What is sustainable-building science?

Buildings, and the construction industry that creates and operates them, make major contributions to public well-being, our national economy and our impact on the environment.

Climate change and concern about carbon footprints have led to a focus on sustainability across all sectors of society. A ‘sustainable building’ should be: a) healthy, comfortable and productive; b) functional, comfortable, safe, economical; and c) have a low lifecycle impact on the environment, energy consumption and climate.

This is a multi-faceted, complex challenge that requires the integration of numerous stakeholders and expertise sets in the natural sciences and engineering, as well as architecture and the health and social sciences

Sustainable-building science is the application of technical concepts in science and engineering to the design, construction, control, operation, monitoring and disassembly of buildings, in order to improve inhabitant health and satisfaction, as well as having a low ecological footprint in the context of the larger community.

What is the economic climate for sustainable-building science?

Building construction constitutes around 10% of global GDP; in Canada, construction investments amount to $193 billion per year. A large proportion (20% and growing) of new buildings are built to meet ‘sustainability’ standards such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®).

The health and environmental dimensions of buildings are no less important, because we spend much of our lives in the indoor environment, and the construction and operation of buildings have energy and environmental impacts comparable to those of the transportation and industrial sectors of the economy.

What will be the future demand for sustainable-building science?

The construction industry is changing, due to societal preferences and mandatory regulation in provinces and cities across the country. British Columbia’s government has required that provincially-owned or -leased facilities be built to a minimum of LEED® Gold or equivalent standard, and that all new building codes for large, private building developments comply with the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 energy standard by 2010. The cities of Ottawa and Vancouver, for example, have introduced stringent performance criteria for all new buildings.

This expansion of the sustainable-building industry is out-pacing the ability of the educational system to provide appropriate highly-qualified personnel (HQP). Building design is not getting easier. For example, passive approaches to ventilation may avoid some equipment, but demand more careful integration of materials, consideration of weather-driven airflows, and the use of open floor-plans (which can have unintended human impacts)..

Currently, Canadian educational institutions are graduating engineers, architects and health scientists with high levels of uni-disciplinary knowledge, yet who are insufficiently equipped to cope with the interdisciplinary nature of sustainable-building science, since their training is not focused on buildings or sustainability, and is not interdisciplinary. Studies have shown that interdisciplinary learning environments are critical to the science and design of complex and sustainable systems.