11 Most Common Sustainable Building Practices

Published Categorized as Sustainability
Sustainable Building with Solar Panels

With the recent emphasis on lowering our carbon footprint, even builders have begun to rely on sustainable construction practices to reduce environmental impact. Aside from minimizing ecological damage, these sustainable practices can help companies cut costs when building new offices. And today’s emerging technology has taken sustainable construction to a new level.

Here are the most common sustainable building practices used today:

  1. Solar energy-based buildings
  2. Alternative building materials
  3. Net-zero building design
  4. Buildings with automatic heating and cooling systems
  5. Light sensors to save energy in your building.
  6. Choose materials to extend Your building’s lifespan
  7. Composting for green buildings
  8. Underground thermal chambers to save energy
  9. Structural 3D printing advances in building
  10. Proactive maintenance of your building.
  11. Improved air quality.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each of these practices and how they will change the future of construction forever.

1. Solar Energy-Based Buildings

Everyone has heard the term because solar energy has been around for decades. However, commercial buildings and offices have recently begun to rely heavily (and even solely) on solar panels to provide the bulk of their energy needs.

For example, the Bullitt Center in Seattle utilizes over 570 solar panels spread over its rooftop to provide the building with all its energy requirements. In fact, these panels provide so much energy that the Bullitt Center produces more power than it can consume!

While solar power may not be the solution for specific locations (think colder places with limited sunlight), it can help reduce the need for traditional energy sources. And cutting down our energy needs from non-renewable sources can significantly lower our carbon footprint.

2. Alternative Building Materials

Regular construction material is non-renewable and consumed at an alarming rate worldwide. And regularly digging the Earth has had a catastrophic effect on the environment, causing natural disasters and displacing wildlife, aside from other issues.

The shift to alternative building materials has been slow but steady, and many builders are slowly seeing the benefits this shift has on their business. Some green building material includes:


Manufacturers make hempcrete using the hemp plant fibers bound together using lime and other natural binders to create large concrete-like slabs. These pieces are light and easy to transport, significantly lowering the environmental cost involved in logistics.

Additionally, hempcrete is biodegradable and harmless to the Earth once the building has completed its natural lifespan.

Finally, this material significantly reduces carbon emissions as hemp absorbs more CO2 than it emits. It can also be grown quickly and with little effort and is a renewable resource.


Bamboo is probably the fastest-growing natural resource and can be planted anywhere in the world, except in colder climates. Bamboo also has a higher tensile strength than concrete or brick and can be used to bolster specific structures.

However, you need to treat bamboo before use so it doesn’t rot or absorb moisture. And while you can’t use bamboo for every part of the construction, several types of bamboo are perfect for a new home.

Reclaimed Steel

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, it takes only six scrapped cars to generate enough steel for a 2000-square-foot house.

This material is more sustainable than wood and sturdy enough to withstand earthquakes of certain magnitudes. Additionally, recycled steel takes a lot less energy to produce than regular steel.

You’ll find many alternative sustainable materials like the ones mentioned above, and builders are becoming increasingly aware of their benefits.

Recycled Plastic

Recycled plastic is one innovation that, if fully embraced, can transform our planet. Thanks to today’s technology, builders can turn plastic waste into a concrete-like substance that you can use safely in construction.

Aside from reducing carbon emissions on construction material, this technique can help clear up landfills and clean up the environment.

Additionally, plastic is highly malleable, and builders can use the material for various construction purposes, like making roofs, floors, and even PVC windows.

3. Net-Zero Building Design

The term ‘sustainable building’ also applies to designs that consume little to no resources during their lifetime. Net-zero building requires that the energy generated at a site be equal to or less than the energy consumed within the structure.

Green materials can help reduce environmental damage, and specific designs can lower our carbon footprint. Furthermore, businesses incorporating these types of building models may also acquire significant tax breaks.

Net-Zero Energy

Some buildings generate enough energy to run their operations without depending on an external energy source.

For example, architects designed the Glumac in Shanghai to reduce energy consumption as much as possible by using solar panels and alternate energy sources.

Glumac has optimized energy consumption so much that it produces more energy than it consumes! Through its design, the Glumac produces roughly 53,000 kWh per year while consuming only 40,000 kWh.

The rest of this energy can be sold to the government and redistributed among the public, further reducing energy consumption in the area.

Net-Zero Water

Most green building structures today are set up to minimize water loss while saving precious water as much as possible. Most of today’s green buildings include:

  • The rainwater harvesting process captures as much natural water as possible and redirects it throughout the building.
  • Condensation systems capture moisture in the air and convert it into water for the washrooms.
  • Some buildings have an adequate water recycling system that processes the water used in the construction so that occupants may recycle the water.

The Capital Tower in Singapore is an excellent example of a building that uses efficient water management systems to minimize water usage from outside sources.

4. Buildings With Automatic Heating and Cooling Systems

As mentioned before, sustainability isn’t just about how one constructs a building but the resources it uses throughout its lifetime. And many of today’s buildings utilize automatic cooling systems to minimize energy consumption.

For example, The Crystal, one of the first intelligent buildings in the world, uses an automatic heating and cooling system to save the time and energy involved in manually changing settings.

