Randima Attygalle surveys the principles governing green buildings

As the World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC) annual report 2015/16 notes, “buildings are major contributors to climate change” and “green buildings offer one of the most cost-effective solutions to climate change, and can lead to significant environmental, economic and social benefits around the world.”

The U.S. Green Building Council defines a ‘green building’ as an effort to amplify positive and mitigate negative effects on the natural environment. It is further defined as “the planning, design, construction and operations of buildings with several central foremost considerations: energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material selection and the building’s effects on its site.”

When 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in December 2015, WorldGBC launched its campaign Better Build Green – its most high-profile campaign to date that “showed global leaders, business executives, policymakers and city mayors the vital role green buildings can play in tackling climate change, and delivering immediate environmental, economic and social benefits.”

Green principles have remained an ingrained component of our hydraulic civilisation, which we have sadly lost sight of. As Dr. Locana Gunaratna – a chartered architect at Gunaratna Associates – observes, these green fundamentals of our ancient heritage “provide ecological principles to guide the development of the built environment.”

He notes that a return to the original state of forest cover in the highlands that was adversely disturbed during the British colonial period is no easy task. The growth of urban areas through new construction to accommodate population increases should preferably involve settlement densification versus horizontal expansion, says Gunaratna.

“Steep hill slopes, designated forests and nature reserves including those meant for wildlife should be strictly conserved for their stated purposes, and encroachments should not be tolerated,” he stresses.

Green construction can drastically reduce energy consumption in built environments through climate-sensitive architectural design – usually at no extra cost to the client.

“This can also be done through the use of technological aids involving perhaps a marginal increase in initial construction costs,” Gunaratna explains, citing equipment to trap wind and solar energy for heating and generating electricity as examples.

Harvesting rainwater and ‘green’ ways of disposing ofwaste are also noteworthy.

Although not heirs to an eco-sensitive hydraulic civilisation such as ours, Malaysia and Singapore have taken giant strides in green building construction in recent years, which Gunaratna attributes to “the foresight of professionals, and their farsighted political leaders. They have heeded advice and supported professionals.”

The GreenSL rating system for existing and new buildings is a set of performance standards adopted to certify the operations and maintenance of commercial or institutional buildings of all sizes, both public and private. The objective of these standards, as the Managing Director of Civil & Structural Engineering Consultants Shiromal Fernando explains, is to promote “high-performance, healthy, durable and affordable environmentally sound practices in buildings.”

Prerequisites and credits of the GreenSL rating system address the following: management, sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation and design processes, and social and cultural awareness.

Although the initial cost of green buildings is higher (around 5-10% more) than ordinary construction, the increments are offset by operational savings and can be recovered within five years, Fernando maintains.

In terms of eco-friendly building material suppliers, we have sufficient numbers and the basic construction material is locally sourced, says Fernando, noting that electrical fixtures such as solar panels, low-e glasses and sanitary fittings are largely imported.

Heading into an era of energy and water scarcity, along with the burden of a growing population and climate change, the demand for water practices upheld by green construction is unprecedented.

Unlike our forefathers, we’ve become complacent in water management, says the CEO of Lanka Rain Water Harvesting Forum Dr. Tanuja Ariyananda, who endorses water management and conservation interventions such as rainwater harvesting.

“Modern water-saving interventions such as dual flush, aerated showers and taps with sprays can reduce consumption by around 25 percent with some products cutting usage by 50 percent,” she explains.

Even simple practices such as fixing leaks could save large quantities of water. “A dripping tap can waste 15 litres of water a day, which is the equivalent of 5,500 litres a year,” Ariyananda points out.

Which is why she’s lobbying for tax concessions or rebates on green buildings as a means of promoting them.