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In this module, various ways buildings affect the environment and the characteristics of sustainable buildings are discussed.

Learning objectives

After reading this module, students should be able to

  • understand the various ways buildings affect the environment
  • describe the characteristics of sustainable buildings


Buildings present a challenge and an opportunity for sustainable development. According to the most recent available Annual Energy Outlook from the U.S. Environmental Information Administration, buildings account for about 39% of the carbon dioxide emissions, 40% of primary energy use, and 72% of the electricity consumption in the U.S. Additional information from the U.S. Geological Survey indicates that 14% of the potable water consumption occurs in buildings.

Globally, buildings are the largest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions, above transportation and then industry. The construction of buildings requires many materials that are mined, grown, or produced and then transported to the building site. Buildings require infrastructure including roads, utility lines, water and sewer systems. People need to be able to get to and from buildings to work, live, or take advantage of the services provided within them. They need to provide a safe and comfortable environment for the people that inhabit them.

Impacts of the Built Environment Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/greenbuilding/pubs/about.htm

Aspects of Built Environment


Environmental Effects

Ultimate Effects

Siting Energy Waste Harm to human health
Design Water Air pollution Environmental degradation
Construction Materials GHG emissions Loss of resources
Operation Natural resources Water pollution
Maintenance Indoor pollution
Renovation Heat islands
Deconstruction Stormwater runoff

It is possible to design and construct fully functional buildings that have far fewer negative environmental impacts than current norms allow. Beyond benefitting the environment, green buildings provide economic benefits including reduced operating costs, expanded markets for green products and services, improved building occupant productivity, and optimized life-cycle performance. Green buildings also offer social benefits that range from protecting occupant comfort and health, to better aesthetic qualities, less strain on local infrastructure, and overall improvement in quality of life.

In 1994, a group of experts was brought together by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop a pathway and specific principles for sustainable development. According to these principles, building should be:

  • Ecologically Responsive : The design of human habitat shall recognize that all resources are limited, and will respond to the patterns of natural ecology. Land plans and building designs will include only those with the least disruptive impact upon the natural ecology of the earth. Density must be most intense near neighborhood centers where facilities are most accessible.
  • Healthy, Sensible Buildings: The design of human habitat must create a living environment that will be healthy for all its occupants. Buildings should be of appropriate human scale in a non-sterile, aesthetically pleasing environment. Building design must respond to toxicity of materials, care with EMF, lighting efficiency and quality, comfort requirements and resource efficiency. Buildings should be organic, integrate art, natural materials, sunlight, green plants, energy efficiency, low noise levels and water. They should not cost more than current conventional buildings.
  • Socially Just: Habitats shall be equally accessible across economic classes.
  • Culturally Creative: Habitats will allow ethnic groups to maintain individual cultural identities and neighborhoods while integrating into the larger community. All population groups shall have access to art, theater and music.
  • Beautiful: Beauty in a habitat environment is necessary for the soul development of human beings. It is yeast for the ferment of individual creativity. Intimacy with the beauty and numinous mystery of nature must be available to enliven our sense of the sacred.
  • Physically and Economically Accessible: All sites within the habitat shall be accessible and rich in resources to those living within walkable (or wheelchair-able) distance.
  • Evolutionary: Habitats' design shall include continuous re-evaluation of premises and values, shall be demographically responsive and flexible to change over time to support future user needs. Initial designs should reflect our society's heterogeneity and have a feedback system.

Questions & Answers

what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Practice Key Terms 5

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Source:  OpenStax, Sustainability: a comprehensive foundation. OpenStax CNX. Nov 11, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11325/1.43
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