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Real estate and construction

‘Green’ buildings – theory versus reality

By Katarzyna Minkiewicz, sustainability manager, BREEAM, new construction assessor at Atlas Ward Polska
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The rapid growth of Poland’s commercial property market has led to an ever-increasing number of projects being developed, rising interest among customers and increased prices. It has also resulted in a growing focus on the environmental and climate footprint of such properties – one of the major challenges facing the entire sector in the perspective of the coming years.

The Polish market continues to attract investors, bringing considerable capital and creating new jobs. Domestic companies have also been growing and numerous startups have sprung up. All of these businesses require modern workspaces, modern in terms of having a strong and visible ‘green’ profile. They need to be environmentally friendly and protect the climate, which is being put to increasingly difficult trial.

What exactly is a green building?

Unfortunately, the term ‘green’ is often treated in a rather loose manner, and its meaning is subject to various interpretation. Another increasingly common and concerning phenomenon is the tendency to assign the term ‘environmentally friendly’ to buildings which are green only on the outside.

This concept is defined in engineering and development terms as an investment that contributes to an actual reduction in the consumption of energy, water or gas. Being ‘green’ does not necessarily mean that green areas must be planted on the property although this aspect is extremely important as well.

Green certificates, such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), are one of the ways to combat the trend of greenwashing, which is detrimental to the entire sector. Certificates clearly and meticulously define properties and parameters that must be met to classify a building as truly green.

The BREEAM certification system

Developing properties in accordance with the requirements of such certificates brings considerable benefits for the climate, environment and comfort of employees. It also results in a number of ample gains for the general contractor or future tenant itself. According to a report by DLA Piper, sustainable development increases the market value of a property by up to 38%, and improves brand reputation – by up to 18%.

The methodology used by BREEAM in the building certification process involves the assessment of the following areas: energy, health and well-being, innovations, ecology and use of space, materials, management, pollution, transport, waste and obviously water.

Following the certification process, a building is given an appropriate rating: good, very good or excellent. In terms of reducing CO2 emission, for example, these ratings correspond to reductions in the level of atmospheric emissions caused by the operation of the building of -10%, -15% and -32%, respectively.

A green building in practice

Energy efficiency is one major aspect and property of green buildings. A wide array of systems or solutions in this area should be used in modern buildings. As far as control of energy consumption is concerned, these solutions primarily include submeters located in each branch of the building installation and systems used to monitor them, installed across the property. Other solutions include zone lighting or astronomical clocks used outside buildings. All light fixtures should be LED-based. Alternative power sources – photovoltaics, heat pumps or solar collectors – are another important aspect.

Water management is a second key area. Rainwater collection systems, greywater recycling and modern fittings help considerably reduce everyday consumption. Adequate HVAC systems are also extremely important, as on the one hand they are necessary to ensure the comfort of employees, but on the other are a considerable energy drain.

Green technology is not limited to internal system. It also includes external properties and parameters of buildings which must be taken into account during the design stage. These include type of the facade, ensuring the adequate thickness of insulation panels and access to daylight, as well as performing thermovision measurements and monitoring the envelope airtightness. Other solutions include amenities for cyclists or electric-vehicle charging stations.

A green building is a concept which should become part of the organisational culture of the businesses who use it, in practice forming one of the foundations of such culture.

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