10 Green Ideas for Commercial Buildings

Published Categorized as Sustainability
Green Building Facade

In addition to reducing energy and water requirements, green commercial buildings can also reduce maintenance and operational costs by a significant amount. So what green ideas can commercial buildings incorporate to enhance overall efficiency?

Here are 10 green ideas for commercial buildings:

  1. Solar energy (photovoltaic cells)
  2. Smart building sensors
  3. Green roofs, walls, and insulation
  4. Large electrochromic glass windows
  5. Reclaimed water or greywater
  6. Passive solar architecture
  7. Eco-friendly building materials
  8. Energy-efficient lighting fixtures
  9. Optimum natural ventilation
  10. Bespoke revamp of old systems

Commercial buildings can retrofit many green ideas to be sustainable, but you mustn’t take the eco-bling route. The objective is to incorporate green ideas as principles and use the solutions that have tangible net benefits. Read on to learn more about the best green ideas for commercial buildings.

1. Solar Energy (Photovoltaic Cells)

Renewable energy like solar power is one of the most effective ways for commercial buildings to go green. Also, industrial and commercial properties have much more space than residences to maximize the utilization of solar panels.

Modern solar panels use photovoltaic cells. These systems aren’t the same as solar thermal panels. Also, solar panels using photovoltaic cells are of different types. Thus, you must select a solar panel installation that provides the best returns for your commercial building.

Consider the two common types of solar panels used today: monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

  • Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient (23%) than polycrystalline cells (15%)
  • Polycrystalline solar panels are more affordable than monocrystalline cells.
  • Monocrystalline solar panel installation takes less space than polycrystalline cells.
  • Monocrystalline solar cells have a lower temperature coefficient than polycrystalline panels. Thus, monocrystalline cells are more efficient when the temperature changes.
  • Monocrystalline cells look more aesthetically appealing and last longer than polycrystalline panels.

The above differences establish monocrystalline solar panels as a much superior alternative. However, you may have budgetary constraints, in which case polycrystalline solar panels may be the only viable option. Whatever option you choose, you should settle for one that has the most impact on your energy savings goals.

Solar energy reduces the dependence of commercial buildings on conventional grid power, thus leading to a greener and more sustainable development. Also, commercial buildings can choose to feed excess solar power into the grid, in effect monetizing their renewable energy.

2. Smart Building Sensors

Another excellent green idea for commercial buildings is the spectrum of smart sensors. An IoT building management system (BMS) using different types of smart sensors will reduce energy usage, automate various fixtures, and simplify property maintenance.

Here are the smart building sensors to consider for a green commercial building:

  • Motion or occupancy detection.
  • Temperature sensors.
  • Humidity sensors.
  • Light or photosensors.
  • Air quality sensors.
  • Water leak detection.
  • Current sensors.
  • Contact sensors.

Smart building sensors with a fully-integrated IoT-based building management system reduce energy & water wastage, operational & unpredictable costs, repair and maintenance expenses, etc. Also, a green management system reduces the personnel costs for commercial buildings.

Every critical smart building sensor in sync with a centralized IoT system allows for a high level of automation. Visualize a motion sensor detecting no occupancy in a zone, and responding by turning off the HVAC system for that area.

Proximity sensors can also operate the faucets in washrooms, which improves water conservation while enhancing overall hygiene levels.

Like solar panel installations, the environmental impact and savings due to the smart building sensors are proportional to how extensive such a setup is at your commercial property. Also, you can integrate these sensors on a small scale basis and when you deem fit.

3. Green Roofs, Walls, and Insulation

Green roofs aren’t necessarily viable for all types of commercial buildings. Some roofs may not be able to sustain vegetation or the requisite ecosystem. However, you don’t have to convert your entire roof to a garden.

You may choose among intensive, semi-intensive, and extensive green roofs. Also, you can opt for a bio solar green roof, one with solar panels and a garden. Likewise, you can decide in favor of green landscaping or hardscaping across your commercial building, subject to viability.

