Green and healthy buildings are an integral part of green cities

This article is sponsored by the International Copper Association.

Cities are at the heart of modern living. It is estimated that by 2050 more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, suggesting an unprecedented wave of urban growth.

Smart and green cities hold the key to a sustainable and low-carbon future. With modern technology, energy-neutral buildings are possible. These buildings are better for our planet, reduce the global water footprint, minimize waste and significantly increase recycling. Most important, these buildings contribute to better cities for people, with better urban spaces and more efficient transportation.

More than 30 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions emitted by cities are generated by buildings alone, according to National Geographic. As a microcosm for modern living, buildings are not only the physical building blocks of a city, but the places where most urbanites spend their time.

To fulfill U.N. Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 11 and to create greener and more sustainable cities — resilient against emerging socioeconomic and environmental pressures — we vitally need green and healthy buildings.

What does it mean to build a green and healthy building?

There is no one definition of what constitutes a green and healthy building (PDF), but overall these buildings — in their design, construction and operation — reduce or eliminate negative impacts on the environment, improve public health for building occupants and may even require less upkeep due to greater durability and energy efficiency.

Support for sustainable buildings and sustainable cities is growing. As the demand for more sustainable building options increases, green and healthy building construction is becoming increasingly profitable and desirable within the global construction market.

With certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), BPI (Building Performance Institute), BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), NGBS (National Green Building Standard) and many more, those involved in the construction and renovation of buildings have a plethora of available guidelines and existing, proven technologies to ensure their buildings are both green and healthy.

How copper can LEED the way

As sustainable construction has become more mainstream, copper has been identified as a choice material (PDF) shown to contribute to reducing the carbon footprints of green and healthy commercial buildings and providing healthier environments for people.

Copper applications in green and healthy buildings are nearly endless, with 128 possible uses — from basic electricity, heating and cooling needs to high-performance HVAC systems to enabling state-of-the-art building automation, rooftop solar panels and EV charging stations — contributing to the requirements for attaining accreditation by LEED, ASHRAE and WELL. Choosing copper has an immensely positive impact on energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water quality and total cost of ownership.

Rise of the resilient material

Given growing concerns over climate change, it is important to think carefully about the materials used and what long-term effects they will have on people and the environment.

A recent study found that of all the plastic made since 1950, only 9 percent has been recycled. On the other hand, it is estimated that two-thirds of the copper produced since 1900 is still in productive use today (Glöser, 2013) due to its long life cycle and efficient recyclability.

 Durable materials such as copper, which have a lifespan of 50 years or more in typical building construction projects, can play an important role in determining the longevity of our structures and cities. Because it is a resilient material with a long lifespan, the higher initial costs for copper are offset by the operational life of the building. Additionally, it is 100 percent recyclable — in fact, at least 80 percent of the copper in many copper-containing building products already has been recycled at least once.

Copper is the long-term choice not only because of how it can support the buildings constructed today, but also because of how it will live on well after the life of a given building.

Cities of the future

Investing in sustainable-building materials may be the most effective way cities themselves can become more resilient and safe places for residents to live and work.

To create the green cities of the future, city planners, architects, building owners and operators should invest in durable and sustainable materials, which will help create the greener buildings critical for maintaining urban life as we know it. Copper is a proven, robust material that will be central to creating the buildings of the future.