Bridging Gaps: Built Environments and Sustainability


Bridging Gaps: Built Environments and Sustainability

I define sustainability as a series of processes that make up an ecosystem. These processes work together to not only maintain, but enhance or benefit the ecosystem. I believe through innovation and technology that this ecosystem can become circular in its future functions and operations. I define it as a series of processes because sustainability cannot be achieved through one discipline. I think it will be fully achieved when a variety of different expertise work together to create an economically successful and sustainable place for all people to live.

As a concurrent Master of Architecture and MBA student I am specifically interested in the lack of a multidisciplinary approach to sustainability. There is an unfortunate stigma in the built environments that it is not a very sustainable industry. Although there are many projects and building practices that are extremely sustainable, they are not widely used due to their large upfront costs. Often, it is hard to convince a client to make costly upfront investments in their buildings if they are not sure that they will pay off in the future. In actuality, certain building practices such as photovoltaic panels and water catchment will often pay for itself, and then continue to save the client money. To make things worse, there is a huge knowledge gap in the built environments on how to produce and finance different building practices and products. There are many different solar shading devices and different products that can be applied to buildings to significantly reduce their energy footprint. Although, most architects and collaborating manufacturing firms are only focused on the product’s effectiveness, and less about how to market and incentivize consumers within the industry. Architects often fall into the marketing trap of “if I make it people will want it.” With the knowledge and skills gained from an MBA this discrepancy can be better accounted for.

Looking deeper into the built environments, buildings can be net-positive in the sense that they can produce enough electricity to power its own energy needs and still have a surplus left over to give back to the grid or to other nearby buildings. Same goes for water catchment, in areas where rainfall is abundant buildings can collect enough water for their own facilities, while also slowing the watershed in urban settings. This is crucial to understand because it is similar to a carbon tax trade off some companies use to reduce carbon emissions. For example, an airline company many produce a huge amount of carbon emissions, but by planting more trees in a different area, they are reducing their carbon footprint. They are physically still emitting greenhouse gases, but they are trying to give back to the community by planting trees that will sequester carbon in other areas. Similarly, the construction of a building produces many carbon emissions in the fabrication, construction, and treatment phases. Yet, there are many choices a client can make to help their building give back in different aspects of electricity, clean water and biodiversity.

Habitat Island, Vancouver B.C., Canada Photo by: Lindsey Naganuma

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Lindsey Naganuma is a concurrent Architecture and MBA student with focus on process-based design and sustainable building practices. Background in art history with an emphasis on architectural history. Experience in working in teams and knows the DNA of a good team. Interested in joining a vertically integrated firm and designing client-driven solutions that demonstration the bottom line tomorrow is worth more than the bottom line today.