Every commercial property can’t emulate the Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall in Japan or Waldspirale in Germany. But the City Hall in Chicago, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and Vancouver Convention Center in Canada can be viable for many properties.

Furthermore, a bio solar installation isn’t necessarily limited to roofs. There are flexible solar panels available today that you can install on walls and other parts of a commercial building that aren’t exactly flat or sloped with an even gradient.

Some bio wall proponents endorse its universal viability for commercial buildings, but it isn’t necessarily beneficial in every climate. Living walls can reflect solar radiation to a great extent. However, you don’t want that in a temperate or frigid zone.

Besides, insulation, shades, and other options exist that can shield the interiors from the scorching summer sun. For instance, you may choose one of the following green insulation materials:

  • Cellulose
  • Cork
  • Denim
  • Wool
  • Mycelium

These eco-friendly materials, some of which are completely natural, are excellent insulators. Also, the materials are treated to be fire-retardant, so you don’t have to worry about safety.

4. Large Electrochromic Glass Windows

Electrochromic glass windows have several names, such as:

  • Smart glass
  • Switchable glass
  • Light control glass
  • Smart tint
  • Tintable glass
  • Dynamic glass
  • Privacy glass

Commercial buildings with large glass facades or floor-to-ceiling windows can incorporate this brilliant technology for multiple benefits. Some of these tangible advantages include:

  • Energy conservation
  • Natural light optimization
  • Indoor climate control
  • Personalizable privacy
  • Open office spaces, etc.

Essentially, electrochromic glass windows can switch from transparent to opaque and thus regulate the amount of light and radiation pervading an indoor space. Dynamic smart glasses used for such applications can allow or block visible light, infrared, and ultraviolet rays.

Also, some switchable or electrochromic glasses can offer varying levels of shade, not just two modes of complete transparency and opaqueness. Furthermore, you can choose between an active and a passive switchable glass window.

Active smart glasses use electricity or voltage to switch from one mode to another and are thus called electrochromic glasses. The passive varieties can be thermochromic, wherein the glass responds to changes in temperature.

Since electrochromic glass is independent of other features or fixtures of commercial buildings, you can only upgrade the windows or facades as necessary. You can probably gauge the kind of savings and energy conservation possible with such glass in different climates and seasons.

5. Reclaimed Water or Greywater

Most green ideas for commercial buildings have two quintessential components, which are also genuine benefits for the world and your business. The first component is ecological, or an idea’s impact on the environment. The second element is a measurable financial or material benefit.

Rainwater harvesting has been around for a while. Many industrial, commercial, and residential properties harvest rainwater to varying extents. Another viable way to conserve resources and save money is using reclaimed water or greywater.

Not every commercial property may be able to harness the power of reclaimed water because it requires a dual plumbing or piping system. One plumbing network will serve the potable water needs. The other piping system will use reclaimed water.

Also, using greywater requires proper treatment before it can be reclaimed or essentially reused for various non-drinking purposes. The challenges aside, this green idea is certainly worthwhile, especially in areas dealing with water scarcity.

If, at all, this idea is a nonstarter for your commercial property, you can always explore other ways to conserve water. For instance, you can use low-flow toilets, tankless fixtures, and other smart ways to reduce water usage, thus preventing wastage.

Furthermore, the water leak detection sensors I mentioned while discussing smart buildings can help prevent wastage and property damage. Therefore, a combination of distinct green ideas for commercial buildings can bring about a paradigm shift in sustainability and financial liabilities.

6. Passive Solar Architecture

Passive solar architecture isn’t new. For centuries, architects and civil engineers have oriented their designs and aligned new buildings and structures to suit the sun’s path in the sky.

Your commercial building design can harness the warmth of the winter sun while shielding itself against direct summer heat. Of course, such a design has to be a proactive approach. However, you can consult an architect about design suggestions that can make your commercial property greener.

Many years before The Edge in Amsterdam became the greenest building on the planet, India’s CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Center in the city of Hyderabad earned the LEED Platinum certificate in 2003. But both the properties use the same passive solar design principles.

