Innovative green investments – the future of modern development
For several years we have seen an increase in investments using ecological innovations, undoubtedly influenced by the smart technology used in the construction sector and investors’ and developers’ growing environmental awareness of the advantages such technology can bring.
Investors, developers and designers can use various technological developments to ensure that new buildings can be classified as green. Climate change requires a collective effort from all sectors of the economy. In the construction industry, the ecological trend is not yet dominant, but year on year we have seen an increase in investments of this type.
According to current studies, investors are becoming more interested in investing in innovative green projects to reduce the negative consequences of human activity on the natural environment. On the European market, the leaders in eco-innovative projects are countries such as Spain, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Portugal and Germany.1
Green architecture is not only environmentally friendly, but it is also:
- economical (eg reducing maintenance cost by decreasing energy consumption);
- social (eg securing healthy and safe living and working environments); and
- ecological (eg economical use of land).
From a practical point of view, ecological architecture is related to sustainable construction. This involves effective use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency (eg making use of south-facing building facades), the use of environmentally friendly and recyclable raw materials, prevention of air, water and soil pollution and integration with the natural and social environment.
Green roofs and facades
Eco innovation is not only environmentally friendly but can also have visual value. An example is plants on roofs and facades of buildings. Green roofs are becoming more common in modern architecture, especially in big cities, where greenery can be scarce.
Some of the advantages of green roofs and green building facades include:
- regulation of thermal conditions
- improved microclimate and air quality
- rainwater storage, which has a beneficial effect on water retention in urban areas
- noise reduction
- maintenance of biodiversity
- increased fire resistance
- prevention of mechanical damage to roof layers
Some countries, recognizing the benefits of green roofs, have decided to adopt legislation aimed at improving the ecological situation of larger cities. German citizens who decide to live in a building with a green roof can benefit from tax allowances. In the largest cities in Switzerland, the obligation to install greenery on all new buildings with flat roofs was introduced in 2002. In some metropolitan areas of the US, there are regulations according to which a green roof must be installed on every public facility, eg Chicago City Hall. One of the largest green roofs in Europe is located on the roof garden of the University Library in Warsaw, Poland. With an area of over 1 ha, the rooftop garden is very popular among residents and is also an attractive tourist spot.
Wood – alternative for steel and concrete
Concrete and steel are still the most popular building materials, but as part of the move towards more sustainable and green construction, designers are increasingly turning to wood.
Wooden buildings are not only attractive but also ecological, due to lower water consumption during material processing, and the construction process is much faster. That’s why there is global dynamic development of wood technology.
In Toronto, Canada, a 42 m office building is under construction almost entirely of wood, using CLT (cross-laminated timber) technology. This type of technology is suitable for the construction of commercial buildings, because it is almost as durable and fire-resistant as concrete.
Currently, the world's tallest building made of wood is in Norway. The Mjostarnet building stands at over 85 m, but Japanese designers plan to beat this record. An impressive skyscraper of around 350 m is to be built in Japan by 2041. The skyscraper will also be covered on all sides with lush greenery, which will contribute to the reduction of smog.
The advantages of wood are also recognized by national authorities, so more countries are introducing legislation that aims to popularize wooden construction. For example, the French government has announced plans for a sustainability law that will ensure all new public buildings are built from at least 50% timber or other natural materials.
A step towards green energy
Green energy production does not have to be limited to the use of natural resources with complex technologies. Thanks to the latest achievements in the field of technology, all of us can produce energy without much difficulty.
One of the most interesting solutions used for ecological energy production is kinetic floor tiles. The tiles use the kinetic energy from pedestrians stepping on them to generate energy that can be used to power various devices. The first such tiles were installed in the UK in 2010. There is already work in progress to apply this design in sustainable buildings.
Technology such as kinetic sidewalks in the UK are just one example of emerging technology capable of producing energy on a small scale. Other technologies currently under development include solutions that produce electricity from the heat emitted by our bodies. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have invented a material that can draw energy from both the sun and human movement, just like the kinetic tiles described above.
Ecological solutions aimed at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and creating eco-friendly buildings are not only limited to new investments. There are some solutions that can also be introduced in existing buildings:
- LED lighting – the easiest way to make any building environmentally friendly. LED lighting not only saves energy but provides the added benefit of cost savings. Sensors and natural tube lighting are additional energy-saving solutions. Sensors monitor room occupancy to preserve energy when rooms aren’t in use, while natural tube lighting can offer greater visibility to help reduce day-time energy consumption.
- Stormwater management – rain, melting snow and other water flowing into municipal stormwater systems is also key to green maintenance. The runoff water is directed to an onsite stormwater management system for quantity control and quality treatment.
- Solar power – use of this renewable energy source drives down carbon emissions, reduces costs and controls energy consumption. The large, flat roofs of most warehouses provide an ideal surface for solar panels to generate electricity.
Construction is one of the more important economic sectors that has a significant impact on the environment. It is inevitable that this sector too must take decisive steps towards a more sustainable use of natural resources. Let's hope that in the future, thanks to innovative technologies, the vast majority of investments will be able to proudly call themselves green.
1 A. Lewandowska: Eco-innovation in sustainable development - introduction (Polish: Ekoinnowacje w równoważonym budownictwie – wprowadzenie do zagadnienia) in: Biological and Environmental Education (Polish: Edukacja Biologiczna i Środowiskowa) (4/2015);