the environment through carbon capture, providing habitat for flora and fauna, and promoting local ecological health. They’re also able to provide natural resources to the local area, such as solar power to supplement local energy needs.
The environmental benefits of eco-friendly buildings contribute to slowing down climate change, reducing greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.
Buildings that meet green building requirements, such as LEED and Green Building Council standards, use fewer resources by between 11% and 60% when compared to minimum industry standards, depending on the certification requirements of their local ‘green authority’.
Economic Benefits of Eco-Friendly Buildings
There are many economic benefits of eco-friendly buildings. These benefits include:
- Reduced utility bills for tenants and owners as electricity and water resources are used more efficiently and supplemented with renewable energy
- Lower construction costs and higher property values
- Higher occupancy rates and increased productivity for businesses
- Lower operational and maintenance costs
- Contribute to the city and countrywide savings on electricity and water, as well as waste management
- Job creation in growing sectors that deal specifically with green or sustainable construction and maintenance
- Contribute to growing green industries that manufacture materials and technology for renewable energy and other sustainable materials
- Contribute to local economies when locally sourced materials are used to reduce environmental impacts from the manufacture and transportation of materials
- Tax concessions and financial incentives boost development in areas where these are offered, which boosts local economies and in turn reduces the burden on the state to meet the demands of a growing local economy and greater development.
Social benefits of Eco-Friendly Buildings
Eco-friendly buildings contribute to positive social impacts for their occupants, neighbors, and broader communities. These benefits include:
- Better health and well-being for people who live and work in eco-friendly buildings
- Increased cognitive scores and productivity for people working in green, well-ventilated spaces
- Better sleep associated with reduced stress levels and improved mood for those living and working in buildings designed to be green and beneficial to human health and well-being
5 Eco-Friendly Buildings to See Around the World
The Edge – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Located in Amsterdam, Netherlands, The Edge is an office block that features a large glass atrium and expansive open spaces, walled with windows. The building is a smart building, operated from an app. It is focused on being a green building and on occupant comfort and productivity.
Lighting and power use reduction are at the core of The Edge’s green credentials. Power to the building is from the solar panels that cover the exterior. Internal climate is controlled through a system that pumps warmer and cooler water from an aquifer to different levels in the building.
In place of traditional lights, the building utilizes a combination of natural light and sensor-controlled LEDs that adjust their brightness as needed. This helps the building save up to 80% of the power it would require if it used traditional electric lights running at a steady level constantly.
Natural lighting can be controlled through the app, which allows occupants to open or close their window blinds as needed.
The innovative, smart design and their impressive reduction of power usage helped The Edge achieve a BREEAM score of 98.3%!
Acros Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall – Fukuoka, Japan
Situated in Fukuoka, Japan, the Acros Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall is a mixed-use building that houses government offices, exhibition centers, and a concert hall.
The building is a synthesis of functional building and open, green space. One side of the building is a commercial building and the other is an impressive, terraced garden that doubles as recreational spaces for the inhabitants of Fukuoka to enjoy.
The terraced gardens help to regulate building temperatures and reduce power consumption while providing valuable habitat for local fauna within an otherwise densely developed urban area.
Bosco Verticale – Milan, Italy
The Bosco Verticale towers in Milan, Italy, are a pair of residential towers that house a combination of human tenants and a huge variety of plant and animal species.
The luxury apartment blocks were designed to house natural plant life, including fully grown trees, that are the equivalent of one hectare of natural forest.
The building also uses innovative geothermic heat pump technology to regulate temperatures and reduce power consumption. Power is supplemented through solar panels on the building.
With Gold LEED Certification, the ‘vertical forest’ provides valuable habitat and has created a thriving ecosystem within the city. The building and its lush vegetation serve to capture carbon (19.000 kg/year) and produce oxygen (18.980 kg/year) within a metropolitan area. This contributes positively to climate change, as well as reducing air pollution.
Vancouver Convention Centre West – Vancouver, Canada
The west building of the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, Canada, was the first green building to achieve double Platinum LEED certification.
For its human occupants and visitors, the building serves as a combination of convention center spaces, retail outlets, art galleries, and numerous public open spaces. The building makes use of solar power to reduce energy consumption and also utilizes seawater pumped through the building to regulate temperatures.
A 6-acre rooftop garden covers the roof, providing habitat for local flora and fauna, as well as four colonies of bees. The roof slopes to facilitate drainage, water purification, and preservation, and the spread of seeds from the gardens.
Below, the shorefront portion of the building is built on columns in the sea, which support five tiers at different depths for a variety of marine habitats.
