Original Article by: GAF Commercial

These days, sustainability is a common term in the construction and architectural industries, found in discussions in trade magazines, professional journals, as well as in sales and advertising materials. Despite this, even many professionals are not certain about what characterizes truly "sustainable" buildings or what practical steps they can take to make them a reality. In this article we provide an overview of some useful frameworks, as well as the major topics, for building owners to consider when developing a sustainable building strategy.

Using Guidelines such as LEED and the Living Building Challenge

One of the most useful guides to practical action is the LEED rating system, which provides a framework (attached to a points rating system) that defines sustainable buildings as those that help:
  •     Reduce contributions to global climate change
  •     Enhance individual human health
  •     Protect and restore water resources
  •     Protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services
  •     Promote sustainable and regenerative material cycles
  •     Enhance community quality of life
Initiatives such as the LEED certification provide green building standards that can help building owners focus on sustainable thinking around topics such as rainwater management, heat island reduction, water efficiency, energy optimization, and low-emitting materials. A deep dive into the topics covered by LEED standards — and how to meet their certification criteria — is covered in the GAF Green Building Playbook. For instance, building owners can leverage their roof to contribute to stormwater management which not only contributes to LEED points but also allows owners to capture rainwater for reuse with irrigation or flushing toilets.

The International Living Future Institute's Living Building Challenge green building rating system has seven performance categories (place; water; energy; health + happiness; materials; equity; and beauty) similar to those used for LEED certification, and provides a particular focus on material health through its Declare label. Products with a Declare Label designation of Red List Free or Red List Approved do not contain any chemicals on the "Red List," a list of "worst in class" chemicals that could potentially be harmful to human health or the environment. GAF is proud to be the first and only roofing to manufacturer to hold a Declare label for single-ply roofing (EverGuard® TPO and EverGuard Extreme® TPO), as well as a Declare label for an entire roofing system (EverGuard® Fleece-Back TPO, EnergyGuard™ NH Polyiso Insulation, and Olybond500™).

Rethinking Buildings as Sustainable Systems

While initiatives such as LEED and the Living Building Challenge provide a solid foundation, meeting even a few of these abstract-sounding targets with concrete initiatives can be a complex undertaking, requiring granular knowledge and proven strategies. Challenges range from finding appropriate products that meet LEED certification requirements to making measurable estimates of the effect these products will have on a building's carbon footprint over time. A big factor in making the right sustainable product choices also involves a shift in how many building professionals view buildings themselves.

A good way to make that shift is to consider buildings as holistic sustainable systems—with inputs and outputs—and to use the results of this exercise to inform your choice of the most appropriate products. Factors to consider for inputs for your roofing choices might include building location and the impacts of typical weather conditions on your choice of roof. Outputs might be ways of minimizing waste, like choosing durable materials that will not require replacement in the short term.

Thinking of buildings in this way makes it much easier to consider the products and approaches needed to improve environmental impacts: "Listen to the building," Jennifer Keegan, Director of Building and Roof Science at GAF, urges. "What does the building tell you it needs?" Factors such as occupancy use, location, and environmental elements all play a role in deciding what roofing membranes to use and how to drive greater sustainability. Once you have some of this data, you can begin applying sustainable strategies that help you make the most effective product decisions.

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