Six New Approaches to Green Building Design

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A computer animated image of a green landscape of a city

Today’s societal landscape has created more demand for the green design than ever before. The anticipation of severe climate change, a developing universal awakening to the detriments of fossil fuels, and greater value on lessening our economic and environmental footprint are increasing interest in sustainable design techniques. As a result, innovation in this sector is quickly growing.

Six Approaches for Green Building and Design

1. Heating and Cooling

Methods of thermal and solar heating and cooling are beginning to gain attention as 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 severe – the Guardian reports that energy demands for cooling and heating are predicted to rise dramatically over the coming 100 years, and should conventional methods continue to be used at the rate they are now, they could cause irreversible damage to the Earth’s ecosystems and develop into an unsustainable economic disaster.

According to Earthship Global, a firm that builds eco-friendly living spaces, 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, which are dense enough to absorb and store heat energy, like large bricks made of materials including 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 utilize thermal and solar energy and thus drastically reduce or eliminate 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

Utilizing 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 utilizing everything from reclaimed wood and building materials to recyclable discarded items like glass and plastics in structures of all types. According to Earthship Global, 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 out of four walls of every one of their sustainable living spaces. The possibilities for reclaiming materials are as infinite as creativity will allow 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 utilize natural forms of water treatment can often prove more simple and more sustainable than employing intricate chemical combinations. Using plants and aquatic life forms to strain, filter and purify water naturally provides effective ways to return contaminated water to a usable state. Designers have utilized 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 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. GlobalResearch, a Canadian research firm, estimates that industrial agriculture accounts for 75 percent of the world’s farmland but contributes just 30 percent of the total amount of food consumed by the world’s human population. Large percentages of agricultural products are used to sustain meat production, a wholly inefficient industry because of the resources it requires. 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 the 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. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) describes the process as a project team considering a building not as simply a standalone project but rather as a cog within a much bigger system. This mindset allows the design to take into account the opinions of those who will be using the finished structure, the surrounding areas, and the ecosystems into which the building will be integrated.

Green building design is not just a faddish practice. It is a completely different process of development that considers not just one entity’s end goal but rather the environment as a whole. Considering the needs of various ecosystems in our design processes is the first step in moving away from burdening our environment and toward integrating new designs within an already-existing ecosystem.

Learn More

For more than a century, Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology has been teaching engineers how to create for good – how to engineer a better future with responsible and sustainable design. Learn more about our online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program and master how to effectively supervise, plan, design, construct, and operate the infrastructures essential to connect the modern world.

Additional Reading

How to Become a Transportation Engineer: Steps Toward a Dynamic Career in Civil Engineering
The Future of Public Transportation
Millennials, Cars and the Future of Transportation


ARCSA Frequently Asked Questions
Earthship Global, Design Principles, “The Road to Food Sovereignty. Peasant Farming, Not Industrial Food Production”
U.S. Green Building Council, “Green Building 101: What is an integrated process?”
Whole Building Design Guide, “Sustainable”
Whole Building Design Guide, “Optimize Building Space And Material Use”, Thermal mass