arrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upchevron-upchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upclosecomment-newemail-newgallerygridheadphones-newheart-filledheart-openmap-geolocatormap-pushpinArtboard 1Artboard 1Artboard 1minusng-borderpauseplayplusreplayscreensharefacebookgithubArtboard 1Artboard 1linkedinlinkedin_inpinterestpinterest_psnapchatsnapchat_2tumblrtwittervimeovinewhatsappspeakerstar-filledstar-openzoom-in-newzoom-out-new

How Green Buildings Could Save Our Cities

New buildings are rising with urban growth. Here's why that may be a good thing.

This article is part of our Urban Expeditions series, an initiative made possible by a grant from United Technologies to the National Geographic Society.

| BY THE NUMBERS |

The City

Solution

As the world’s urban population expands, architects and planners are mapping out ways to make cities more sustainable. Cities produce a vast amount of emissions and waste, putting a strain on both human and ecological health. But our buildings themselves may hold a solution. High-density urban areas —especially those built using green methods of construction— can be more energy efficient and pollute less. New research is also revealing that green buildings can actually be good for our health too. —Kelsey Nowakowski

THE BUILDING

BLOCKS OF CITIES

AN URBAN FUTURE

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, up from 55 percent today.

THE ROLE OF BUILDINGS

But they account for 70% of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Cities cover 2% of the world’s land area.

30% of those

are generated

by buildings.

But that could change. Compared to traditional construction, green

buildings in the U.S. have reduced CO2 emissions by 34%.

WHAT MAKES

A GREEN BUILDING?

Though standards for green buildings vary, they are generally designed to conserve energy and water and improve the indoor environment, including air quality. The most widely used certification for green buildings is called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

SOLAR

PANELS

ROOFTOP

PLANTINGS

Green roofs reduce storm runoff and help mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Improved

Insulation

Energy efficiency is boosted by reducing the amount of air that escapes.

Enhanced

Ventilation

BUILDING

MATERIALS

 

Eco-friendly building materials reduce VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions.

Modulate

Lighting Based

on Natural Light

Water

Conservation

Efficient plumbing fixtures and reusing wastewater reduce consumption.

Motion Detection

Sensors Control

Light

Building

Orientation

 

Based on the sun, siting dramatically impacts heating and cooling, especially in hotter climates.

HIGH-

EFFICIENCY

LIGHT

FIXTURES

Smart Heating

and Cooling

Systems

RAINWATER

UTILIZATION

SYSTEMS

HEALTH BENEFITS

Regulatory efforts focus on outdoor air, even though people spend most of their time indoors, where air quality and other aspects can impact both physical health and mental functioning.

TIME SPENT INDOORS

Workers in green buildings have fewer complaints about air quality and humidity.

PRODUCTIVITY

 

In one study, cognitive function doubled with enhanced ventilation.

Maximize Natural Light

 

Workers who sit near windows get more light and sleep an extra 46 minutes at night. Light helps regulate sleep cycles.

Noise Reduction

 

Productivity is improved in offices using materials to reduce noise.

Fewer Air Pollutants

 

Green buildings can reduce illnesses caused by air quality issues.

ECONOMIC

INCENTIVES

Though initial construction costs may be higher, lower operating and energy costs mean that green buildings provide a long-term return on investment.

DROP IN OPERATION COSTS

Higher Occupancy Rates

LEED-certified building versus

traditional construction.

$ Billion

250

200

150

100

PROJECTION

50

0

2005

2014

2018

GREEN CONSTRUCTION SPENDING

IN THE U.S.

Operational cost savings and tax credits have spurred the sector’s rapid growth over the last decade—no government mandates were needed.

0.85 million

2005-09

2.54

2010-14

Green construction jobs

in the U.S.

By 2018 green construction will account for one-third of the entire construction sector.

ENVIRONMENTAL

GAINS

Efficiently designed green buildings consume less energy, conserve water, decrease per capita emissions, and generate less waste.

LESS ENERGY USED

LESS WATER USAGE

LEED-certified building versus

traditional construction.

CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)

23.9

19.7

7.1

NY

DC

U.S.

city average

THE CASE FOR CITIES

With workers and residents in high-rises and many opting for public transportation, densely populated cities (New York) are more energy efficient than sprawling metro areas (Washington, D.C.).

