At the start of the green building boom, the goal was to design and deliver environmentally responsible buildings.
As the sector evolves and going green becomes a building staple, however, other key components of eco-friendly building are gaining traction.
In plain terms, while environmentalism is a large part of green building ideology, it is now commonly accepted that that is just one component thereof.
While economics have always been quickly understood as a benefit to green building, particularly in terms of the long-term value green building can offer in terms of decreased operating costs, the social elements of sustainable building are now a major consideration for industry professionals.
This is especially relevant in the interior design sector, where the importance of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) is becoming better-known.
Environmental consciousness is not on the agenda of all Australians. Few if any would argue, however, that there are great benefits to inhabiting buildings that reduce negative impacts on health, well-being and productivity.
At its most basic root, IEQ entails developing spaces to include elements – be they design features, materials or products – that increase the interior air quality and have a more positive effect on a building’s inhabitants than conventional spaces.
This includes focusing on the health, safety and comfort of inhabitants in a way that goes beyond aesthetics and functionality. According to the Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the US National Institute of Building Sciences, IEQ relies on three major identifiers: lighting, air quality and thermal control.
The IEQ of a space is dramatically increased through the implementation of appropriate natural lighting. Not only does natural light reduce reliance on on-grid energy sources, it also offers softer lighting and allows for interior-exterior visual connections. This alone has been proven to improve the health and well-being of building inhabitants.
However, with natural lighting, solar thermal gain must be controlled, which means offering inhabitants control over the temperature levels inside. This is often maximised through appropriate thermal shading, insulation and HVAC air conditioning systems.
This last point is perhaps one of the most important elements of IEQ in terms of air quality affecting the health, well-being and comfort of those residing in any given space. Air quality is largely affected by a number of elements, including ventilation and the volatile organic compound (VOC) content of interior design materials like flooring, paint and sealant products.
In order to develop a space with high IEQ, it is commonly suggested that low-VOC materials be used to eliminate excessive airborne toxins and chemicals and that the space be ventilated in such a way that eliminates or preemptively diverts airborne bacteria, mold and other fungi.
Other elements that increase the IEQ of a space include high performance acoustic measures in order to eliminate excess noise pollution from both inside and outside of the space, odour control and access to high quality water.
IEQ stands as an integral element of the international LEED certification process and Green Star accreditation. Australia’s efforts to test IEQ and the effects of various products and design practices are coming into full swing with the support of the world class Design and Planning Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) Laboratory at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Architecture and the green building interior design sector at large.
Green building now goes beyond environmental considerations. The new challenge is to deliver holistically green spaces, and that includes delivering to a higher standard that rests on interior quality principles.