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Sustainable Building: Redefining How We Use Our Resources

By: Zak Lehmann

Sustainability is a broad term encompassing everything from composting to renewable energy. Recently sustainable living has been become more common phrase in the news and in markets as a way to help reduce our environmental footprint and is now being seen as an economic opportunity.

A 2013 study by McGraw-Hill Construction revealed that worldwide there has been a significant shift driving the green building trend. Green building is now driven mainly by client and market demand, transforming it from a feel good practice, to a business opportunity. As a result, green build projects will continue to increase in the coming years.

Sustainable living and green building projects are not new phenomenons despite the recent increase in popularity. From off-the-grid recycled homes to prefabricated homes and buildings innovative sustainable designs have influenced how we use our resources for decades.

Earthship house in New Mexico. Image courtesy of Earthship Biotecture.

Earthship house in New Mexico. Image courtesy of Earthship Biotecture.

In the 1970s Michael Reynolds founded Earthship Biotecture on the principal that you could build a home with recycled materials that depended on natural energy sources and was still be economically feasible to someone with no specialized construction skills. The result is an incredibly low-cost, highly efficient, and completely self-sufficient home.

Sustainability built from the ground up, old car tires are filled with soil and stacked to form the foundation, acting as a natural form of insulation based on the ground-coupling principle. By keeping the tires in contact with the surrounding soil, heat hitting the walls in the form of sunlight is dissipated into the ground, keeping the room cool during the summer. The density of the soil and tires also retains temperatures in colder months. Temperature is further regulated by the orientation of the building, as a large portion of the house will act as a greenhouse and trapping heat. In addition, the buildings are designed to catch and use water from the local environment. Water is harvested from precipitation and condensation and collected in a cistern. Greywater and blackwater are also recycled throughout the house and used for indoor garden irrigation and in non-drinking water plumbing applications.

Schematic design of a potential earthship to be built in Brooklyn. Image courtesy of Earthship Biotecture.

Schematic design of a potential earthship to be built in Brooklyn. Image courtesy of Earthship Biotecture.

While Earthships are an extreme in the sustainable living movement, sustainability is no longer an abstract idea. Recycling and reuse are increasingly common practices in most cities and innovation in sustainability is at an all-time high.

Green roof on City Hall in Chicago. One of over 359 green roofs added. Image courtesy of PBS.

Green roof on City Hall in Chicago. 1 of over 359 green roofs added to redevelop the urban center. Image courtesy of PBS.

Blue roofs, green roofs, urban gardens, repurposed shipping container buildings, and eco-parks are all helping to reduce waste, save energy, and reduce our environmental footprints. Innovations in green building are paving the way for a more sustainable future; a future where modern comforts do not need to be sacrificed in order to curb our impact on the environment.


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