Green Building and Design: The Future of Sustainable Design

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Grass growing on a green roof.Today’s societal landscape has created more demand for green design than ever before. Several factors are fueling the increasingly urgent interest in sustainable design techniques. They include anticipated severe climate change, a developing universal awakening to the detriments of fossil fuels, and the greater value placed on lessening our economic and environmental footprints.

A 2021 MasterCard survey revealed that 58% of surveyed adults around the world are more mindful of their environmental impact, and 85% stated they would be willing to combat these challenges with personal action. This interest also has an increasing impact on business success. In the same survey, 62% said it’s more important now for companies to behave in more eco-friendly ways.

Organizations have responded to this increased demand for environmental action by seeking out creative and forward-thinking solutions to help mitigate the impact of various environmental issues. They have done so by turning to innovative green building and design approaches that in the long term can make a positive difference.

What Is Green Design?

Green design, also known as sustainable design or green architecture, is a design approach that integrates environmental advocacy into building infrastructure. Common elements of green design include alternative energy sources, energy conservation, and reuse of materials. Some concepts directly pertain to architecture. For instance, underground or earth-sheltered construction can organically help control a structure’s climate, which can reduce energy use.

What Is the Goal of Green Building Design?

The purpose of green design is to reduce a building’s environmental impact. To achieve this goal, organizations are turning to innovative building solutions that can help protect and heal the Earth.

1. Heating and Cooling

Methods of thermal and solar heating and cooling are beginning to gain attention. These methods are relatively low-threshold, high-impact design techniques that can not only be incorporated into new structures but also be used to retrofit existing ones. The need for innovation in this area is urgent.

MIT Technology Review reports that energy demands for cooling are predicted to triple by 2050, and should conventional methods continue to be used at the rate they are now, irreversible damage could be caused to the Earth’s ecosystems and will eventually develop into an economic disaster.

Earthship Global, a firm that builds eco-friendly living spaces, reports the need for conventional air conditioning and heating systems could be eliminated entirely by strategically constructing structures to make use of sunlight and thermal mass objects. These building materials, which are dense enough to absorb and store heat energy, include large bricks made of materials such as earth, concrete, or stone.

Thermal mass building materials, when strategically placed, could absorb the day’s sunlight and then release that heat energy during the night hours to regulate a structure’s temperature. Firms and research centers around the world are developing approaches that could effectively harness thermal and solar energy, drastically reducing or eliminating the need for fossil-fueled heating and cooling.

2. Water

Water harvesting is an ancient practice and, at the elemental level, remains one of the most simple sustainable strategies available. Water collection systems can range from a simple collection trough and storage barrel to sophisticated cistern and filtration systems robust enough to provide large structures with purified and temperature-controlled water.

Firms around the world are developing innovative methods of water collection and filtration to make the process cheaper, easier, and more powerful. One startup company in India, Think Sustainable Lab, has developed a suspended water collection device that not only filters collected rainwater, but doubles as a solar energy harvester as well. Associations like the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) and others exist to support consumers, organizations, and construction firms as they employ water harvesting techniques in their designs and structures.

3. Materials

Using natural and recycled materials provides multiple benefits by reducing waste, lowering a project’s material costs, and mitigating the environmental costs necessary to produce new materials. Innovative designers are using everything from reclaimed wood and building materials to recyclable discarded items like glass and plastics in building structures of all types.

Earthship Global reports that 2.5 billion automobile tires have been discarded and are currently available for repurposing in the United States alone. Earthship uses tires to construct three of four walls of every one of its sustainable living spaces. The possibilities for reclaiming materials are as infinite as creative thinking itself and provide an excellent strategy for sustainability.

4. Water Treatment and Waste Management

Some contained sewage treatment methods require more sophisticated design measures due to the complicated chemistry and biological processes necessary to treat contaminated water. However, processes that use natural forms of water treatment can often prove more simple and sustainable than employing intricate chemical combinations.

Using plants and aquatic life forms to naturally strain, filter, and purify water provides effective ways to return contaminated water to a usable state. Designers have used algae, natural filtration materials including earth and sand, ponds, and open-air storage receptacles that facilitate the growth of water plants and fish to sustainably treat sewage or greywater, providing contained water treatment systems for dwellings. These self-contained, natural water filtration methods may become more and more common for not only private living spaces but for larger structures as well.

5. Food

Conventional food production throughout the world today can be incredibly inefficient. Large percentages of agricultural products are used to sustain meat production, a wholly inefficient industry because of the resources it requires.

The United Nations Environment Programme reports that the number of livestock animals tripled between 1970 and 2011, with grazing taking up about 60% of all agricultural land. Transportation costs for shipping food all over the world, the waste caused by heavy food industrialization, and the significant distances from production to consumption are causing experts to predict massive food shortages should our planet’s food production system not receive a significant overhaul.

Promoting local food production, lessening beef consumption, and eating seasonal items rather than shipping items long distances to make them available year-round can help the world reclaim its food resources and prevent large-scale disasters in the coming decades.

6. Design

Integrated building processes are smarter building design processes that incorporate a larger sphere of stakeholders in the design and construction phases of new development. Green building design is not just a fad. It is a completely different process of development that considers not just one entity’s end goal, but the environment as a whole. Considering the needs of various ecosystems in design processes is the first step in moving away from burdening our environment, and toward integrating new designs within an already-existing ecosystem.

Make a Lasting Impact

Green building and design don’t just make business sense in an increasingly eco-conscious world. It’s a philosophy built on doing what is right by the planet, so future generations can thrive in a healthy environment. For those considering a career in civil engineering, knowing how to incorporate green building ideas will remain a crucial gauge to measure success in the field.

Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program can help you gain the knowledge and skills to become a leader in green design. Our Russ College of Engineering and Technology teaches engineers how to create for good — how to engineer a better future through responsible and sustainable design. The program’s curriculum can help you master how to effectively supervise, plan, design, construct, and operate the infrastructures essential to connect the modern world.

Learn how we can help prepare you to use your civil engineering talents for the good of society and our planet.

Recommended Reading

How to Become a Transportation Engineer: Steps Toward a Dynamic Career in Civil Engineering

The Future of Transportation

Millennials, Cars and the Future of Transportation


ARSCA, Frequently Asked Questions

Britannica, Green Architecture

Earthship Global, Design Principles

MasterCard, “Consumer Passion for the Environment Grows as a Result of the Pandemic”

MIT Technology Review, Air Conditioning Technology Is the Great Missed Opportunity in the Fight Against Climate Change

United Nations Environment Programme, “9 Ways Food Systems Are Failing Humanity”

Whole Building Design Guide, “Sustainable”

Whole Building Design Guide, “Optimize Building Space and Material Use”, Thermal Mass