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Core Concepts and Guiding Principles of Sustainable Development and Design

written by: Marina Hanes•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 8/1/2010

The core concepts of the sustainable development movement give architects and contractors a system of guidelines to make their buildings eco-friendly. Read on to find out what some of the basic guidelines are.

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    In the years since global warming became a household phrase and oil finally began to be seen as a finite resource, sustainable design and development have become buzzwords for architects and construction developers alike. The core concepts of the sustainable development of buildings are straightforward and allow for variety in visual design and application.

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    Guidelines for New Buildings

    Professionals in the construction industry are seeking any way possible to save on costs, both environmentally and economically. Seeking to lower impact, many developers are first examining what can be done to renovate existing structures and developed lots. This prevents the further degradation of land, and also lowers pollution caused by new building. The best way to begin building is to see how an existing structure can be renovated, rather than completely rebuilt.

    Energy use is another key factor of the green building movement. Energy efficient appliances cut carbon footprints and result in significant monetary savings. Finding ways to reduce energy use through natural lighting or green power are also popular methods.

    When considering a new building, construction professionals should avoid known toxic or unsustainable substances whenever possible. Making the switch to recycled building materials, or woods like bamboo, can decrease impact. Many building materials also contain volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) that need to be properly aired out of new buildings before humans are exposed. Working with VOC-free materials and increasing the efficiency of the ventilation systems in buildings is making a big difference in this area.

    Water use should be regulated through water-efficient fixtures. The overuse of water can be minimized by making smart appliance choices upfront that require fewer cleaners or water to maintain over time. Onsite runoff should be minimized and reused, if possible, to feed surrounding landscaping or aid in outdoor cleaning..

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    LEED Certification

    For those seeking to meet these standards, LEED certification is a system of voluntary certification for new buildings and homes. The system verifies the level of sustainability in the building and awards a level (gold or platinum, for example) to the efficiency of the building. Making several simple building choices can help gain LEED certification:

    • LEED certification encourages new construction to occur on previously developed sites, not undeveloped land. It also encourages planning to make the building eco-friendly by reducing erosion, runoff, and construction pollution, making buildings accessible to public transit, and having appropriate landscaping choices for their area.
    • LEED certification requires intelligent water usage through water-efficient applications, fixtures, and landscape planning.
    • Requirements state that energy efficient appliances must be used and traditional lights should be replaced or supplemented by natural light when possible. Green energy, such as wind or solar power, is another way to meet this energy saving standard.
    • Credit towards certification can also be earned by using sustainably grown building materials. Recycling is highly encouraged and waste should be minimized.
    • Air quality is important in LEED certification as it helps promote a healthy space for workers and patrons. Maintaining a healthy flow of fresh air with minimal energy use can help earn credit toward LEED recognition.
    • Additional credit toward LEED certification is given to companies that help educate the public on green choices within the building, allowing the consumer to learn why the building is eco-friendly, and prompting them to make green choices in their own lives.

    LEED certification allows both consumers and homeowners to become certified through their process. In addition, many colleges and schools are turning to LEED standards as a benchmark for their designs. By examining standards like LEED, architects and contractors can work to provide sustainable, but functional, home and workspaces.

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    What It All Means

    Building sustainably is a balancing act of planning and research. By taking the time to research and plan ahead of time, the building can be built with the Earth in mind. While upfront costs can be higher, sustainable building saves money in lower energy, water, and clean-up costs. Whether you are a construction professional or a homeowner beginning to build a custom home, consider LEED certification as one of the guiding principles of sustainable design behind your choices. By following the LEED certification requirements, you are sure to make intelligent and sustainable building choices.

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    Hart, Kelly. "Thirteen Principles of Sustainable Architecture." Green Home Building. Web. 06 July 2010. <>.

    "Sustainable | Whole Building Design Guide." WBDG - The Whole Building Design Guide. Web. 06 July 2010. <>.

    "USGBC: Intro - What LEED Measures." USGBC: U.S. Green Building Council. U.S. Green Building Council. Web. 06 July 2010. <>.