Sustainable Design

Text and graphics: Ar. Ahmed Mian

Sustainable design provides the practice of designing environments, and services to comply with the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability.

Sustainability is simply the capacity for an environment to endure due to constant interference caused in its evolution, ironically by its most complex inhabitants – humans. In ecological terms, the word describes how natural biological systems or the Earth remains diverse, productive and fit for human habitation over time. The term Sustainable or Green design has today become ubiquitous in our lingo, no matter where we live. The reasons are simple. We live on a planet with finite natural resources. We are consuming or degrading these resources at a rate faster than what the earth possesses or can replenish. We are not living responsibly. Agreed we in Pakistan are far less the culprits of mindless consumption and pollution, as compared to developed nations like the US. However we cannot simply ignore this fact, and let these nations come up with sustainable solutions, and meanwhile just ape their bad habits. We need to learn from their mistakes, and gain from their experiences.

In the 21st century, there is increasing global awareness of
the threat posed by the human-induced enhanced greenhouse effect,
produced largely by forest clearing and the burning of fossil fuels. It
is a known fact now that due to the emissions of greenhouse gases the
Earth’s average surface temperature has increased, either on land or the
seas. Further this has disturbed the fragile balance of our ecosystem
causing freak storms, floods and bizarre weather patterns.

More and more data is indicating that humans are not living within the “carrying capacity” (maximum population of species that a habitat can sustain indefinitely) of the planet. Our “ecological footprint” is growing exponentially and out of control in some cases. This term measures human consumption in terms of the biologically productive land needed to provide the resources, and absorb the wastes of the average global citizen.

In order to set off the practice of sustainable design, a waste hierarchy has been developed that simply states basic strategies that need to be pursued towards waste minimization Karachi …. the ninth most polluted city in the world “Some 35 percent of people in one way or another are affected by these ailments including cardiac, lung, ENT, skin, eye and psychological diseases.


The main source of air pollution is the presence of two- stroke rickshaws and smoke emitting vehicles, these cause air and noise pollution and due to which nasal allergy, nasal polyp, sore throat and other ENT problems are increasing. Noise pollution is causing problems such as hearing impairment, headaches and hypertension.” – source “Weirdly Odd” Coincidentally when we are the perpetrators of environmental degradation, it is us who also have the grasp to make amends and learn to live and build in co-existence with this planet.

Many developed nations have put together a system or set of principles and codes that form the basis of Sustainable Design practices. This aims to reduce greenhouse gases and the carbon footprint, as well as making the built environment friendly to its user. Dust and smoke particles are “generally twice the world average” and “five times” higher than the developed world – source Pakistan Economic Survey Sustainable Buildings The environmental impact of a building design, its subsequent construction and operation is significant. Buildings of any scale annually consume vast amounts of energy and potable water, while generating an equally enormous amount of solid and liquid waste. Any development will shift land usage away from a natural habitat to hardscapes that are impervious and devoid of bio-diversity – in short the lands function which may have remained unchanged for millennia, now transforms forever, probably for the worse. Green building practices is a process of designing, constructing and operating buildings of any scale that are conscientiously, contextually and scientifically put together to conserve energy and reduce its carbon foot print. As an added advantage green design also reduces operating costs, improve building marketability and increase worker productivity due to better indoor air, temperature and lighting quality measures. Green design has environmental, economic and social elements that benefit all building stakeholders, including owners, occupants and the general public. Pakistan loses Rs1bn a day to environment degradation – source Dawn publications Green Building Rating Systems Many developed and developing countries, under the patronage of their respective Green Building Councils, have set up principles or codes of construction that defines and measures the performance of “green buildings”. These performance based systems than subsequently generate a rating system which ultimately quantifies and qualifies a Green Building. The success of a rating system depends on the stakeholders that craft it. The diverse composition of these individuals as well as their experiences and consensus should include architects, engineers, realtors, government officials, building owners, lawyers, environmentalists, industrialist to name a few. A point to be familiar with is also that any green rating system is dynamic, constantly evolving at par with the technology and environmental conditions of each individual country. Below are some Green Rating systems, recognized globally. Rating Systems: A brief of the LEED Rating system The LEED rating system is an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED is an acronym and stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. “LEED provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions” – USGBC The LEED rating system has been developed such that it can individually cater to various building types. For example there are separate categories for New Construction, Existing Buildings (Renovation), Commercial Interiors, Core and Shell, Homes and Neighborhood Development. Though there may be similarities or overlaps in these systems they have separate manuals that focus on individual building types. The chart below is a quick representation of LEED for buildings coming under the New Construction and Major Renovation category. The points for each division add up to finally quantify how “green” a building could be, with Platinum as the highest rated.As per USGBC standards, LEED measures the following key areas of a building: 1. Sustainable Sites “The Sustainable Sites category discourages development on previously undeveloped land; seeks to minimize a building’s impact on ecosystems and waterways; encourages regionally appropriate landscaping; rewards smart transportation choices; controls storm water runoff; and promotes reduction of erosion, light pollution, heat island effect and construction-related pollution” 2. Water Efficiency “Buildings are major users of our potable water supply. The goal of the Water Efficiency category is to encourage smarter use of water, inside and out. Water reduction is typically achieved through more efficient appliances, fixtures and fittings inside and water-conscious landscaping outside” 3. Energy & Atmosphere “The Energy & Atmosphere category encourages a wide variety of energy-wise strategies: commissioning; energy use monitoring; efficient design and construction; efficient appliances, systems and lighting; the use of renewable and clean sources of energy, generated on-site or off-site; and other innovative measures” 4. Materials and Resources “During both the construction and operations phases, buildings generate a lot of waste and use large quantities of materials and resources. The Materials & Resources category encourages the selection of sustainably grown, harvested, produced and transported products and materials. It promotes waste reduction as well as reuse and recycling, and it particularly rewards the reduction of waste at a product’s source” 5. Indoor Environmental Quality “The Indoor Environmental Quality category promotes strategies that improve indoor air as well as those that provide access to natural daylight and views and improve acoustics” 6. Innovation in Design “The Innovation in Design category provides bonus points for projects that use innovative technologies and strategies to improve a building’s performance well beyond what is required by other LEED credits, or to account for green building considerations that are not specifically addressed elsewhere in LEED. This category also rewards projects for including a LEED Accredited Professional on the team to ensure a holistic, integrated approach to the design and construction process” Reference: The quotations above have been directly taken from the USGBC website Three additional sections subsequently added are 1. Regional Priority Credits, gives points on the basis of addressing local environmental concerns as identified by USGBC 2. Locations & Linkages, implemented specifically for homes and their impact on the environment due to its location and community linkage 3. Awareness & Education, category encourages home builders and real estate professionals to provide homeowners, tenants and building managers the education to what makes their home green and how to make the most of those features CONCLUSION Pakistan has immense natural resources and assets. Generally throughout the country we have ample sunlight and wind to generate much needed power through sustainable means. This country has a far less carbon footprint than many other developed nations, and if today we can start implementing sustainable practices in our environment and live within our means and in co-existence with nature we can truly live a sustained healthier life. Sustainable design also delves in being self-reliant for not only energy needs but materials for construction as well. We need to depend, assist and promote local industries to provide better and greener​_materials for construction, so we can also cut our carbon footprint per construction. On an exciting front the IAP has taken initiative of developing a Green Building Manual, as well as membership to the World Green Building Council, in contribution with stakeholders that include engineers, businessmen and industrialists amongst others. This green code will be contextually formulated for Pakistan, considering its environment and dynamics of its cities. The effort is complex, but its results will bear fruit for an environmentally conscientious Pakistan.

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