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What is a sustainable building?

There can be no question that people will continue to build buildings to live and work in. What we must not accept as a given is that this is necessarily bad for the environment. Sustainable architecture has arrived and will increasingly take over.

Sustainable construction is one of the pillars of the society of the future. Do you think we are exaggerating? Take note of this figure: within one year, 60% of construction companies will have doubled their number of sustainable projects (going from the current 18% to a significant 37%).

In Endesa we are pioneers in the subject. Six years ago, our headquarters in Madrid was the first corporate building in Spain to achieve the triple certification in Energy Efficiency, Environmental Management and Indoor Environmental Quality.

 

Principles of sustainable buildings

We're through equating construction with environmental damage and harm to the planet. There are other ways. 

Sustainable construction focuses on meeting the needs of human beings without compromising future generations. To achieve this, three basic principles are followed: 

  • Take the environment into account as well as the orientation of the place where the building will be constructed: instead of imposing an idea that does not fit in with the context, it is about adapting to what is around.   
  • Optimise existing natural resources: closely related to the previous point, it consists in collaborating with nature instead of going against it.  
  • Respect ecological principles: that is, justify the need for such construction (and put it in relation to the needs that future generations will have) and seek equity (a fair distribution of the social costs and benefits generated by the construction).
“The first commandment of sustainable construction is: do you really need to build this?”
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What is a sustainable building like?

The work to be done is enormous, since the above principles require a great deal from both sustainable architecture and the rest of the actors involved in such a construction.

But if we had to highlight some essential features of a sustainable building, they would be the following:  

  • Recycling: it is essential when selecting materials. Tiles made from glass bottles, impeccable parquet floors made with reused wood from other buildings, the patio paving made with old tiles ground up and compacted ... Reuse is the norm. 
  •  Reusing water: it is one of the main natural resources and one of the most wasted, reaching the deplorable figure of 130 litres consumed each day for each inhabitant. That's why when we start from scratch, in a new building where people will come to start a new life, it is essential to plan a sustainable use of water. How? Reusing waste water through proper treatment and collecting rainwater.
  • Solar energy: it will not be exhausted for another 4.5 billion years or so (what is left of the sun's life), so relying on panels for electricity, heating and hot water is a good investment.  
  • Natural light: long dark corridors belong to the past. The sustainable present consists of constructions designed and oriented in such a way that the maximum possible sunlight is used. This reduces the consumption of electricity and heating.
  • Low-carbon materials: all the materials of a house must be transported to it while it is being built, and some of them (although not all, as we have seen before) must be manufactured. Both the transport and the manufacture of materials emit certain pollutant gases into the atmosphere . Sustainable construction companies are increasingly committed to green transport (hybrid or even 100% electric models) and ways to reduce the effect of their emissions (for example: using them as food for a kind of algae that feeds on carbon dioxide).

 

How much does a sustainable building cost? 

Sustainable constructions are the future, but they do not yet make up a majority. Building a sustainable building, or buying an apartment that meets these characteristics, is still more expensive than the traditional option.

However, although the initial outlay is higher, there are studies showing that this price difference is amortised over a period of 5 to 15 years. How is it possible? Thanks to the continued saving in water, in light, in heating ... and in maintenance, because the materials have a guarantee of high durability.

If we look at the Madrid headquarters of Endesa, it has managed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 46% in just 10 years , electricity consumption by more than 20%, gas by 35% and water by 28%. At the same time, waste generation has been reduced by 15% and recycling has risen to 75%. 

“A sustainable building is more expensive, but it pays for itself in 5-10 years in energy savings.”
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