With buildings accounting for over 40% greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable architecture and green buildings are the key to saving our ecological system. Conscious citizens are going for building designs that integrate traditional aesthetics of massing, proportion, scale, texture, shadow, and light, with long term costs on the environment, economy, and humanity.
 What is Sustainable Design?
As people’s economic status improves, the demand for architectural resources — land, buildings or building products, energy, and other resources is increasing. This in turn has increased the combined impact of buildings on the global ecosystem comprising inorganic elements, living organisms, and humans. The goal of sustainable design is to find architectural solutions that guarantee the well-being and coexistence of these three constituent groups.
The term sustainable design is not restricted to just design but also involves construction, operation, reuse and removal of infrastructure and buildings in an environment-friendly and energy-efficient manner. A sustainable design tries to reduce carbon miles and food miles of the occupants during the life cycle of the building, meets zero energy standards and boasts of zero water discharge amongst other things. It focuses on minimizing global warming and fossil fuel depletion. It promotes the use of native vegetation so as to consume less water, 100% collection of rain water which is used for irrigation, use of waterless urinals, use of fly ash based blocks and cement, low VOC paints and carpets, indoor air quality monitoring, roof gardens, high efficiency chillers and lighting systems to name a few.
 Prerequisites for Sustainable Design
A successful sustainable design should be integrated into the project at time of its conception because it needs an integrated approach from conceptual planning through design, construction, startup, and transition is essential as decisions cross disciplines. Building products, components, and systems need to be integrated and conceived holistically rather than as a series of independent decisions and components. Design decision-making should involve the primary stakeholders of the project including owners, developers, users, operators, architects, engineers, planners, value-engineering professionals, environmental designers, interior designers. Even project officers, contracting officers, construction contractors and primary subcontractors can make positive contribution.
Elements of sustainable design
- The key to a successful sustainable design is early decisions and integrated design that keep the ‘big picture’ in mind and weigh the impact of each decision. This requires thorough planning and design to maximize the impact on energy efficiency, passive solar design, daylighting, and natural cooling.
- Sustainable design does not have to follow the parameters of a particular look or style. It is a belief and a guiding principle.
- Neither is it very costly nor is it complicated to make. In fact, the incremental costs can easily be recovered early in the life-time of the project.
A sustainable design must follow the goals and principles of sustainability.
 Principles of Sustainable Design
The guiding forces behind sustainable design are minimizing energy consumption and promoting human health. These include elements such as energy saving architectural features, energy conserving building envelope, and energy-efficient and health-promoting mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The principles of sustainable design are:
- Inhabiting a place without destroying it -- The solar orientation of a building on the site, preservation of the natural environment, and access to public transportation shoud be understood.
- Being in harmony with nature. The design needs to work with nature rather than against it. Maximize the use of natural resources without disturbing the ecological balance.
- It can evaluate the impact of various design decision on the environment such as the choice of site, the embodied energy and toxicity of the materials, and the energy efficiency of design, materials and construction techniques.
- Making it a collaborative process to include the opinions of various disciplines and stakeholders such as systems consultants, engineers, community people and other experts happens early in the design process, instead of as an afterthought. Designers are also listening to the voices of local communities.
- Understanding the cultural, racial, religious and other requirement of the occupants and the community. The requirements, habits and the interests of the occupants should also be kept in mind.
 Goals of Sustainable Design
The goal of sustainable design is to become environmentally responsible. In addition to cost, quality, and time, the ecological and human health impacts of all decisions should be included in the list of the key parameters for judging a project. Ecological and health impact can be measured by:
- Efficient use of resources. Minimising raw material resource consumption, including energy, water, land, and materials, both during the construction process and throughout the life of the facility.
- Maximize resource reuse, while maintaining financial stewardship.
- Move away from fossil fuels toward a greater use of renewable energy resources.
- Create a healthy work environment for all who use the facility.
- Build facilities of long-term value.
- Protect and, where appropriate, restore the natural environment.
- Aim at reducing the release of ozone-depleting chemicals (ODC) and greenhouse gases and reduction in the use of hazardous materials and pesticides and the generation of solid wastes.
 Tips for sustainable design
- Save trees during and after construction.
- Try using materials that have been discarded from an old building or which can be recyclable.
- Preserve wetlands.
- Protect existing water sources from erosion or contamination.
- Maximize use of sheet flow.
- Use site for storm water retention and filtration.
- Reduce the use of fertilizers with low-maintenance native species.
- Develop flexible modular space plans.
- Develop equally flexible mechanical, electrical, and plumbing infrastructure.
- Improved building efficiency with sharing.
- Move people, not walls.
- Accommodate change in labs with minimum of waste and disruption.
- Build interstitial space to allow addition and changes of lab services from outside the lab.
- Use equipment and resources that are nontoxic, renewable, or salvaged.
- Sustainable source and have recycle and locally available content.
After adopting sustainable design, it has been observed that the overall performance of the facilities is better and incur lower maintenance costs during their life time. Studies have shown that sustainable features increase user satisfaction and worker productivity and decrease the use of sick days.
 Difference between Sustainable Design and Green Design.
People often refer to sustainable design as green design and vice-versa. This is not correct. “Green Design” is a small, but important subset of what defines “Sustainable Design.” “Sustainability” is a much more inclusive criterion. In addition to minimizing the impact of the building on the environment, it also focuses on it uses energy, how the materials of its construction are derived, and how, over the life of the building, including its eventual demolition, it will diminish the finite resources of our planet. It includes the impact that the building will have on its occupants, especially as it relates to the issues of comfort, health, and well-being. The operation of the building, including the way it is maintained, also has an effect on the environment. This includes the use of solvents in cleaning, disposable materials from air conditioning filters, lamps and carpeting, and the use of nonrenewable energy resources such as fossil fuels. It is the thoughtful integration of architecture with electrical, mechanical, and structural engineering. In addition to concern for the traditional aesthetics of massing, proportion, scale, texture, shadow, and light, the facility design team needs to be concerned with long term costs: environmental, economic, and human.