Saturday, 28 October 2017

Today's most sustainable building. Not.

I occasionally check what Google turns up, if I just enter 'world's most sustainable building' in the search.  I am an optimist.  I expect the list to update, and the candidates to get ever closer to model sustainability.

But so far I have generally been disappointed.  Few buildings seem to rise to the top as contenders, even fewer pretenders drop off the lists.  And the terms 'sustainable' and 'green' are ever more debased.  A high LEED or BREAM or GreenStar score seems to be enough to qualify a project to be marketed with both labels.

But there is some hope.  There is a bit of polite push-back.  And it's being read or listened to, because the top ranked link in my google search tonight is actually entitled:

It's an article in Treehugger, by Lloyd Alter; not particularly rigorous, certainly not strident, an almost gentle reminder that there is more to a sustainable building than being less bad than other buildings of the same type.  Which, let’s face it, is all that a high score on one of the rating frameworks tells you.  It's an old complaint. And simply repeating it is getting almost boring.

So the other attraction Alter's article is that when he identifies shortcomings that would disqualify the Bloomberg headquarters, he actually points out examples where each aspect he criticizes has been done better.  So for instance, in relation to the claimed credit for incorporating combined heat and power:

".......CHP plants usually generate heat and power by burning natural gas. The most sustainable office building in the world wouldn't burn fossil fuels. The Bullitt building in Seattle doesn't; it has solar power and gets its heat through ground source heat pumps."

Or addressing the all too obvious lack of accounting for embodied energy:

The PowerHouse Kjørbo, an office building outside of Oslo designed by Snøhetta, was designed to produce not only more energy than it needs from its solar panels, but "generates more energy than what was used for the production of building materials, its construction, operation and disposal." It actually pays back its embodied energy.

The review does not pretend to be a comprehensive checklist for what does make a truly sustainable building.  But it is one of a series by the same author on Treehugger, which may achieve by polite conversational style what dense books and manuals clearly have not.  Worth reading.

Bloomberg HQ
The PowerHouse Kjørbo
Bullitt Center

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