Written by  Steven Greenleaf

The term ‘Green building’ seems to be everywhere, and that is definitely good news. The term is showing up in increasingly popular circles, including mass media, indicating that a change in thinking about the built environment is happening on more than one level. How we build has enormous impact, not just on the environment and natural resources, but on how we live, interact, grow and develop. Our physical environment can empower and nurture or degrade and paralyze.

One off-the-shelf definition of Green building is, “Green, or sustainable, building is the practice of creating and using healthier and more resource-efficient models of construction, renovation, operation, maintenance and demolition (from the US EPA).”

This defines an approach that considers the entire life cycle of a building, not just design and construction – a very positive step. Restorative approaches to our future – ways of creating and managing our environment to heal damage to ecosystems which has already been done – necessarily include life cycles analyses.

What is 'Green Building' and Why Should You Care?

Steven Greenleaf leading Trinidad and Tobago’s first certified Green Building Course

Green building requires more thought and pre construction planning than traditional construction. This is loaded with advantages and opportunities. Construction projects routinely hit “snags,” resulting in delays, cost overruns, lost productivity and lower quality, inefficient buildings. Most of these snags come from poor design and planning. Projects have problems built in before they even begin.

They are part of a culture of building that is often less professional than it should be. Green building is a front loaded process requiring greater attention to detail and whole system thinking than conventional building sometimes achieves, so simply the change in approach can yield higher quality, and real savings from a strict dollars and cents perspective, not even mentioning the positive impacts of buildings with less environmental impact during their construction and throughout their useful lives.

There are several systems for helping to build greener buildings, and to certify them as well. All of these are measurement and rating systems designed to create a better built environment. They identify important criteria for the design, construction, commissioning, operations, maintenance and demolition of buildings and provide tools for tacking results. For a fee, buildings can be certified as some level of Green. People can also become certified practitioners of the different systems, normally after proving some level of experience and passing cone or more competency exams. All offer extensive information free of charge and education efforts to advance their goals. All the systems mentioned below challenge project planners/designers, builders and owners to think about their building site, energy use, water use, materials, indoor environmental quality, and the impacts of their project on the surrounding community

The most well known is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Originally created by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED continues to have an important impact on the science and practice of building.

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), originally developed in the UK, is for buildings and large scale developments.

Also from the UK, and used for larger civil engineering, infrastructure, landscaping and other public works projects is the Civil Engineering Environmental Quality Assessment and Award Scheme (CEEQUAL) CEEQUAL is an evidence based sustainability assessment rating scheme.

The Living Building Challenge is a US based system which pushes the concept of sustainable buildings and restorative technologies farther than the other systems mentioned here, requiring restorative results and a deep commitment to sustainability.

The newest entrant in the marketplace for sustainable building approaches is Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE), created by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group. This is an exciting new tool, as it was designed primarily for use in developing nations, where the other systems mentioned above are at times not ideally suited for the realities of construction. EDGE also has the advantage of being multi-lingual, currently offering materials in six languages. Costa Rica is one of the test locations for EDGE and Costa Rican building and planning professionals help to create the system.

Green building is one part of working our collective way out of the dangerously unsustainable situation humans are in today. Green building is stimulating a period of innovation in construction unlike any other, generating a win – win situation of better buildings and a better future.

Some suggested useful links below:


Living Building Challenge