Environmentally Sustainable Buildings

Tim Bemis Building Construction Technology

Katherine Sholl Animal Science

Steven Barscz Natural Resource Conservation

Imagine looking up at the sky and spotting a Peregrine Falcon soaring through the air, looking for prey among a group of pigeons. In a blink of an eye, the falcon dive-bombs towards its prey at speeds of over 200 mph, making it the fastest animal on earth.  Before you know it the falcon has grabbed the pigeon. Could you imagine if this animal went extinct?  At one point these falcons almost became extinct in New England due to DDT issues, but thanks to conservation efforts and accommodations the Peregrine Falcon was removed from the endangered species list in 1999. One way we’ve accommodated these falcons was by providing an indirect perch on tall, thin buildings, such as the library at UMass. However, the latest trend is that short and widened buildings are being constructed into vacant areas. Unfortunately not much is being done to accommodate the falcon species, nor are many people aware of the effects construction causes if not properly planned for the environment. Most people are unaware that tall buildings are the ideal habitat for the falcon species. In return, it’s proven to also create a better environment for the area it occupies, hence alleviating effects to our often-fragile environment. Now imagine you’re resting near a pond. You see a salamander emerge from the pond. You’re surprised to see that this salamander has six legs. This deformity is caused by pollution runoff going into the water.

New construction being built is dramatically causing major destruction of our local environments, as well as abating accessible green space. By building short low-rise type developments, there is a limited amount of area the Peregrine Falcon can successfully inhabit due to a higher altitude nesting preference of this species. They’re highly prevalent in areas that mimic cliff and mountain-like spaces, where the species derives from. Recently, the amount of construction projects has been significantly increasing, expected to increase to 451,480 people in employment (“Statista”, 2014). Unfortunately, high-rise commercial and living buildings are not currently the design of choice. Along with that, low-rise buildings are diminishing our green space and devastating environmental prosperity. The main problem is we are not utilizing green-roof space or implementing green building/sustainability ideas into our modern architecture. Since the urbanization issue pertains to wildlife and environmental inefficiency, taller buildings must be built more frequently. Without rain gardens implemented into our new construction, it can cause thousands of gallons of water usually polluted by chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides to be dumped into our sewer systems or other watershed areas. Over time this could lead to erosion, pollution, and cause useful water to be wasted. Roadways and parking lots are being created around buildings instead of incorporating gardens or landscapes. This puts habitats at risk whereas if they’re properly accommodated through environmental alleviation, they could be preserved and prove beneficial for animals and plants.

Construction has shown that widened and shorter building-style traditions mostly do not coincide with sustainable development in the building market. Particularly, they do not attribute to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design type-standards (LEED) or accommodate their practices into the developed infrastructure. LEED is meant to incorporate a certification for a carefully designed (based on a point-system), and environmentally friendly construction-process (“USGBC”, 2012). Building practices should identify the most efficient building strategies and practices to utilize for a building. In order to receive a level of certification, the project must fulfill safety prerequisites and a renewable materials list (saving resources, money and time). A LEED practice encourages taller buildings by granting greater points for the sustainable certification. Tall buildings are able to utilize stronger winds and cooler temperatures on the top of high buildings, transferred for onsite energy generation. This happens by integrating vertical axis wind turbines and photovoltaic panels (Smith, 2013). Taking this into consideration, a strong correlation exists: a healthy Peregrine Falcon species and sustainable building. A great example of a building supporting both sustainability and accommodating the Peregrine falcon species is the UMass Amherst Library. Dubois Library, one of the tallest academic libraries in the country, has a nesting spot at the very top for the falcon in order to alleviate the species from their lack of habitat. UMass Amherst has been taking care of generations of species for the past 12 years, finding that the elevation of the library is a compatible environment for the Peregrine Falcon (“Falcons”, 2013).

[Ever since] the 1950’s, the Peregrine Falcon population plummeted. The species was placed on the endangered list as scientists bred Peregrines in captivity and released them into wild areas. Some of these birds migrated to skyscrapers in eastern cities. As cliff dwellers, Peregrine Falcons flourished in urban settings, where tall buildings are plentiful. An abundance of pigeons and starlings supplied the falcons’ diet. (“Woodmen’s Falcons”, 2010)


