The Built Environment

Part of the Climate Change exhibition.

Buildings, along with the electricity they consume, account for about 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

These days, more and more buildings have plants, gardens, or solar panels on the roof in an effort to limit their carbon footprints. But what does it really take to make a building or community environmentally friendly?

Whether it's a renovation or new construction, building for energy efficiency means making use of technology and innovations designed to minimize environmental impact.

Constructing for Climate Change

Residential and commercial buildings produce about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Construction and demolition debris make up nearly 40 percent of the solid waste stream worldwide. To reduce these impacts, building councils in many countries are encouraging designs that minimize energy use and tread lightly on the environment.

What is a Sustainable Building?

A sustainable building is one that is energy efficient and has minimal impact on the environment. These structures are also called "green" designs. Architects, designers, engineers and builders work together to apply the latest engineering and technology to meet a list of important criteria based on guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council and similar groups around the world.

In a sustainable building...


A building should generate much of its own electricity with solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable sources.


Efficient heating and cooling systems are best combined with insulation and windows that are energy efficient.


Site selection is key. Previously developed land close to work, housing, services, and mass transit is ideal.


Reclaimed and recycled-content materials form a building's structure and decor where possible.


New technologies use less water and process waste water for reuse.


The air inside should be free of toxic chemicals and other pollutants.