In the world of modern architecture, the most important color is green, as an emphasis has been put on reducing carbon footprints and saving energy.

There are four key elements to define a sustainable structure. The materials are obtained from natural, renewable sources or sources/locations that require minimal harm to the environment. Green buildings also incorporate energy-efficient lighting, low energy appliances, and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Third, these structures are built and maintained with systems in place for water-efficiency. And finally, air quality is a priority, and the use of non-toxic materials is required as well as ventilation systems that protect the air we breathe indoors.

3D printing’s popularity is on the rise, as a crucial piece of the construction puzzle, in part because of its contribution to sustainability. It is argued that 3D printing is sustainable by its very nature. Environmental Leaders writes “empowering 3D Systems printers to produce affordable products efficiently — one layer at a time using only the necessary amount of material required for each part with near zero waste in an energy efficient process.”

No matter how sustainable a structure is designed to be, however, without proper maintenance, many of the initial efforts are wasted. To maximize sustainability, a solid plan must be in place for both the short- and long-term care for the building. These plans should include training of building occupants, use of green cleaning supplies, implantation of a reuse/recycle program, and performing regular energy audits.

While there are many valuable reasons to create these new state-of-the art green structures, there is also a growing appreciation in the U.S. and abroad in retrofitting older buildings for sustainability.

A popular example is the 2009 retrofit of the Empire State Building, a process that saved millions of dollars in running costs and improved its energy efficiency. A report by the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab revealed in fact that “retrofitting an older building is de facto greener than building high-tech structures from scratch.”

The report goes onto to say that the standard time of 10 to 80 years that it takes to offset the environmental impacts of a new building can’t compete with the immense immediate benefits of the retrofit.

Architects working in conjunction with building managers cognizant of sustainability practices, hold many of the cards when it comes to reducing greenhouse emissions. 

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