Since tall buildings use less space, a greater amount of acreage can make for shrubberies, trees, grass, etc. With more greenery surrounding the buildings, it reduces the net carbon dioxide that the building produces year-round. Green roofs in the long run are a cleaner and cheaper substitution compared to traditional roofs. The plants produce oxygen, which help clean the air, producing a form of insulation, reducing building operation costs. Salamanders are especially susceptible to these environmental changes. Industrial contaminants from nearby construction can be absorbed by the salamander’s skin, causing deaths and deformities (“Save the Salamanders”, 2014). Roads can propose a major problem for salamanders, cutting them off from their natural habitat. Road mortality is the biggest issue for salamanders as they’re often run over by cars, attempting to travel back to their breeding sites.  The ephemeral pools where they breed in are also threatened because developers and homeworkers fill them in since they often regard them as “insignificant puddles” without knowing their importance (Brune, 2014). At one point in time, the Peregrine falcon almost became extinct from the usage of DDT, similar to how the bald eagles almost once became extinct. Though DDT is now illegal in this country, there are still other threats to this bird, like loss of habitat. The last thing we want is for this bird to become endangered again after all the recovery efforts taken to preserving it.  We don’t want another species to become extinct logically since as we have enough ecosystems being destroyed across the planet as it is.

Species decline has shown to originate from the cause and effects of urbanization, generating more environmental problems for our generation. In our generation, environmental deterioration and global warming significantly affect us. That being said, we realize that the beneficial solutions for our ecosystems include applying more Green Roofs and taller buildings. The first positive impact is an increase in carbon dioxide levels (for the atmosphere) through Green Roof plant assistance and Rain Garden mitigation. Green Roofs add to the area’s carbon dioxide levels, especially in places with limited amounts of solar rays and plant life. Green roofs substitute traditional with lightweight roofing, allowing for soil, compost and plant life. This changes the atmosphere to be more environmentally sound (“ASLA”, 2014). Transitioning the building market into taller buildings has also shown to accommodate green roofs, species preservation, and environmental alleviation. Studies show that shorter buildings are weakened by storm water. Shorter and wider buildings are also more susceptible to flooding and urban storm water pollution, which harms both humans and animal species by carrying toxic road salts to urban waters and streams. Roadway area streams have shown concentrations of chloride at levels of 25 (60 times the normal amount) that is very harmful to trout (Klein, 1979, p. 958), not only risking the New England falcon species, but also affecting neighboring ecosystems. Some kind of awareness like this would make a huge difference for the Peregrine falcon, showing how important it is to preserve such a long-time inhabiting species of New England. Although the falcon is just one species, not considering the Peregrine falcon’s well being will over time, weaken the species and our future generations won’t have the privilege to experience the falcons’ existence.

In order to efficiently execute proper building, we must consider the Peregrine Falcon and other New England species at risk from construction if we are to continue not building responsibly with sustainability. What it means to build green and sustainable is to take ethical considerations into the construction process in order to improve health, cost, managing and comfort for the building (and surrounding landscapes). One of those Green considerations pertains to building taller structures (schools, corporate offices, healthcare, etc.). New England region construction has shown to return after years following the 2009 recession, with more jobs to accelerate the building process completion faster (“Statista”, 2014). Unfortunately, the problem with the construction being done is it’s not any different than before; it lacks a sustainable focus that could alleviate our current environmental suffering. If we do not pay attention to the Peregrine Falcon habitat-needs during construction planning, we continue endangering their population again. By simply building taller while utilizing roof space, it will fix the issue to help a species in need of habitat that has been destroyed. Implementing areas for Peregrine Falcons on taller buildings to inhabit will help them in their continuous battle for habitat regeneration. The roof can be used to create a green roof, helping the surrounding ecosystem by cleaning the air and producing oxygen, which in the long run will help the environment. Implementing green landscapes around the building can also generate significant effects for the ecosystem. A simple idea like a rain garden can collect water and become purified by plants, save thousands of gallons of polluted water from becoming run-off into sewers (and other surrounding areas). It can also create a habitat for many species such as amphibians, birds, and beneficial insects that otherwise would not be able to survive or thrive in a landscape free area in a building space (“Gray Tree Frog”, 2001).

Thinking about the well being of the Peregrine falcons health and population while planning a new building will be very important in helping to keep the falcon from being on the endangered species list again. Wakamiya et al. (2008) claim that the Peregrine falcon has not yet recolonized cliff sites that they have historically used for nesting, and now they are restricted to urban areas. With falcons now living in urban areas it is a perfect example of why we should incorporate structures and utilize roof space for the falcons to inhabit. Urban areas have plenty of food for the falcons to survive on such as pigeons, rodents, ducks, and other small birds. Besides habitat destruction this plentiful abundance of food will help the falcon’s survive if we can build them places to live on top of tall buildings. Instead of releasing falcons back into the wild, putting them in urban areas is a good idea for their health.

