Green building and social sustainability

“Green” buildings are often labelled and measured as “sustainable” but social sustainability is missing from the list. True sustainability includes social, economic and environmental factors. The US LEED green building rating system uses the term “sustainable throughout but is focused more on environmental factors. This is confusing because green is not the same as sustainable.

Stella Shao in a thesis poster says that as a consequence we are getting “energy efficient buildings that are not designed for people”. Prioritising social sustainability is good for people and the planet.

A modern office with lots of space and workstations by windows.

Using the Tulsa City-County Library as an example of sustainable design Shao lists three key factors for social sustainability

  • Comfort rooms for people who are neurodivergent, nursing, overstimulated, or need privacy for religious rituals.
  • Universal wayfinding to help orient people to make the space legible for people of different cultures, languages and abilities.
  • Comfort options for visual, acoustic and spatial comfort so every visitor can find a space comfortable for them.

Image from the poster

Pie chart showing the breakdown of how LEED weighs aspects of sustainability. 82% environmental, 12% social, and 6% Economic.

Shao’s literature review for this study revealed very few research articles on this topic which meant there was no best practice to refer to.

The poster captures the key elements of this study and shows how little research has been done in this area. The title of the poster is, Where is the Social Sustainability in Green Buildings?

From the abstract

While green buildings today are labeled as “sustainable,” many fall short on social sustainability metrics. This study examines what the current state of research and development is on social sustainability in green buildings and what the best practices are.

Green building rating systems are a major trend in the academic research. However, they are criticized for valuing environmental sustainability over social sustainability. Document analysis confirms that LEED, the most widely used green building rating system, does not adequately address social sustainability.

The LEED-certified Tulsa City-County Library demonstrates how to properly balance social and environmental sustainability in a building. Recommendations are made for future green buildings based on the data collected.

The abstract is from The University of Arizona website.

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