Green Economics

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The cost savings of building green go beyond the bottom line

There’s no doubt that we’re in the early stages of what is likely to be the fastest paradigm shift in history. A transition from an industrial, primarily monetary driven economy to an ecological economy where we recognise that we’re part of, and not in control of, the earth’s ecosystem. This means that all decision making, in all sectors, will inevitably have to incorporate the ideas of green economics.

Green economics takes into account costs that have largely been ignored during the industrial age. For the most part, the cost of goods sold does not take into account their external costs. A metal cabinet will be charged according to the cost of extracting the raw material from the ground, transporting it, its design, build and then getting it to its sales point. The price doesn’t include the cost of the environmental destruction caused by mining the metal, the CO2 emitted in its mining and transport, or its disposal cost.

These so-called ‘externalities’ are generally paid by the local inhabitants in the shape of taxes to pay for cleanup, rubbish collection and disposal, and also through environmental degradation that can lead to disease, ill health and devastating climate change. Green economics attempts to calculate the true costs of goods and services. In a truly green economic scenario it should actually be cheaper for a company to work sustainably.

The legislation effect

Our homes are currently responsible for 13% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions as seen here. As a part of overall reduction in emission levels, the UK government is aiming to make all new build homes carbon neutral by 2016. These are homes that produce zero emissions, using local renewable energy sources. In April 2008, a new Code for Sustainable Homes was established in close consultation with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA).  Current statistics regarding the implementation of the code can be found here.

The construction industry is one of the most energy and resource-intensive industries, and has a large inherent capacity for change. Embracing externalities and thinking green means considering a number of things. Firstly, how to minimise energy use in a finished building by means of insulation, natural light and ventilation, and renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic cells, heat pumps and CHP.

Additionally, there’s the issue of embodied energy. This is the energy it takes to mine, forest and manufacture the materials as well as construct the property. Embodied energy may motivate a renovation of a property rather than a knock down followed by a new build, if the former will result in a lower output of total energy and carbon emissions.

The use and re-use of water is an important aspect of building green. Harvesting rainwater for all non-potable uses, such as toilet flushing and laundry, reduces demand on water supply systems and ground water tables. Surface water run-off can be avoided by maintaining grass surfaces instead of concrete, enabling the earth and soil to absorb water and replenish the ground water table while minimising the risks from flooding.

Building green is also about ensuring that as many waste materials as possible from the construction process are recycled and not sent to landfill. Space should be set aside for composting and recycling collection. Materials should be non-toxic and from sustainable and recycled sources that can in turn be recycled, thereby minimising resource use and waste.

Ultimately, going green is about taking the long view. Environmentally friendly buildings promote better health and well-being among the people who live in them, tackling issues such as fuel poverty while ensuring that the environmental impact is minimal and that natural habitats are left undisturbed as much as possible. To this end, careful landscaping using animal corridors and green roofs can attract and sustain wildlife alongside human habitation.