The Crystal constantly monitors the indoor air temperature and adjusts its HVAC system to suit the needs of its occupants. When the temperature is moderate, it switches off the system and automatically opens the windows to allow natural ventilation.

When the building gets too hot or too cold (based on a predetermined temperature), the windows are shut, and the HVAC system regulates the temperature accordingly. Engineers fine-tune the system to adjust the temperature accurately to minimize energy consumption.

5. Light Sensors To Save Energy in Your Building

With the Internet of Things becoming increasingly popular, builders can now use this technology to significantly cut back on energy needs. And one of the quickest and most efficient ways to do this is by installing automatic light sensors in the building.

The Edge in Amsterdam is a technological marvel in this field and has utilized light sensors to optimize lighting and reduce energy consumption dramatically. The building monitors the employees using the space and accurately gauges the number of people in the building.

The Edge uses the Internet of Things to direct people to specific sections of the building to carry out their work day. The automation allows the system to shut down entire building areas, preserving significant energy daily.

Additionally, the lights automatically adjust based on the number of people and the outside lighting, growing bright or dim when required. This automatic adjustment may seem fancy, but it’s an effective way to reduce energy consumption while providing people with a comfortable work setup.

6. Choose Materials To Extend Your Building’s Lifespan

Another effective way to make a building more sustainable is by extending its lifespan using proper construction materials and techniques. Let’s look at the Bullitt Center in Seattle again as an example.

While most buildings only last forty to fifty years, they built the Bullitt Center to last nearly two hundred and fifty years!

Sure, the builders took almost two years to source all the building materials. But that’s the lifespan of four equivalent buildings, and the construction helped save thousands of tons of resources.

While most builders might not be patient enough to source suitable building material, they can employ newer construction techniques to prevent the building from degrading too soon. Additionally, you can fix minor breaks or issues immediately to avoid more significant problems in the future.

7. Composting for Green Buildings

Composting is a much newer concept in the green building industry, but one that can significantly reduce carbon emissions and waste aggregation.

Green builders can build compost bins in the office to collect organic waste and send it to the composter. They then reuse this raw material to nourish plant life on the office premises or elsewhere.

It’s crucial to mention the Bullitt Center here once more as it’s probably the only commercial building in the world with a composting system connected to all the toilets.

As such, six stories of toilet waste in the Bullitt Center are composted and reused as manure, significantly lowering the carbon footprint of its tenants.

8. Underground Thermal Chambers To Save Energy

Some locations, like Melbourne in Australia, are known for extreme variations in temperature. In such places, builders have set up underground thermal chambers to harness heat energy that they can redistribute throughout the building.

Aside from reducing energy consumption, one can use this heat to control temperature fluctuations and keep occupants warm in cold weather.

9. Structural 3D Printing Advances in Building

While 3D printing has been around for a few years, its viability in construction is still in its test stages. However, the MX3D bridge designed by Dutch Studio Joris Laarman lab is a testament to the power of 3D printing and the possibilities it will open for new builders.

The intricate design uses roughly 4,500 kilograms of steel, 3D printed by robots in a factory. Once the design was complete, the builders placed the material using cranes and other construction equipment.

The implications of such construction in the green building sector are significant.

For starters, producing that much steel in a factory uses significant quantities of oil and gas, not to mention the environmental cost of transporting many resources.

Additionally, 3D printing allows builders to create larger designs in metal while reducing the cost of transportation.

Finally, thanks to the reduced weight, transportation can be carried out with minimal effort, helping to cut back on carbon emissions.

10. Proactive Maintenance of Your Building

Maintaining and keeping a building in shape before specific systems deteriorate is key to a greener future. And today’s technologies can give building owners valuable insights into parts of the building that require attention.

For example, the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, utilizes advanced technology by Honeywell to ensure its HVAC system is running smoothly.

The OBS (Outcome-Based Solution) service from Honeywell allows Burj’s facility manager to keep track of the building’s HVAC system and spot issues before they arise.

This system uses algorithms to monitor the functioning of the system and detect possible problems that may occur in the future.

Using this information, the manager can proactively design solutions or provide maintenance to the system so that they can avoid future issues.

While this may not seem like much, these preemptive measures significantly reduce the costs involved (in both resources and money).

11. Improved Air Quality

Sustainability isn’t just about resource optimization but improving people’s lives over an extended period. Many of today’s green building practices aim to improve occupants’ health through subtle yet significant designs.

Let’s return to the Glumac in Shanghai as an example. Shanghai is known for being one of the most polluted cities, and the occupants at the Glumac breathe clean air while at work.

The building has a green wall to prevent polluted outdoor air from seeping into the building. Additionally, The facility boasts an indoor air monitoring system and various sensors that connect to the employees’ smartphones.

These sensors provide accurate reflections of air quality on the inside, along with oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. The Glumac adjusts the indoor atmosphere based on these readings, giving occupants a cleaner setting to work.

The Capital Tower in Singapore is another example of a building with an air monitoring system. In fact, the Capital Tower has an intelligent air purification system that constantly monitors CO2 and carbon-monoxide levels and makes adjustments accordingly.


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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