So I talked a bit about green buildings in the last post, how our modular buildings are made from recyclable materials and are reusable for a variety of applications.

But what does it mean to be a green building? Besides being recyclable and reusable? And what is all this talk about sustainability that has been going on? I seek to address those issues in this post.

A green building is not only made of recyclable materials, which is always a great feature, but is designed and built with many other aspects of environmental interaction in mind. Everything from water use, energy use, ventilation, to insulation and heating/cooling efficiency is considered when building a green building.

A modular building is made from recyclable materials and is reusable, yes, but there is more to the green benefits of modular construction. Modular walls have a higher insulating capability than drywall, so less energy will be used to heat and cool the building. Used with water-saving faucets and toilets, a modular building goes a long way in ensuring the building is environmentally friendly.

But where do we get the motivation to build green buildings in the first place? They’re a nice idea sure, but are they really necessary? Hopefully we want to answer, “Well of course they are!” But why? This is where the concept of sustainability comes in.

Sustainability pertains to the belief that we have limited resources to work with, but we didn’t always believe this.

Plants and trees grow, animals reproduce, rain replenishes our water supplies…all of these observable phenomena gave earlier generations the illusion that we have infinite resources to work with. Our planet’s natural life cycles replenish all of the resources we need. Nothing is created or destroyed…waste only breaks down to be recycled and used again, etc.

The problem is that this way of thinking is no longer relevant to what reality tells us. What we have learned with modern sciences and technology is that we are quickly depleting our resources.

Have you heard of the term “renewable?” Renewable resources are resources that replenish, so yes, we can draw from stores of renewable resources. The only problem is that these renewable resources require certain environmental conditions to replenish themselves. What we have been doing is using resources to the point of them no longer being renewable at their source. If you put enough of a strain on a self-replenishing system, that system will no longer have the ability to replenish itself. To cite an extreme example, you can cut your finger and your skin will heal and regenerate. Your body has that capacity. But if your hand or even your finger comes off, your body doesn’t have the capabilities of regenerating that hand or finger. That’s just not how it works. The same is the case with certain resources. If you draw water from a reservoir to the point of the reservoir drying up, that reservoir may lose the ability to retain water in the future.

Sustainability is a concept applied to our understanding of resources. When we say we want to develop a sustainable resource or design, then we want that resource or design to be fit for human use, but also to exist without damaging our ecosystem. Having a sustainable resource means we are using that resource moderately, but also allowing the resource to replenish, putting less of a strain on the ecosystem. By the same token, if we are working with a sustainable design, then that design, whether it is a car or building or appliance will be able to exist in our environment without putting a strain on resources.

Sustainable design in buildings pertains to a philosophy of design that incorporates considerations of the relation between the economic, ecological, and social spheres and the need for sustainable resources for consumption.

What this all means is this: we have come to understand that humans as a species exist within a delicate ecological system, or the environment. Our concept of the environment is no longer that of a simple background full of resources that we can fool around in all day. We have come to understand the environment as a complicated process that we are inexorably a part of. Everything we do affects the environment, which in turn can affect our society back, which can cause all sorts of economical changes as well. It is in this way that society, the ecosystem, and the economy are all connected. If we damage one portion of that relationship, the damage will eventually transfer to the other portions. It is this current understanding of our world that leads us to put so much weight on sustainable design.

Waste ends up in landfills and becomes unusable matter. Since sustainable building designs use recycled materials and are reusable, we don’t have to dig into the actual environment and extract raw materials. The longer we can put to use limited resources that we absolutely need, the longer our environment has time to recharge and replenish its resources to be used for future generations. Modular buildings are green by this very standard. They use recycled materials and the modular structures are reusable themselves, so the original raw materials get put to use in longer lifecycles, giving our renewable resources more time to recharge.

So to conclude, we exist as part of a delicate interrelation of human societies and ecosystems. If something harmful happens to an ecosystem, this in turn will damage human society and vice versa. It is in our best interest to build structures that use up as little of the environment’s resources as possible, so that in the future we can continue to have resources to work with.