Building green landscapes surrounding the building structure is important for planning a healthy ecosystem in that area. Implementing a simple rain garden can better help the ecosystem by filtering water, stopping excess water runoff, and creating a habitat for animals. English et al. (2012) claim that rain gardens provide a perfect setting for water quality, habitat creation and the impact of actions on protecting our natural resources. “The plants in a rain garden have high tolerance for excess moisture and increased levels of nutrients often found in storm water. Rain gardens are situated downhill from impervious surfaces, such as rooftops and roads, and are designed to collect runoff from those surfaces. They function to slow down the flow of storm water by causing it to collect in the sunken garden allowing it to absorb into the soil rather than cause erosion and wash pollutants into our waterways”(English & Domenghini, 2012). A rain garden can allow pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, and petrochemicals that accumulate on lawns and roadways to be washed into our sewer systems, being filtered out and broken down by plants and microorganisms. A rain garden can allow 30% more water to be soaked into the ground decreasing pollution, flooding, and sediment build up while adding beauty and a habitat for amphibians, beneficial insects, and birds.

We propose green roof landscaping designs, sustainable integration and taller buildings in order to provide habitat for falcons, and diminish environmental impact of urbanization. The best way to begin achieving this is by reaching out to people to increase jobs for Green Building Associates (LEED expertise and certification), Energy Analysts, Wildlife Conservationists, Landscape Contractors, etc. This will create a better long-term solution for the environment, and overall building efficiency (in terms of cost reduction) because energy maintenance costs will be significantly decreased. It also will profit inhabiting species such as the falcon through recreating their natural preferable habitat. We also suggest that contractors maintain stronger awareness of the fauna living in the area so that the natural habitats of these animals, such as the “puddles” where salamanders breed, are not unintentionally destroyed. Building environmentally friendly means exactly how it sounds, and it starts with being aware of where we leave our footprint.

Building green and more sustainably may be great when completed. But while building roofs they require more elevator rides, equipment, and energy to transfer construction and landscaping equipment, along with causing higher maintenance. Plants used on green roofs require more root space, nutrients, water, and appropriate plants (for both low maintenance and cold resistant plants). Building LEED-sustainable is more expensive in general, calling for specific and recycled materials that are sometimes not readily or easily attainable for design. However, both green roofs and LEED standard strongly support long-run operation costs, making for a healthier ecosystem and environment.  Since green roofs also reduce overall building heating and cooling costs, landlords and building occupants don’t have to pay as much for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). Although LEED constructed buildings are more expensive, they show to be a better long-run alternative since they’ve been shown to significantly cut operation costs. “A green building may cost more upfront, but saves through lower operating costs over the life of the building”(“Calrecycle”, September 5th, 2014). Integrating both green roofs and sustainably-constructed buildings will be better for the economy in the long run because they will be creating more jobs for the landscaping and construction management industries. The Peregrine falcon and salamander species are no longer endangered or on the “least concern” lists so why should we care? A lot of effort went into getting this animal off the endangered species list; the last thing we want is for it to go back on the list. The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal on planet earth. If this animal disappeared, future generations wouldn’t get to experience watching these majestic creatures soar through the sky and reach speeds surpassing that of any animal. If this animal disappeared, students here at UMass wouldn’t get to watch the falcons set up nests on the top of the library via falcon cam in the spring. The biggest issue for when they no longer exist: it will slowly but surely affects the whole ecosystem chain that connects to the falcon. Same problem applies to the other New England salamander species. It may seem like a waste to try to prevent these tiny salamanders from becoming extinct, but “[they] have lived on the Earth for millions of years before humans ever appeared. This gives salamanders every right to live on this planet” (“Save the Salamanders”, 2014).

In order to spread awareness about the at risk Peregrine falcon, our mission is to convince people of New England, and ultimately a portion of people across the nation that our means of construction are not efficient or sustainable enough. Preserving species ecosystems is attainable and can all be alleviated through new means of sustainably Green building methods. Although initial costs are the initiating barrier to changing the problem, long-term results prove to be sustainable for not only costs, but also preserving species. Hence, the outcomes serve to overpower any hesitation in building completely green. These aspects connect to protecting the environment from deteriorating due to our current practices. As a result, this could improve our economy by more jobs entering the workforce, correlating wildlife conservation and efficient landscaping.







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