‘Green Equilibrium building plan’ is chapter 31 of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. THIS IS NOT NEWS; IT IS A PROJECTION OF FUTURE NEWS. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.
March 9, 2023
Within five years, every new building in the European Union must be built to maximize green growing space to replace lost biomass. The goal: green equilibrium, or balancing what human activity takes from and returns to the environment.
According to a new bill passed by the EU parliament today, owners will have to restore plants, trees, and grasses that would ordinarily have grown on the land their buildings sit on to match the biomass it would historically have supported. Older buildings have an additional grace period: ten years to do the same.
Or, they purchase “green credits” from buildings that exceed their pre-construction plant potential.
“We can make Europe a healthier place to live and a net positive on global CO2 numbers,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a ceremony celebrating the green building bill’s passage. “We can, and we must.”
Architects have been building vertical forests for well over a decade now. Green equilibrium is about more than designing and making a green building, or one that pollutes as little as possible. Green equilibrium is about restoring to the environment what the building took, simply by virtue of being build on grassland, forest, or jungle. The idea is simple: incorporate living, growing plants, vines, and even trees right into every aspect of architecture, creating a cleaner, greener, and more healthy city environment.
The result, however, is profound.
“We’ve seen 50-80% reductions in greenhouse gases in neighborhoods that have focused on greening buildings,” says architect David Berkowitz, whose firm has worked with biologists and historians to understand local geographies and restore native plants and even — in some cases — animals.
“A Chinese project also found that people were healthier in greener homes,” says Berkowitz. “We expected reductions in asthma and other respiratory conditions, but were happily surprised that residents of green equilibrium buildings report less stress, greater happiness, and significantly more social connection as they water, fertilize, and trim their garden homes and offices together.”
The new bill is part of a global trend towards what pundits have dubbed “greenlaws:” legislation intended to drive adoption and spread of both zero-harm and net-benefit technologies, practices, and behavior. According to scientists studying climate and weather, without significant change in the overall human impact on our environment, we’re headed for worse weather, more natural disasters, unhealthier lives, and likely social unrest or even wars as people and nations fight over dwindling resources and habitable space.
Not everyone agrees, of course.
“This is going to double the cost of new construction and slow down innovation,” says George Bremmerton, the head of the EU Building Council. “If homes and offices are more expensive, you’ll have fewer jobs and more homeless people.”
“We’ve been able to find creative ways to keep costs down,” he says. “The new requirements do increase initial outlay for construction by about 20%, but they actually reduce total cost of ownership by about 5%, repaying initial investments within about 20 years.”
EU president von der Leyen added that if cities are heavily polluted, people’s lifespans can be shortened by an average of five years, and they’re less healthy while alive, driving up health care costs and reducing the number of productive years.
“Overall, it’s a massive net benefit,” she says.
Some homes and buildings just won’t be suitable for a green equilibrium makeover. They can purchase credits from buildings that over-deliver, or they can pay higher property taxes, von der Leyen says.
But there should be plenty of credits available.
“The typical mid-rise downtown residential tower is built on just a few hectares of land,” Berkowitz says. “But if you’re adding greenery to the walls, balconies, and the roof, the verticality really helps. Tou can easily create 10X the carbon sequestration potential of just the horizontal ground space the building occupies.”
The bill doesn’t only seek to make Europe green. It includes money, funding, and technology sharing codicils so that EU knowhow and ingenuity will be shared with the world.
The goal is global green equilibrium: human intervention to restore oxygen, green space, and carbon sequestration at least equivalent to that produced by human activity. It’s a long ways off. And after hundreds of years of adding excess CO2 to the environment, equilibrium is probably not enough.
Again, this is a chapter of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.