This year the World Economic Forum identified “water” as one of the top 5 biggest societal and economic risks for the next 10 years. Climate change is affecting the water cycle, with water variability increasing and extreme events (floods and droughts) becoming more common and increasingly costly. The impact that the built environment has on water management in just about every other sector is significant, making water performance of buildings a corporate or social responsibility issue.
Here in the UK we may not have the acute water issues as for example being experienced in Perth or in California where they have less than a year’s supply of water. This shortage is due to a number of reasons such as removing water from the aquifers and not returning it (or indeed returning it treated with chemicals, and the reduced levels of snowpack, acute this year, that top up these aquifers)
Yet, in the UK we are experiencing floods and water shortages, restrictions and droughts more frequently, so rethinking water, in design, in construction and in building operations can only be a good thing.
The UK Living Building Challenge Collaborative has been exploring the Challenges’ Water Imperative and developing an overlay or interpretation guide for UK projects and clients looking to adopt Living Building Challenge approaches.
The Water Petal intent is to To meet all water demands within the carrying capacity of the site and to mimic natural hydrological conditions, using appropriately-sized and climate-specific water management systems that treat, infiltrate or reuse all water resources on-site.
Lets unpick that a little …
“Water Demands” One theme emerging, from the work of this group and my visit to a number of LBC projects in the Pacific NW is that we need to rethink water and the performance of buildings in water management, giving it the same focus as we do energy. Not to see water as an additional design criteria, but to be at the core of design, calculating and seeking ways top reduce water load, as we would with energy.
Reducing ‘water load’ for a building use can be achieved through waterless or composting WC’s such as those in the Bullitt Centre or though recycled water systems such as the busy VanDusen botanical garden visitor Centre in Vancouver.
“All water” – the CIRS building at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver – a sustainability research lab – is utilizing a Solar Aquatic System designed to mimic the purification processes of naturally occurring water systems in close proximity to human inhabitation, such as streams and wetlands, to produce clean water for use in the building
“Net Positive” – LBC projects will be water net-positive, for example, via the large underground (56k gallon water tank) the Bullitt Centre can survive for 104 days without accessing mains water, the CIRS building can supply grey water to adjacent buildings.
“Reuse” Good buildings will recycle and reuse grey water more than once using natural systems. And without using materials deemed ‘toxic”, i.e. those on the Living Building Challenge’s Red List such as Chlorine and PVC. On a domestic level, water reclaiming systems such as Nexus eWater are enabling the recycling of rain water and grey water many times in a domestic closed loop system
Systems that treat Good buildings will treat all water on site, ensuring no leachates and other nasty’s run off into the ground, into water systems, just as trees do, and as trees did that most likely stood on the site in the past, ensuring the aquifers remained as pure as possible.
Thinking beyond SUDS, Constructed wetlands can and arguably should be incorporated into the structure of the building as well as being part of the landscaping.
Viewing buildings as a system of interconnected buildings is key to integrated design, rather than seeing each as stand-alone buildings. Here great synergies can be gained, moving reclaimed or harvested water from one building to another to meet need, using buildings as storage or as filters for others.
Construction phase … projects can develop water hierarchies, as we do waste and energy hierarchies, perhaps with a water plan, addressing the question “Why do we use drinking quality water for washing down site plant, keeping dust down etc.”
And to FM and building operations – spreading the water conservation message, through signage and through occupant ‘charters’ can all help gain respect for special water technologies within the facility. Going further Catering and food outlets could serve two vegetarian meals for every one meat – as the CIRS building does – to reinforce the vastly different quantities of water required to provide meat produce and veg / fruit produce (not to mention energy and travel impact)
And, on drinking water The WELL Building Standard for Water requires and promotes safe and clean water through proper filtration and other methods, requiring the appropriate quality of water for various uses. Again without harmful chemicals or materials.
So on World Water Day, a call to UK universities with a strong built environment and sustainability programme and values. Make your next university estates project a sustainable water building, along the philosophy of the Living Building Challenge, as a research project as the CIRS building does, or as a demonstration of what is possible – core to the Bullitt Centre remit. Influencing and inspiring the next generation of built environment professionals is so important.
“The era of harm reduction, half steps, and lesser evils is behind us. As a society, we need to be bold in ways that were once unimaginable. Luckily in the building sector, we now can imagine where we need to go”
If you would like more information on the work of the UK Living Building Challenge or indeed on the standard itself, please get contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or Donna on email@example.com or indeed follow us on twitter @fairsnape and @livingbldgUK