Also, passive solar architecture isn’t just about managing the exposure to sunlight and thus heat. The same principles apply to passive cooling techniques. In other words, your commercial building will be perennially green and sustainable according to the location and climate.

In a way, passive solar architecture works quietly, like DC power benefitting modern offices. The solar energy generated by onsite panels is DC, not AC. Most electronics and many devices use DC power. Thus, you don’t lose any energy while converting AC to DC if you use solar power.

7. Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Eco-friendly building materials aren’t only good for the environment but also affordable, subject to your location and what is naturally and abundantly available in the region. Also, the materials aren’t confined to only insulation, like natural fiber and cellulose.

You can consider using reclaimed hardwood, earthen materials, and stones. Insulated concrete forms and steel are green options, too. You may already know that steel is infinitely recyclable.

Also, cork, bamboo, cordwood, and composites are a few other eco-friendly building materials. These options make a commercial property more conducive to the local climate, thus seasons.

Practically, commercial buildings can’t use random combinations of eco-friendly materials as the architecture must factor in the strengths and weaknesses of these materials. For instance, many green materials can’t be a part of load-bearing walls, a factor that must be considered during construction.

However, there are different ways you can optimize the use of green building materials in your commercial property to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and overall carbon footprint.

8. Energy-Efficient Lighting Fixtures

The obvious choice for energy-efficient lighting fixtures is LED. However, you can make those lights more eco-friendly.

Consider smart LED lighting fixtures with dimmable modes, remote access, and seamless sync with different sensors. I have already talked about occupancy detection and photosensors. The motion sensors need compatible lights. Also, photosensors require the LEDs to be in sync.

While motion sensors can automate lights depending on the occupancy in an area, you can use photosensors to regulate the LEDs based on the natural or artificial light available in the zone. IoT-enabled sensors won’t work with all LEDs, so you must upgrade as necessary.

Also, many commercial properties have to use aesthetic lighting and some fixtures for specific purposes.

Unlike residences, a commercial building can’t satiate only the owner’s preference. Thus, it’s more important to opt for energy-efficient lighting fixtures, not just plain LED and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

9. Optimum Natural Ventilation

One of the principles of passive solar architecture deals with the environmental conditions at a particular location. While the sun’s alignment influences a building’s architectural orientation, other climatic factors such as wind speed and direction are also taken into account.

Natural ventilation isn’t solely about allowing fresh air into a commercial building. For instance, you’re probably aware of cross-ventilation–how you allow natural air to flow into a commercial building and create a path of fresh breeze before eventually exiting through designated outlets.

One fundamental problem with cross-ventilation in commercial buildings is the negative impact it might have on the indoor environment. Obviously, you can’t allow cold or hot air during winter or summer, respectively, to effectively neutralize the entire insulation and HVAC-enabled climate.

However, there are ways to optimize natural ventilation without compromising the indoor climate and neutralizing the building’s insulation. Planners can work on designs and layouts to reduce the dependence on forced air handler units. Also, you can rely on the expected wind conditions.

It isn’t rare for large commercial buildings to become heat islands or freezing spots due to poor ventilation. Increasing the stress on air handler units and HVACs is neither a green remedy nor an economical option. Thus,you should consider viable ways to optimize natural ventilation.

10. Bespoke Revamp of Old Systems

Last but not least, you must go for a bespoke revamp of old systems.

Installing solar panels is of little significance if the HVAC system is archaic. You won’t benefit a lot from smart sensors if there are leaks compromising your commercial building’s insulation. The same principle applies to green roofs, walls, smart glass, and energy-efficient fixtures.

A green commercial building or residence, for that matter, must be an energy-efficient and sustainable establishment in its entirety. You can’t have some half-hearted measures when the prevailing loopholes can neutralize or more than defeat your green ideas and initiatives.

Therefore, review your entire commercial building’s design, from the blueprint to all the changes you’ve made over the years. The larger architecture can remain the same. However, you may need modifications or upgrades so that your commercial building is ready for the green ideas.


By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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