We’ll be the first to admit, our content has been a bit sombre recently. From discussing the potential financial obsolescence of commercial buildings, the severe impacts of climate change, and the dangers of the building industry’s emissions, we have been dedicated to highlighting the scary truths of the globe’s climate crisis. For good reason too – climate deadlines are approaching rapidly and an alarming amount of sustainability efforts and regulations are lackadaisical at best and ignorant at worst. To avoid reaching perilous tipping points, everyone in industry needs to work together.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Progress is being made, albeit perhaps slower than is necessary. So here are some that highlight some of the good that is being done in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperatures under the 1.5 degree threshold.
The Recyclable Building – Triodos Bank HQ
The headquarters of Triodos Bank, located in Zeist, Netherlands, is a one-of-a-kind feat of sustainable building creation. The building is constructed primarily from wood, storing over 1.6 million kilograms of CO2. Greenery and constructed pools allow for insect and bird biodiversity, and the HQ’s parking bay incorporates a large solar roof, generating electricity and charging the employees’ electric cars.
The most fascinating aspect of Triodos Bank HQ, however, is its ability to be recycled. Held together by 165,312 screws, everything but the foundations can be taken apart and rebuilt again. Triodos is setting an important precedent that highlights how construction and demolition can be a far greener and more sustainable process. As the architect Thomas Rau himself says: “A structure is not for eternity. This temporariness has become apparent by making everything re-assemblable”.
The building is a strong example of biophilic design. Biophilic design is all about harnessing the aesthetics and fundamentals of nature and bringing it into the office space. Not only does it have aesthetic merit, it’s also beneficial to employee health and productivity, with a study by Cornell University showing that natural lighting decreased employee eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision symptoms by 84%. Triodos Bank HQ’s biophilic design makes it not only sustainable, but an environment curated for productivity and comfort.
Setting An Energy-Positive Precedent – Powerhouse Brattørkaia
Located in Trondheim, Norway, Powerhouse Brattørkaia is the northernmost energy-positive building in the world. With its solar panels covering 2867 of its 17,800 square metre gross area, the building produces twice as much energy than it consumes on a daily basis. This 500,000 kWh per year goes towards powering the building, the neighbourhood around it, and Trondheim’s electric buses.
Energy efficiency is at the heart of Powerhouse Brattørkaia’s design. A number of methods, such as using seawater and intelligent air flow solutions, are implemented to reduce heating usage. Artificial light is kept to a minimum and only energy-efficient electrical appliances are used, making the building an example of how sustainability efforts can benefit not only a building itself, but those around it as well.
Another trend in smart developments is smart windows. Smart windows can be a fundamental piece to the energy efficiency puzzle, sensing who is in a room and adjusting environmental factors to make the most of natural energy and stop excess wastage. During winter, solar heat is radiated into the room to lower heating costs, and smart windows can even angle themselves to reduce glare. Smart windows are yet another example of how solar power can be harnessed to create sustainable environments.
Where Technology and Science Thrive – An Innovation District
The Milan Innovation District (MIND), in Italy, will be a 1 million square metre hub of science and sustainable growth. Headed by Lendlease Digital, the project will be a base of a number of prestigious Italian science and research companies.
Not only will the district implement humanistic design choices for a people-first environment, such as housing the longest linear park in Europe, MIND will utilise smart building technologies to create an environment that is sustainable and comfortable for its inhabitants. The district will be run entirely on renewable energy, and is developing an energy-efficient heating and cooling system for the area. Ultimately, MIND is aiming for complete carbon-neutrality by 2040, utilising cloud technology, the IoT, and artificial intelligence (AI) to produce no carbon emissions.
MIND is an ambitious example of how cities can and should be built in the future. Urban centres need to be developed with the focus on environmental and social impacts as the priority. Integration of AI and IoT technologies within building operating systems have been paving the way in growing sustainability and energy efficiency in the commercial real estate sector. Developers and management teams are now more than ever turning to retrofits to update their buildings’ technologies in order to cut operational costs and energy wastage. Now, MIND shows how this can be translated to a wider development, something that can be looked upon as the smart cities of the future are created.
Even the Toilet – Magnitude 314, A Carbon-Zero Building
Located in Milton Keynes, UK, Magnitude 314 has been dubbed the world’s first development to be carbon-zero from construction. The warehouse, spanning just over 29,000 square metres, was found to have 25.8% less embodied carbon than a traditional building, and has received a BREEAM Excellent rating as well as an EPC A grade.
The development has also implemented strong sustainability and energy efficiency measures to reduce its operational carbon output. Solar power is used for heating and lighting, low energy appliances like hand dryers are used throughout the building and its offices, and rainwater is harvested and recycled for toilet flushing. Any excess carbon is offset through climate-positive projects.
Wastewater recycling is another important aspect of sustainability within buildings, particularly as 63% of an office’s water consumption is made up of toilet water. Repurposing wastewater for non-potable (non-drinkable) use is a vital process to reducing the large amount of carbon emissions emitted when treating and moving water. 290 million tonnes of CO2 is released annually in the US alone due to these processes, making up 5% of the country’s annual carbon emissions.
The climate crisis is still very much that – a crisis. The languor of governing bodies and large corporations concerning making environmentally smart decisions has driven the planet dangerously close to exceeding the 1.5 degree temperature increase promised in the Paris Agreement. However, climate doomism must not befall us, as more and more smart solutions for reducing carbon emissions are emerging.
Of course, it’s important to recognise that these projects are very advanced and fairly rare. The tech needed for these hyper-sustainable ventures can be expensive, and until it becomes more widely accessible societally and financially, the world isn’t going to see a huge dip in overall carbon emissions. That being said, it’s still a very exciting time for climate technology right now, and the projects highlighted here, and ones like them, should be used as springboards for further action.