Buildings are a defining characteristic of cities – you cannot think about Paris without the image of the Eiffel Tower. But in our new world of climate change awareness and action, buildings also play a variety of roles in the interaction between people and the environment. From the construction of a building to the energy it consumes – whether a high-office tower, a medium-sized apartment building, or a single-family home – each building is a primary consumer of our natural resources and contributor to climate change. Simply by using acreage that might otherwise be used for a park or open space, buildings have an impact on our environment.
While it is true that buildings provide us with shelter in our everyday lives and stand as self-sufficient sentinels in the event of natural disasters, they also create 56 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions. They use water and electricity and, in traditional designs, serve as impermeable surfaces that contribute to stormwater run-off, sending polluted water to streams and the Bay.
Green building and urban resiliency are relatively new concepts that dictate a changing role for buildings—an opportunity for them to offset their negative impacts by contributing to sustainability, water efficiency, energy efficiency, green material use, and indoor environmental quality. Incorporating green practices such as urban agriculture and forestry into building design—for both old and new buildings—allows them to produce food, handle stormwater better, filter airborne particulates, and contribute to our overall quality of life.