“Sustainability” is a relevant topic which arises a hot debate, although there are not so many people who understand it thoroughly. For the companies, countries and people who take it seriously, the concept includes everything related with environment preservation, organization’s development through efficiency use of resources, continuous social progress, stable economic growth and poverty eradication.

In the construction world, sustainable buildings have the ability of doing a bigger contribution to the future of our planet. Buildings in developed countries are responsible of over 40% of the energy consumption, through raw materials’ production, operations and maintenance. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of humanity, over a half of the population live in urban environments and it is clearly stated that sustainable constructions have become a vital need to ensure preservation in the long term, economic growth and social sustainability.

As a matter of fact, we do not have a lot of time to complete the path towards this paradigm change. While urban populations all over the word are adding about a million people a week, there is an urgent need to set intelligent solutions to optimize sustainable development through bioclimatic architecture so that we can both live and work.

Building a sustainable future

In this area, construction aims to getting to know current needs regarding housing, work places and infrastructures in general, so that the quality of life of the generations to come is not put in jeopardy. Economic and environmental efficiency elements as well as social responsibility are factors taken into account, contributing therefore to technical long-term innovation.

All this topic involves areas such as building administration, sustainable materials resistance and technology involved in all the processes, aimed to attain energy and those resources implied in building, operating and maintenance.

There is a framework to describe sustainable building and it is divided in the so-called five “Ps”: Progress, People, Planet, Prosperity and Place.

Progress: Innovation and transferability

Projects must demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainable development, pushing the envelope of practice and exploring new disciplinary frontiers. Innovative concepts regarding design, integration of materials and methods, structure, enclosure and mechanical systems, to be adapted to the needs of the future consumers.

Advancements in the disciplines of architecture, urban and landscape design, civil, urban and environmental engineering, and other fields involved in the production of the built environment. Long-term monitoring methods to evaluate whether expectations and goals have been met.

People: Ethical standards and social inclusion

Nowadays the consumer is demanding a growing awareness on preservation and environmental balance. Therefore, projects must promote social inclusion at all stages of construction, from planning and building to use and servicing. It will ensure an enduring positive impact on communities. Proposals must demonstrate how they enhance the collective realm.

Planet: Resource and environmental performance

Projects must exhibit a sensible use and management of natural resources throughout their entire life cycle. Long-term environmental concerns, especially pertaining to stocks and flows of material and energy, should be an integral part of the ecological architecture.

For instance, placing emphasis on the use of renewable energy in construction, use and upkeep of the built fabric to reduce CO2 emissions and avoid toxicity.

Prosperity: Economic viability and compatibility

Projects must be economically feasible and able to secure financing. Projects should cover operating costs over their lifetime and generate an acceptable rate of return. This way good production will be compatible with the requirements set by the cycle of life of the building.

Public administrations sign up to sustainability. The aim is to integrate the project into the wider economic framework of local, regional, and global monetary flows; to demonstrate flexibility to adapt to future changes of user needs, ownership, laws, regulations, and economic fluctuations.

Place: Contextual and aesthetic impact

Projects must convey a high standard of architectural quality as a prevalent form of cultural expression. With space, form and aesthetic impact of utmost significance, the material manifestation of the design must make a positive and lasting contribution to the physical, human and cultural environment.

Uso actual y beneficios de la construcción sostenible

Current use and benefits of sustainable construction

Europe has already settled sustainable construction as the practice to be its building future. It is run by two premises: energy efficiency and circular economy. The idea is basic and efficient: having sustainable building, reducing environmental impact and using rather more intelligently natural resources.

Recent European guidelines set a clear path towards promoting sustainable behaviours. Europe 2020 strategies seek for intelligent and sustainable growth heading towards recycling, reusing basic materials such as paper, plastics, wood and ferrous metals. Member states are willing to invest on these practices.

Building sector is responsible for a third of the total waste generated by the European Union, but implementing sustainable projects will start recovering up to a 50% of this damage.

By all means, renewable energy will be a key factor contributing to reducing excessive electricity consumption in the buildings. Furthermore, solar energy will be compulsory for those structures expected to create hot sanitary water.

It means that taking into account solar installations, it will absorb sunlight through its sensors to heat fluids and to transfer its energy to a heat exchanger. The best idea is that it can both be implemented in big constructions as well as in ecological houses.

At least in Europe, this kind of sustainability processes are to be assessed by the Energy Performance Certificate. Basically it is a rating, estimated based on the daily energy consumption during the standard hours. Finally, the indicator states the CO2 kilograms emitted divided by the premise’s square meters. There are different profiles, those who have the smallest consumption would be give category “A”, being “G” the worst category (the one consuming the most).

Sustainable architecture applied to building sector will help our environment achieve the desired welfare and will also guarantee relevant progress in the future.