Going Green

As our planet is quickly diminishing in natural resources, it is becoming all the more imperative for us to actively collaborate with the environment in order for daily life to continue functioning. The changes don’t have to be drastic, but there are ways we can adapt overlooked parts of our society to become a little more green.

ZEB (Zero Emission Building) Plus House Larvik, Norway. Photo courtesy of Snøhetta © Bruce Damonte

One large consumer of energy is the buildings we occupy, both at home, at work and other occasions in between. Many new constructions (such as Snøhetta´s Plus House Larvik in Norway) are already implementing energy-saving methods into the design of the structure, as well as instilling an environmentally-friendly ethos into the the minds of the occupiers. At the same time, many historic buildings that were not constructed with these values in mind are coming under scrutiny, with debates over what holds greater importance: leaving these buildings intact to preserve our heritage and culture, or demolishing the energy-guzzlers and rebuilding more environmentally-friendly structures to preserve our future.

Fortunately, a middle ground has been met with several historic buildings across the world, such as St Michael’s and All Angels Church in Gloucestershire, England. With the oldest parts of the building dating back to the 12th century, the church is recognised as a National Heritage, Grade I listed building and therefore cannot be demolished or altered without special permission from local planning authorities.

St Michael’s and All Angels Church, Gloucestershire. © Roger Davies

Like many other old churches, this one is not particularly energy efficient. However, the church has made an active effort to rectify this by:

  • Heat: replacing the oil-powered boiler with a biomass boiler to heat the church, using wood pellets from the local forests in Gloucestershire.
  • Light: setting the external floodlights on a timer to turn off by a certain time at night (depending on the time of year), with future plans to replace these with LED lights. Additionally replacing the internal church lights with energy saving lights, altogether reducing consumption by 37%.
  • Electricity: fitting 24 PV solar panels to the south-facing roof to maximise intake of solar energy while remaining out of sight so as to avoid tarnishing the historic aesthetic of the exterior.

Thanks to these adjustments, St Michael’s and All Angels Church now uses 100% renewable electricity and heating and have succeeded in becoming the first zero-emission, carbon neutral historic church in the UK.

Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Italy is another fantastic example of a historic building that has succeeded in achieving a green status despite its historical architecture. While the gothic palace was originally constructed in 1453 during the Italian Renaissance for the longest reigning Venetian Doge, Francesco Foscari, it later became host to the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice in 1868. In 2013, Ca’ Foscari University was awarded LEED (Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its levels of sustainability in maintenance, management and operations, and overall reducing its carbon footprint.

Photo courtesy of Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia.

The factors that contribute to the palace’s green status include:

  • Energy Efficiency: low energy, mercury-free lights and a high efficiency heat generator are used. All campuses run on 100% renewable energy, and there are frequent monitors on the energy consumption to be able to plan for future reduction.
  • Water Conservation: focus interventions have enabled the consumption of water to be reduced each year – in 2016 the consumption was 5.37% less than the previous year.
  • Cleaner Mobility: 90% of staff and students use alternatives methods of transport as opposed to driving their own cars – for example car sharing, public transport, cycling or walking.
  • Waste Management: products are purchased from suppliers that have programs to recycle and reuse their materials. All paper surveys and physical student textbooks have been replaced with online surveys and digital textbooks.
  • Green Procurement: again, the majority of products purchased at the university, both consumable and durable goods are considered “green”. 60% of the cleaning products used at Ca´Foscari are certified by Ecolabel for having a low environmental impact.

Due to these factors, as well as it’s LEED certification, Ca’ Foscari University holds the record for being the oldest “green” building in the world.

Having these systems in place is a great step towards achieving a more sustainable society and lifestyle – something that is attainable and much needed worldwide. Of course, designing new buildings allows for energy-saving methods to be implemented from the start, but both St Michael’s and All Angels Church and Ca’ Foscari University are proof that it is possible to renovate long-established buildings to a sustainable standard without compromising their historic aesthetic or value.

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