This has created a complete shoreline ecosystem that includes tens of different species, such as salmon, crabs, starfish, and shellfish. In addition to the fully submerged habitats, there are tidal habitats created by runnels that flush and drain daily beneath the building.
The Vancouver Convention Centre is a great example of how we can design and operate buildings that seamlessly integrate human and ecological interests to the best benefit of both.
One Central Park (Sydney, Australia)
One Central Park is a mixed-use residential and retail building in Sydney, Australia. The two residential towers and six-level shopping center are positioned on the edge of a park, which doesn’t end where the buildings begin!
One Central Park hosts hanging gardens that extend up the façade of the towers and rooftop gardens on top of the lower levels.
The building is largely self-sufficient, using a low carbon tri-generation power plant and an internal membrane bioreactor water recycling plant. This, and their contributions to reducing emissions and air pollution earned One Central Park a 5 Star Award Certification from the Green Building Council of Australia.
3 Ways to Make Your Building More Eco-friendly
We have focused above on how to build an eco-friendly building but how do you make an existing building more eco-friendly?
Here are three things you can do today to make your building more eco-friendly:
Electricity – Use Less and Supplement with Renewable Energy
Supplementing your electricity supply with energy from renewable sources like solar and wind energy is a great option that is readily available in most locations. While there is an initial investment required, the savings on your power bill and tax concessions or incentives will usually more than pay for the initial outlay.
When it comes to reducing the amount of power you use, look at switching off plugs when appliances are not in use, installing smart plugs, and replacing (only when needed) old appliances with smart appliances that use less power.
You can also look at your insulation and find ways to reduce your reliance on electrical heating and cooling. Proper insulation and double-glazed windows can significantly reduce the energy you need to control your temperatures. Smart thermostats can also help you fine-tune your internal temperatures so as not to waste energy.
Water – Use Less and Recycle Your Greywater
Water use can be cut back considerably by installing water-saving showerheads and faucets. Switching out your old ones for water-wise options is an inexpensive exercise that will have a big impact – on your bills and on the environment.
Greywater recycling is also a great way to reuse water from baths, hand basins, and kitchen sinks. A simple system to capture greywater is inexpensive and will allow you to re-use this water to flush toilets and water the garden.
Re-using water in this way saves treated, clean drinking water from being wasted on applications that don’t need the water to be treated. It also reduces the burden on local treatment works, saving energy and reducing pollution.
Renovate with Sustainable Materials, Fittings, and Fixtures
When you need to renovate, upgrade or repair your building – use sustainable materials and methods to do so. You don’t need to demolish your building to create an eco-friendly one in its place – a gradual transition will do just fine!
Look for materials that are sourced locally and renewable or recycled, such as reclaimed timber and recycled plastic insulation. Whatever feature you’re repairing or replacing, there is always going to be a greener option you can upgrade to – do a little research and find the options that will work best for your location and your preferences.
In conclusion, the principles behind eco-friendly buildings and sustainable construction are simple and easy to apply. The aim is always to conserve natural resources and use resources efficiently while providing value to the local ecology and community and reducing the negative impacts on the environment associated with building development, operation, and eventual demolition.
In this guide, we have covered what it means for a building to be eco-friendly, what the features of green buildings are, the techniques and materials used to achieve the goals of sustainable constriction, and looked at some examples of the best eco-friendly buildings around the world.
We also looked at ways to make your building more eco-friendly, so you can get started right away!
References and Useful Resources
Elemental Green: Passive House Explained in 90 Seconds (Video)
Green Consult Global: Green Building Certification: UK
Iberdrola: The ‘Green’ Buildings Leading The Way To More Sustainable and Efficient Urban Planning
InHabitat: 11 Green Building Materials That Are Way Better Than Concrete
Passive House Institute: Passive House Requirements
US Green Building Council: LEED Certification Rating System
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an eco-friendly building?
An eco-friendly building is a building that uses fewer natural resources and produces fewer emissions and waste. Some green buildings even create a positive impact on the environment around them and contribute to improving the global climate. Eco-friendly buildings are designed to be sustainable throughout their life-cycle.
What is sustainable construction?
Sustainable construction is the practice of designing, constructing, and operating/maintaining buildings that have the smallest possible impact on the natural environment and climate.
How can I make my building more eco-friendly?
There are many things you can do to make an existing building more eco-friendly. Three easy things you can do are:
1. Electricity – Use Less and Supplement with Renewable Energy
2. Water – Use Less and Recycle Your Greywater
3. Renovate with Sustainable Materials, Fittings, and Fixtures