by John A. Herbert
What is the definition of green building? First, some definitions  from around the world.
US EPA https://archive.epa.gov/greenbuilding/web/html/about.html
Green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Green building is also known as a sustainable or and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Green building is also known as a sustainable or high performance building.
Observation: Similar to the definition used by USGBC, to meet the criteria requires the whole building lifecycle to be counted, including building operations, renovation, and deconstruction. However, most new construction green building rating tools don’t consider operation and deconstruction, they focus, and only covering its design, and construction stages.
US GBC http://www.usgbc.org/articles/what-green-building
Green building is a holistic concept that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day. Green building is an effort to amplify the positive and mitigate the negative of these effects throughout the entire life cycle of a building. While there are many different definitions of green building out there, it is generally accepted as the planning, design, construction, and operations of buildings with several central, foremost considerations: energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material section and the building’s effects on its site.
Observation: this Green Building definition starts with a vague and somewhat intangible notion of positive and negative impacts, that’s difficult to implement, since one feature, for example, a green roof could be classified as having positive impacts, but itself also cause negative effects including additional materials to handle extra structure load, and increased water consumption demanding the need to irrigate the greenery. So would that be positive? And like other definitions, we find it also includes “operation” whereas rating tools are limited to design and construction stages.
Green building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) refers to both a structure and the using of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. In other words, green building design involves finding the balance between homebuilding and the sustainable environment. This requires close cooperation of the design team, the architects, the engineers, and the client at all project stages. The Green Building practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.
Observation: this Green Building definition, although targeting homebuilding, like others listed herein, covers design, construction, operation, and goes further, to include renovation, demolition. However, most green building rating tools for new construction don’t consider operation or demolition but are limited to cover design and construction stages.
Also, that the last sentence is problematical, didn’t those so-called “…classical building designs…” cause the very challenges we face, where environmental impacts were largely ignored, and now Green Building attempts to rectify.
Australia GBC https://www.gbca.org.au/about/what-is-green-building/
A green building incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate its negative impact on the environment and its occupants. Building green is an opportunity to use resources efficiently while creating healthier environments for people to live and work in. Green building can also significantly reduce construction and performance costs.
Observation: Similar to the South African GBC definition, requiring design, construction, and operations to be counted. However, most new construction green building rating tools don’t consider operations, only design, and construction stages are covered. Also it is difficult to grasp how reduced environmental impacts, for example lower water use, also lower the negative impact on its occupants.
South Africa GBC https://www.gbcsa.org.za/about/about-green-building/
Green building incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and people. Green buildings are energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible.
Observation: Unlike the World GBC definition below, this definition requires design, construction and operational practices to be counted as green. But responsible? being responsible is a human trait. Again, new construction green building rating tools don’t really consider building operation, only design, and construction stages.
World GBC http://www.worldgbc.org/what-green-building
A ‘green’ building is a building that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment. Green buildings preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life.
Commentary: this definition doesn’t do it either. The building could be badly constructed, have high energy consumption, but on the grounds that it is operated well, it meets this definition, which falls short in my view.
Hong Kong http://www.gov.hk/en/residents/environment/sustainable/buildings.htm
Green buildings are not a complicated or technical concept. They are designed, built, renovated, operated, and reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner to meet certain objectives such as protecting occupant health; improving employee productivity; using energy, water, and other resources more efficiently; and reducing the overall impact to the environment.
Observation: this definition goes further than all the others, including building operation and reuse. Yet BEAM PLUS NB (new buildings) rating tool like other green building rating tools, does not include criteria that stretch into operation or reuse, instead only covering the design and construction stages.
Green Building was conceived in the 1990’s by BREEAM from the United Kingdom as the driver to push developers to consider the environmental impact of new construction, and it’s since morphed into a much wider movement. I think it is fair to say that the term is a household name nowadays, and along with it, the ambitions of professionals in the industry for better building. Yes, I am limiting the influence to professionals because joe public has little appetite for the technical details of the buildings and most users do not care about the shiny new BEAM certificate, provided the building itself does not get in the way of their comfort. A key point missing from all but one of these definitions is the local environmental conditions varies from location to location, for example if you build in the desert water should be a higher priority.
Furthermore, there is no option in any of these definitions to ignore any one aspect of sustainability, yet typical Green Building rating tools, like LEED and BEAM, use a point system giving designers choice, perhaps they will prioritize Energy use over Water use, or their choice of materials, but still earn a Green Building certificate.
About the Author
John A. Herbert is a veteran building expert with more than 30 years experience, he was educated in the United Kingdom and has been working across Asia for more than two decades advising international and local companies. He is a Hong Kong Registered Energy Assessor (REA), and a BEAM Professional.