Million tons of waste

diverted from landfills

80

Today

540

2030

WASTE REDUCTION

In the U.S., green buildings have kept millions of tons of trash out of landfills by implementing recycling programs and keeping construction waste to a minimum.

Graphic: ÁLVARO VALIÑO.

Sources: U.S. Green Building Council; World Resources Institute; UnIted Nations; U.S. Department of Energy; Study on the impact of green buildings on cognitive function, Harvard University/T.H. Chan School of Public Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University, with support from United Technologies.

| BY THE NUMBERS |

The City Solution

As the world’s urban population expands, architects and planners are mapping out ways to make cities more sustainable. Cities produce a vast amount of emissions and waste, putting a strain on both human and ecological health. But our buildings themselves may hold a solution. High-density urban areas—especially those built using green methods in design and construction—can be more energy efficient and pollute less. New research is also revealing that green buildings can actually be good for our health too. —Kelsey Nowakowski

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF CITIES

AN URBAN FUTURE

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, up from 55 percent today.

THE ROLE

OF BUILDINGS

But that could change. Compared

to traditional construction, green

buildings in the U.S. have reduced CO2 emissions by 34%.

But they account for 70% of greenhouse-gas emissions.

30% of those

are generated

by buildings.

Cities cover 2% of the world’s land area.

WHAT MAKES A GREEN BUILDING?

Though standards for green buildings vary, they are generally designed to use less energy and water and improve the indoor environment, including air quality. The most widely used certification for green buildings is called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

SOLAR PANELS

ROOFTOP PLANTINGS

Green roofs reduce storm runoff and help mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Improved Insulation

Energy efficiency is boosted by reducing the amount of air that escapes.

Enhanced Ventilation

BUILDING MATERIALS

 

Eco-friendly building materials reduce VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions.

Modulate Lighting Based

on Natural Light

Water Conservation

 

Efficient plumbing fixtures and reusing wastewater reduce consumption.

Motion Detection Sensors

Control Light

Building Orientation

 

Based on the sun, siting dramatically impacts heating and cooling, especially in hotter climates.

HIGH-

EFFICIENCY

LIGHT

FIXTURES

Smart Heating and

Cooling Systems

RAINWATER UTILIZATION

SYSTEMS

HEALTH BENEFITS

Regulatory efforts focus on outdoor air, even though people spend most of their time indoors, where air quality and other aspects can impact both physical health and mental functioning.

PRODUCTIVITY

In one study, cognitive function doubled with enhanced ventilation.

TIME SPENT

INDOORS

Maximize Natural Light

Workers who sit near windows get more light and sleep an extra 46 minutes at night. Light helps regulate sleep cycles.

Workers in green buildings have fewer complaints about air quality and humidity.

Noise Reduction

Productivity is improved in offices using materials to reduce noise.

Fewer Air Pollutants

Green buildings can reduce illnesses caused by air quality issues.

ENVIRONMENTAL

GAINS

ECONOMIC

INCENTIVES

Efficiently designed green buildings consume less energy, conserve water, decrease per capita emissions, and generate

less waste.

Though initial construction costs may be higher, lower operating and energy costs mean that green buildings provide a long-term

return on investment.

DROP IN OPERATION COSTS

LESS ENERGY USED

Higher Occupancy Rates

LESS WATER USAGE

LEED-certified building versus

traditional construction.

LEED-certified building versus

traditional construction.

$ Billion

250

CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)

200

23.9

19.7

7.1

150

100

PROJECTION

50

0

NY

DC

U.S.

city average

2005

2014

2018

GREEN CONSTRUCTION SPENDING IN THE U.S.

THE CASE FOR CITIES

With workers and residents in high-rises and many opting for public transportation, densely populated cities (New York) are more energy efficient than sprawling metro areas (Washington, D.C.).

Operational cost savings and tax credits have spurred the sector’s rapid growth over the last decade—no government mandates were needed.

Million tons

of waste diverted

from landfills

2005-09

0.85 million

540

80

2010-14

2.54

Today

2030

WASTE REDUCTION

Green construction jobs in the U.S.

By 2018 green construction will account for one-third of the entire construction sector.

In the U.S., green buildings have kept millions of tons of trash out of landfills by implementing recycling programs and keeping construction waste to a minimum.

