Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development Promotes Environmentally Friendly Buildings

sustainable development
The use of low-energy light bulbs is one of the many practices that can be considered part of sustainable development. Lucidio Studio Inc./Getty Images

Sustainable development is the creation of homes, buildings, and businesses that meet the needs of the people who occupy them, while enhancing human and environmental health.

In recent years, sustainable building practices have become much more prominent among homebuilders, architects, developers, and city planners in the construction of residential and commercial buildings and communities. The point of sustainable development is to conserve natural resources and attempt to lessen the affect of greenhouse gases, global warming and other environmental threats. Sustainable development works to reduce the impact of construction on both people and the environment.

Emergence of Sustainable Development

The idea of sustainability came out of the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which was the first UN meeting that discussed the preservation and enhancement of the environment. It proclaimed that, "The protection and improvement of the human environment is a major issue which affects the well-being of peoples and economic development throughout the world; it is the urgent desire of the peoples of the whole world and the duty of all Governments."

This comference sparked what is commonly known as "The Green Movement" which is an overarching term for all of the efforts towards becoming a "greener," or more sustainable society.

LEED Certification

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is a third-party certification system developed by the United States Green Building Council that has become a nationally recognized standard in sustainable building and development. LEED uses five main areas to determine whether a building meets its standards for environmental and human health:

  • sustainable site development
  • water savings
  • energy efficiency
  • materials selection
  • indoor environmental quality

The aim of the LEED system is to work to improve performance in the areas that most directly affect the health of humans and the environment. Some of the areas include: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

LEED certification is specific to the type of building it is rating. The system covers nine different building types in order to suit their unique structures and uses. The types are:

  • New Construction
  • Existing Buildings: Operation & Maintenance
  • Commercial Interiors
  • Core & Shell (base building elements such as structure, envelope and the HVAC system)
  • Schools
  • Retail Spaces
  • Healthcare Facilities
  • Homes
  • Neighborhood Development

Sustainable Development in Residential and Commercial Buildings

In residential homes and commercial buildings, there are several aspects of sustainable development that can be implemented both in new constructions and existing buildings. These include:

  • Built using recycled or renewable materials/local materials
  • Use of soybean or cotton insulation with a high heat resistance rating
  • Water-conserving irrigation
  • ENERGY STAR appliances
  • Water-efficient bathroom and kitchen fixtures
  • Use of alternative energy (wind, solar, etc.)
  • Use of low-energy light bulbs

Sustainable Development in Communities

Many things are also being done in sustainable development of entire communities. These are generally new developments that are being designed and developed with sustainability in mind. Residential homes and commercial buildings in these communities use the aforementioned sustainable practices and also display qualities which are known as aspects of new urbanism. New urbanism is an urban planning and design movement that works to create communities that exhibit the best of both urban and suburban life. Some of these aspects include:

  • Mixed-use development (commercial and residential use)
  • Green spaces
  • Walk-able communities
  • Large parks rather than big yards

Stapleton, An Example of Sustainable Development

Stapleton, a neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, is an example of a community built using sustainable development. It was built at the site of the Stapleton International Airport, using primarily recycled materials.

All of Stapleton's office buildings are LEED certified and all of the Stapleton homes participate in the ENERGY STAR program. An impressive 93% of Stapleton homes recycle (the highest for any Denver neighborhood) and all of the old runways from the airport were recycled into streets, sidewalks, driveways, and bike paths. In addition, nearly one-third of the Stapleton neighborhood is made up of open-air green spaces.

These are just some of the successes brought upon by the use of sustainable building practices in the Stapleton neighborhood.

Benefits of Sustainable Development

The primary goal of sustainable building practices is to improve and preserve the health of both people and our environment. It reduces the impact buildings have on environmental degradation and is better in the long-run of things.

However, sustainable development also has personal financial benefits. Water-efficient fixtures reduce water bills, ENERGY STAR appliances can make individuals eligible for tax credits, and use of insulation with a high heat resistance rating reduce heating costs.

Sustainable development works to create buildings and homes that benefit, rather than degrade the health of humans and the environment. Advocates of sustainable development know that both the long-term and short-term benefits of sustainable development make it a worthwhile endeavor that should be encouraged and utilized in all possible instances.