Sustainable is not enough – Regenerative buildings are the next step

Climate change has progressed to the point that the sustainability of building projects alone won’t prevent the worst effects. But what if buildings could not only be resource-conscious but also actively help future generations with the resources they need?

Regenerative buildings represent the next stage of progress in the building industry. These are buildings that can produce more energy than they use and can refresh the grid with the renewable energy they’re generating on-site. FacilitiesNet asked Pablo La Roche, principal at design firm CallisonRTKL and an expert on regenerative buildings.

A building that helps

Regenerative buildings are those that capture and treat all needed water, and also can restore ecosystems, all of which contribute to a net-positive impact on the environment. Whereas sustainability does no harm, regenerative buildings actively assist the environment in healing and returning to its natural state.

It’s happening every day in the design and facility management communities. Design firms like HMC Architects or CallisonRTKL list several regenerative building case studies in an article explaining why regenerative buildings are the future. These progressive buildings include elements of biomimicry while being designed to be ultra-efficient and return resources to the environment. They’re examples of what is possible.  

Regenerative, sustainable or net-zero energy building?

The distinction between the three is the level of impact on the environment. A sustainable building is designed to have a lower impact on the environment due to energy and water conservation measures for example, but will still have an impact, depending on how “green” the building is. A net zero building will have no impact on the environment in whatever area is being measured as it produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements. With any remaining energy balance offset so the sum of this is zero. A regenerative building goes beyond sustainability creating a positive impact in multiple areas such as climate change, biodiversity, and water – La Roche points out.

Can an existing building become regenerative?

It is possible, of course depending on the building- the expert says. For example, if modifications are done to the envelope and the structure can be maintained, much can be done to improve the performance of the building and reduce its environmental impact without additional emissions from embodied carbon to the atmosphere.

Castellana 66

CallisonRTKL recently applied this methodology at Castellana 66, an office building from 1990 that now needs to be upgraded to meet current building standards. Rather than demolishing the building and designing a new one, La Roche’s team diversified the program and carefully upgraded the façade. The new façade now generates energy through integrated photovoltaics with minimal additional embodied carbon and leads to a significant reduction in operation emissions, improvement in daylight and overall wellness inside. Similarly, the Torre Europa, built in 1985, was in need of key upgrades to enhance its modern appeal for a target market of international office tenants. It is now a widely published award-winning example of a sustainable retrofit with a significant urban agenda.

Torre Europa

What is the ROI for regenerative buildings?

There will be a first cost premium, however, this premium can be reduced through smart design and implementation of basic principles – La Roche highlights. For example, placing a window in the right location to achieve passive solar gain and free heating in the winter costs the same as placing it in the wrong location. The financial recoupment is important, not only in energy costs but also in outcomes such as productivity in an office building. Furthermore, we are still not used to measuring many of the costs such as the value of the property as a function of its adaptation to climate change. A regenerative building will be better adapted to climate change and will have a higher measurable economic value.

A regenerative building is a climate-positive building, a building that will sequester more carbon than it emits reducing anthropogenic emissions. It is a building that is like a tree and offsets emissions from other sources becoming a carbon sink.





You might also like