Graphic: ÁLVARO VALIÑO. Sources: U.S. Green Building Council; World Resources Institute;

UnIted Nations; U.S. Department of Energy; Study on the impact of green buildings on cognitive function, Harvard University/T.H. Chan School of Public Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University, with support from United Technologies.

| BY THE NUMBERS |

The City Solution

As the world’s urban population expands, architects and planners are mapping out ways to make cities more sustainable. Cities produce a vast amount of emissions and waste, putting a strain on both human and ecological health. But our buildings themselves may hold a solution. High-density urban areas—especially those built using green methods in design and construction—can be more energy efficient and pollute less. New research is also revealing that green buildings can actually be good for our health too. —Kelsey Nowakowski

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF CITIES

THE ROLE

OF BUILDINGS

AN URBAN FUTURE

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, up from 55 percent today.

But that could

change. Compared

to traditional construction, green

buildings in the U.S. have reduced CO2 emissions by 34%.

But they account for 70% of greenhouse-gas emissions.

30% of those

are generated

by buildings.

Cities cover 2% of the world’s land area.

WHAT MAKES A GREEN BUILDING?

Though standards for green buildings vary, they are generally designed to use less energy and water and improve the indoor environment, including air quality. The most widely used certification for green buildings is called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

SOLAR PANELS

ROOFTOP PLANTINGS

Green roofs reduce storm runoff and help mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Improved Insulation

Enhanced Ventilation

Energy efficiency is boosted by reducing the amount of air that escapes.

Water Conservation

Modulate Lighting Based

on Natural Light

Efficient plumbing fixtures and reusing wastewater reduce consumption.

Building Orientation

 

Motion Detection

Sensors Control Light

Based on the sun, siting dramatically impacts heating and cooling, especially in hotter climates.

BUILDING MATERIALS

HIGH-

EFFICIENCY

LIGHT

FIXTURES

Eco-friendly building materials reduce VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions.

Smart Heating and

Cooling Systems

RAINWATER UTILIZATION

SYSTEMS

HEALTH BENEFITS

Regulatory efforts focus on outdoor air, even though people spend most of their time indoors, where air quality and other aspects can impact both physical health and mental functioning.

PRODUCTIVITY

In one study, cognitive function doubled with enhanced ventilation.

TIME SPENT

INDOORS

Maximize Natural Light

Noise Reduction

Workers who sit near windows get more light and sleep an extra 46 minutes at night. Light helps regulate sleep cycles.

Productivity is improved in offices using materials to reduce noise.

Workers in green buildings have fewer complaints about air quality and humidity.

Fewer Air Pollutants

Green buildings can reduce illnesses caused by air quality issues.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVES

ENVIRONMENTAL GAINS

Though initial construction costs may be higher, lower operating and energy costs mean that green buildings provide a long-term return on investment.

Efficiently designed green buildings consume less energy, conserve water, decrease per capita emissions, and generate less waste.

DROP IN MAINTENANCE COSTS

Higher Occupancy Rates

LESS ENERGY USED

LESS WATER USAGE

LEED-certified building versus traditional construction

LEED-certified building versus traditional construction

CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)

$ Billion

250

200

7.1

19.7

23.9

150

100

PROJECTION

50

0

2005

2014

2018

NY

DC

U.S. city average

GREEN CONSTRUCTION SPENDING IN THE U.S.

THE CASE FOR CITIES

Operational cost savings and tax credits have spurred the sector’s rapid growth over the last decade—no government mandates were needed.

With workers and residents in high-rises and many opting for public transportation, densely populated cities (New York) are more energy efficient than sprawling metro areas (Washington, D.C.).

Million tons of waste

diverted from landfills

2005-09

0.85 million

540

80

2010-14

2.54

Today

2030

WASTE REDUCTION

Green construction jobs in the U.S.

By 2018 green construction will account for one-third of the entire construction sector.

In the U.S., green buildings have kept millions of tons of trash out of landfills by implementing recycling programs and keeping construction waste to a minimum.

Graphic: ÁLVARO VALIÑO. Sources: U.S. Green Building Council; World Resources Institute; UnIted Nations;

U.S. Department of Energy; Study on the impact of green buildings on cognitive function,

Harvard University/T.H. Chan School of Public Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University,

and Syracuse University, with support from United Technologies.

Comment on This Story