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A Brief History of Green Building

YijunW CA, United States 0 Ratings 134 Discussions 0 Group posts

Posted by: YijunW

History of Human and Green Building

Today, green building is defined by the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive as “the practice of 1) increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and 2) reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal — the complete building life cycle”(2).

While you are surrounded by green-certified buildings, have you ever wondered about the history of green buildings, and the impact of buildings? Who started the movement, and how? Where did it originate?

The earliest relationship between habitat and human health can trace back to the Middle Pleistocene, which was between 781,000 and 126,000 years ago. Evidence of microcharcoal and soot in Lower Paleolithic hominis (3.3 million and 300,000 years ago) from indoor cave smoke implies that humans were impacted by activities such as control of fire in the indoor environment and the environment generally. These are some of the earliest known examples of the unexpected and sometimes undesired consequences from modifying our environment, including the built environment. These challenges grow as humans continue to increase in population and in turn in the amount of energy and resources required for sustenance and economic activity.

More recently, dating back millennia, using local, renewable materials and passive solar design were implemented: The Anasazi in the Southwest constructed the entire villages so that all the homes collected solar heat in the winter.

Starting in the 1800s, there was a limited contemporary green building movement. London’s Crystal Palace (1851) and Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (1877) employed passive systems like roof ventilators and underground air-cooling chambers to moderate indoor air temperature (David Gissen). In the 1900s, New York’s Flatiron Building (1903) and the New York Times Building (1905) used deep-set windows to shade the sun. Rockefeller Center (1932) utilized both operable windows and sky gardens. New York’s Wainwright Building and Chicago’s Carson Pirie Scott department store had retractable awnings to block the sun. Beginning in 1930, new building technologies began to transform the urban landscape. The invention of air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, structural steel, and reflective glass made it possible for the glass and steel buildings to be heated up and cooled down.

The contemporary green building movement started around the 1900s, the contemporary green building movement emerged rapidly from the demand for further energy efficient and eco-friendly building systems. At times, environmental and related societal problems and consequences resulted in greater awareness and wider consciousness such as the energy crisis and in the 1970s and the increasing climate change effects in more recent decades.

The 1970s energy crisis was a period when the industrialized countries, especially the United States, Canada, Western Europe faced considerate oil shortages and inflated prices. The oil price hikes in the 1970s motivated a number of research and activities to improve energy efficiency and find renewable energy sources. This, along with the environmental movement of the 1970s, directed to the earliest experiments with a modern green building. The 1970 oil embargo drove building designers to make buildings more airtight, with less outdoor air ventilation, in order to improve energy efficiency (NCBI). The ventilation rate was lessened to 5 cfm/person (1) (NCBI). This reduced ventilation rate was found to be inadequate to maintain the health and comfort of building occupants, particularly leads to a concept called sick building syndrome (SBS), which is an unhealthy condition affecting workers in the office, especially marked by headaches and respiratory problems, caused by unhealthy factors in the working environment such as insufficient ventilation. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)'s ventilation standard of a minimum outdoor air flow rate is 15 cfm/person (NCBI). Study finds that a 15% increase in sick building syndrome (SBS) symptom prevalence as the ventilation rate drops from 17 to 10 cfm (8 to 5 L/s) per person and a 33% decrease in symptom prevalence rates as ventilation rate increases from 17 to 50 cfm (8 to 24 L/s) per person (Berkeley Lab).

The increasing climate change effects in more recent decades has drawn substantial attention. A recent global milestone against climate change is the Paris Agreement. On April 22nd, 2016, to combat climate changes, for the first time, all nations gather together at France to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius, with 179 parties sign (UN). Buildings and constructions account for 32% of global energy expenditure and are responsible for 19% of greenhouse gas emissions (UN Environment). Based on projections, emissions from the building sector could double by 2050 (UN Environment). This is why we need green buildings. Aside from its positive impacts on our health, working and learning performance, it preserves our living environment and saves our future cost to remedy (3).

In the 1990s, the green building industry started to gather together more systematically and formally. According to EPA, early milestones in the U.S. include but not limited to:
- The Department of Energy was created to address energy usage and conservation (1977)
- The Solar Energy Research Institute (later changed their name to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory) was established in Golden, Colorado to investigate energy technologies such as solar energy (1977)
- American Institute of Architects (AIA) formed the Committee on the Environment Exit Disclaimer (1989)
- Environmental Resource Guide published by AIA, funded by EPA (1992)
- EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy launched the ENERGY STAR program (1992)
- First local green building program introduced in Austin, TX (1992)
- U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) founded (1993)
- "Greening of the White House" initiative launched (Clinton Administration 1993)
- USGBC launched Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) version 1.0 pilot program (1998)

I would call the U.S. Green Building Council as one of the most successful bookcases in the green industry. As of October 2017, USGBC has more than 12,000 national members, 167 countries or territories with LEED projects, according to USGBC. Globally, it has more than 19.3 billion total commercial square feet, 201,000 total LEED professionals, 6,657 LEED-certified projects totaling more than 158 million square meters of space, and 4,200+ higher education projects are LEED-certified (USGBC). For instance, University of California Irvine has 27 buildings at UC Irvine carry LEED certification, including 17 LEED Platinum and 10 LEED Gold awards for new construction (UCI).

1. CFM/person means cubic feet per minute per capita.

2. Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, “The Federal Commitment to Green Building: Experiences and Expectations,” 18 September 2003.

Green Buildings and Health: 40 Years of Evidence Summarized by the Team at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Harvard Study: Green Buildings Save $6.7 Billion in Combined Health and Climate Benefits
Greener Schools = Smarter Students
Study: Four Percent Reduction in Carbon Dioxide Emissions Per Year in China = $339 Billion Health Savings

To read more, please visit:
David Gissen, Big & Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century (2002).
UN Environment
U.S. Green Building Council, 2017
Berkeley Lab



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