The New Zealand Ministry of the Environment says the definition of sustainability as applied to buildings is not fixed. Generally, 'green' or sustainable buildings are sensitive to a variety of factors.
Where you live, and how you live, will make a significant difference to achieving sustainability. Everyone should be asking the hard questions around issues that include:
- The environment - local and global.
- Resource, water and energy consumption.
- The quality of the work environment - impact on occupants.
- Financial impact - cost-effective from a long term, full financial cost-return point of view.
- Long-term energy efficiency over the life of the building.
When looking at what is involved with refurbishing or fitting-out a building, this could mean:
- Using resources efficiently - getting more from less.
- Minimising waste.
- Focusing on energy and water use.
- Choosing products carefully to ensure they are not harmful to the environment or to occupant’s health.
There are a number of other applications and benefits to sustainable building or rebuilding.
- Conserve water and energy
This includes the embodied energy in the raw materials used during the fit-out or refurbishment as well as the ongoing operation of the building. Water features in manufacturing as well as for amenities within the building.
In New Zealand, the use of water and energy is mainly limited only by cost. While this controls the use of energy to some extent, water is generally inexpensive. Conserving water during the operation of the building also saves energy: e.g., used in pumping for distribution, heating to provide hot water, and treatment and disposal of wastewater.
- Minimise impact on indoor air quality
In some cases, residents and staff can spend at least eight hours a day in the office or indoors. The quality of the air they breathe is important to both short-term and long-term health.
Paint, carpets, furniture and other office items can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and other emissions, as well as exposing staff to toxins and allergens. Health and safety, occupational health and other building regulations may also be relevant here.