Everyone is going green. Yet what does that mean when it comes to our cities?
Today, metropolitan areas hold most of the world’s population. It’s an anomaly we’re just beginning to grapple with. As urban migration continues, we’ll see the growth of green building, which will account for nearly one-third of the construction sector.
Our need to grow sustainably through construction and development is imperative. Eco-friendly building techniques, transportation and municipal planning will take up more of our conversations going forward.
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What Is Green Building?
In many ways, the standards around green buildings are variable depending on your city, state or nation. The importance of sustainable initiatives grows when you consider that 23% of air pollution comes from construction projects.
You can judge whether a building is green in several ways. Widely recognized standards revolve around reduced water and energy usage and improved air quality.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most common certification for green building. It looks at areas like:
- New construction projects
- Old building renovations
- Interior design and remodel
- Building operations and maintenance
- Neighborhood development and growth
New advances in technology and stricter standards around sustainable urban construction have led to the optimization of commercial and residential properties. More importantly, they have led to improved health outcomes for urban residents.
Health Outcomes for Indoor Living
A major focus of green building is improving the environment within a building, as opposed to outside. The average American spends 90% of their time indoors. Imagine if all that inside time is spent in poor light, toxic air and surrounded by noise pollution.
The quality of one’s work and home environment drastically alters health outcomes, both physically and mentally. With green building techniques, we can take advantage of health and economic benefits, such as:
– Noise reduction: Worker productivity can increase through the use of noise-reducing materials in construction.
– Natural light: Exposure to sunlight regulates sleep cycles and increases the quality of rest at night.
– Air quality: Residents and workers in green buildings see a reduction in illness caused by air pollution.
– Natural ventilation: Cognitive function doubles in green buildings with enhanced ventilation.
Green building is a great way to improve health and economic outcomes. People in eco-friendly spaces report feeling happier, productive and more fulfilled. For urbanites, better building practices can dramatically improve the quality of life.
Health Outcomes Associated With Improved Outdoor Spaces
When we consider green buildings or sustainable development, we often consider outside spaces as well. The popularity of eco-friendly living policies has transformed many cities. You can see increased green development measures in:
– Increase in city-wide composting, recycling and material reclamation programs
– Use of alternative energy, such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro-electric power
– The popularity of greenspaces, such as public gardens, green roofs and urban agriculture
– Growth of green transportation methods, such as bike lanes, walk areas and public transportation
Experts link urban spaces to chronic stress, restricted physical activity and environmental health hazards. Health risks associated with urban lifestyles increase your risk of disease. They also contribute to mental health issues.
Unsustainable urban environments are particularly damaging for disadvantaged groups who don’t have the means to mitigate risk factors. Consider low-income areas without recreational green space. The inability of people to exercise and get fresh air can be damaging. Increased green space in urban environments helps lower these risks.
Activities like jogging and biking are more common in cities with green space and alternative transportation policies. According to numerous studies, regular exercise can reduce the risk of dementia by 30%, and the risk of Alzheimer’s by 45%.
Aerobic exercise, such as walking, dancing and swimming, can improve memory, attention and processing speed. On the flip side, people in the bottom 10% in terms of physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those in the top 10%.
The integration of urban gardens, agriculture and allotments into municipal plans means urban residents will also have access to fresh local foods.
Animals are affected by unsustainable urban practices, as well. As environments shift, they must learn to adapt. Generalists, those that don’t need specific things to survive, learn to live in urban areas. In fact, one study of 82 different species of birds found those with large brains — crows and wrens — are better city dwellers than forest inhabitants. Urbanization will ultimately result in wildlife adaptation out of necessity.
Green Buildings in the Future
The benefits of green buildings are clear in terms of health, economics and quality of life. Many cities have responded by developing green building incentive programs, balanced zoning policies and new regulations. The growth to date has been exponential.
Nevertheless, there are significant challenges. The pace of change, while growing, may not be fast enough to mitigate climate issues. Green building is a useful tool as global warming alters our lives. However, an extended conversation about how to maintain and improve the quality of life is necessary.