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Endesa - Electricity, Gas, People

What is a sustainable building?

Published on October 5, 2017

It is clear that human beings are going to continue constructing buildings in which to live and work. What we should not assume is that this must be bad for the environment. Sustainable architecture is here to stay.

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%).

At Endesa we are pioneers in this area. Six years ago, our headquarters in Madrid became the first corporate building in Spain to receive the triple certification in Energy Efficiency, Environmental Management and Indoor Air Quality.

Buildings that will not ruin the landscape

The days of designing buildings with environmentally unsound and harmful materials for the planet are over. There are other alternatives.

Sustainable buildings focus on meeting the needs of human beings without compromising future generations. To achieve this, three basic principles must be followed:

  1. The surroundings and the position of the place in which you are going to build must be considered: instead of imposing a decontextualized idea, the aim is to adapt to the surroundings.
  2. Existing natural resources should be optimised: closely related to the preceding point, this consists in collaborating with nature instead of going against it.
  3. Respecting environmental principles: i.e., justifying the need for the building (and putting this into context with the needs of future generations) and seeking equity (a fair distribution of the costs and social benefits generated by the building).

The first commandment of sustainable construction is: Does it really need to be built?

What is a sustainable building?

There is so much work to be done, since the preceding principles require a great deal of effort, both in terms of sustainable architecture and by all the other stakeholders involved in constructions of this sort.

But if we had to highlight some essential elements of a sustainable building, they would be as follows:

  • Recycling: this is essential when choosing materials. Tiles made from glass bottles, impeccable parquet floors made with reused wood from other buildings, patio flooring made with old crushed and compacted tiles… Reusing is mandatory.
  • Reusing water: this is one of our main natural resources and one of the most wasted, reaching the unfortunate figure of 130 litres consumed each day per inhabitant. Therefore, when we start from scratch on new building that will house people starting a new life, it is essential to plan a sustainable use of water. How? By reusing wastewater with the correct treatment systems and collecting rainwater.
  • Solar energy: this will not run out for another 4,500 million years (which is how long the Sun will last), so investing in solar panels for electricity, heating and hot water is a good choice.
  • Natural light: long dark corridors are a thing of the past. The sustainable present consists of buildings designed and positioned to take full advantage of sunlight. This reduces electricity and heating consumption.
  • Low-carbon materials: all the materials in a house have to be transported to the property while it is being built and some of them (not all, as we have seen above) have to be manufactured. Both the transportation and manufacturing of materials emit certain contaminating gases into the atmosphere. Sustainable construction companies are increasingly committed to environmentally-friendly transportation (hybrid models and even 100% electric models) and to establishing ways in which to mitigate their emissions (e.g.: using these as a feed for a species of algae that feeds off the carbon dioxide).

How much does a sustainable building cost?

Sustainable buildings are the future, but they are still a minority at the moment. Building a sustainable building or buying an apartment that fulfils these criteria, is still more expensive than the traditional option.

However, although the initial expenditure is higher, studies insist that the price difference is amortised within 5-15 years. How is this possible? Thanks to the continuous savings on water, electricity, heating… and maintenance costs, since the materials offer a high durability guarantee.

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

A sustainable building is more expensive, but it is amortised in 5-10 years through energy savings