Sustainability and Commercial Buildings

Sustainability has become such a large part of residential dwellings over the last decade and our environmental consultants have spoken about some great materials that can be used in such properties — but what about the commercial sector? Commercial buildings have definitely become more eco-friendly overall in many ways but there’s still a long way to go before a traditional office building can be considered sustainable. Let’s take a look at some industry trends, why sustainability in commercial properties is important and some examples from around the globe.

Defining sustainable commercial structures

Sustainability can come in many forms including responsible management of your building’s energy usage (and its energy source), the materials used to construct the building and even the process by which the structure was erected. Ultimately, the goal is always the same — to reduce the building’s carbon footprint.

There are dedicated construction companies and architectural firms devoted to sustainable and ethical practices in their fields — ensuring that the aforementioned elements are considered and incorporated into the blueprint of the structure. Our environmental consultants recommend considering a firm with these goals and practices. This is the first step to a greener commercial building.

Sustainable building practices — prefabricated modules

Prefabricated modules are possibly the best and easily accessible examples of sustainable construction. They utilise sustainable materials and are built in controlled conditions away from the site. This means shorter schedules (as the weather won’t affect construction) and no noise pollution affecting nearby dwellings (so more flexible work hours). There’s also the potential for renewable energies to be used to power certain tools and machines since it’s all constructed off-site within a building.

Prefabricated modules are popular in the residential market but can also be used for small-scale office or retail spaces. Whilst traditionally built residential properties can still benefit from some sustainable practices, it becomes a different story when we talk about large-scale office buildings.  The requirements of traditional high-rises are just too much at this stage to be satisfied by prefabricated modules. Fortunately, many traditional high-rises are created using concrete and steel — which are already two fantastic, sustainable materials.

Utilising sustainable and renewable energy

Commercial buildings make up approximately 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emission output. To help try and reduce these numbers, the Australian government’s energy efficiency program was established to give tenants a better idea of how they’re using energy in their buildings. These include minimum energy performance requirements and rating systems.

It’s well known, of course, that one of the best ways to minimise greenhouse gasses is through the use of renewable energy. And, one of the more obvious and effective ways that a commercial building can utilise renewable energy is via photovoltaic solar panels. These are your classic solar panels that take the sun’s heat and converts it into energy. Accompanying batteries will store energy for use when the sun is not present.

The issue here is that there’s limited space where the panels can be placed. In almost all instances of high-rises utilising solar power it’s just not enough to account for the entire building’s output — but is still a step in the right direction. That may change in the near future, though, with transparent solar panels replacing or being used in conjunction with high-rise windows. Researchers right here in Australia as well as in Michigan, USA, are working on separate transparent solar solutions — both of which are progressing steadily with some fantastic results.

Solar heating and cooling systems are two other options, and this includes both active and passive varieties. Our environmental consultants feel that passive energy efficiency is one of the best and potentially easiest ways to achieve sustainability in a commercial building. This leverages the passive design of the building along with well-placed insulation to control the climate — mitigating the need for active air conditioning.

The future of sustainable commercial buildings

This decade has been dubbed the decade of action by the UN and moves for countries to begin pulling their weight and meeting climate goals. The International Living Future Institute, for example, is committed to raising the bar on green buildings globally and is responsible for one of the most severe standards for green buildings.

One example of a building that has met the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge is the Georgia Tech Kendeda Building — which quite literally gives back to the environment more than it takes with its photovoltaic systems producing more than 200% of the building’s requirements within a year. In fact, during that same year, 243,520 kWh was supplied to adjacent buildings and the building’s energy bill totalled USD –$15,500.

This is an impressive example of what can be achieved and such feats are only likely to improve over the years as technology advances and more sustainable solutions and practices — not only in terms of being eco-friendly, but also economically viable — are discovered.

Professional environmental consultants in Melbourne?

Alpha Environmental are professional environmental consultants that are dedicated to sustainable and eco-friendly practices. As environmental site assessment specialists, we are qualified to carry out several services on your land (recently acquired or otherwise) and building including groundwater testing, mould removal and asbestos removal.

If you would like to know more about our solutions, then you can contact us by calling 1300 039 181 or filling out our enquiry form.