The adoption of green building practices is slowly gaining momentum in Barbados. Driven by factors such as employee wellbeing and productivity as well as cost-saving motivations in the face of rapidly escalating energy prices, developers have gradually been adopting environmentally friendly standards in construction projects.
In recognition of the various benefits of going green, the Barbados’ government, through its Green Economy Policy has been offering grants, loans, and concessions for eco-friendly projects as well as educating the public via several local initiatives— but how complicated is it to engage in these practices in our tropical and often structurally prohibitive tropical setting?
Josée Atkinson, President and CEO of environmentally-focused project management and development company, Blue Print Management, invited Construction Caribbean to her Hastings Barbados headquarters to discuss green construction projects.
“Many Barbadians do not consider the environmental impact of their construction projects,” explained Atkinson, who was the first to have a LEED accredited project in the Caribbean. “My advice for the novice builder is to refer to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as a benchmark. LEED-certified buildings reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are resource efficient, using less water and energy. This ultimately leads to cost benefits.”
Atkinson’s incorporation of LEED standards in her projects is evident in her extensive use of LED lighting, LEED-accredited and recyclable materials, energy-efficient air conditioning systems, air filtration and solar panels across many of her projects, including Limegrove (and many of its stores), Chefette, Primo, Gildan, Flow Barbados headquarters, Rubis, Moonreach, Calmaro, RBC, TD Bank & Trust and Buzo Osteria Italiana.
According to Atkinson, some ways that builders can be environmentally conscious include the following:
- Minimizing the use of energy during construction and post construction,
- Using alternative forms of energy where ever possible,
- Using resources such as water rationally,
- Avoiding the use of toxic materials, and
- Improving existing buildings to make them more environmentally friendly.
In a tropical environment, reducing or eliminating the need for air conditioning can have a substantial impact on energy costs. This is most easily achieved by minimizing exposure to sunlight and improving natural ventilation. Eco-friendly ventilation systems with sensors are also useful.
To make use of cross-ventilation, windows should be placed on both the windward and leeward sides of buildings, with large door openings, wide eaves, awnings and porches placed in strategic areas to increase ventilation and to shade the main walls of the structure. Planting of shade trees and the use of high ceilings can also make for cooler interiors.
The use of insulation in walls and roofs is also becoming common place.
Energy efficiency and alternative energy generation through solar power or wind turbines are typical components of green projects; however, when working with traditional structures, this is not always a possibility. Atkinson recalls an office relocation project in which solar panels were not an option because of structural constraints. The client was adamant that they wanted as green a project as possible, which was accomplished by maximizing energy efficiency, with specific focus on eco-friendly air conditioning and light sensors that function simultaneously, shutting down whenever the room is uninhabited. This project was a huge success in that, although the size of the new space was at least 1/3 larger than the previous space, the electricity cost decreased by more than half, with no reduction in the workforce.
“We got LEED Gold accreditation for that project,” Atkinson recalls fondly.
Water conservation is another critical element of green construction, especially given the fact that Barbados is one of the 10 most water-scarce countries in the world. Low flush toilets, reduced-flow nozzles in sinks and showers and self-closing taps, as well as the use of rainwater tanks, are eco-friendly options. The water collected in rainwater tanks can be used for a variety of purposes such as irrigation and toilet flushing.
Sustainable building projects reuse or recycle materials whenever possible. Materials such as wood, brick and stone as well as windows and doors from older structures can sometimes be salvaged and reused. New products made from recycled materials, such as steel and aluminum can also be used. Local materials should also be used wherever possible, so as to avoid the added cost and pollution incurred by shipping.
Waste reduction is critical to any environmentally friendly construction project as is the choice of building materials. According to Atkinson, “it is important to be aware of the fact that not all materials are compatible with the tropical environment of the Caribbean.” Understanding the sensitivities of the environment is critical when determining the ecological and aesthetic impact of a building.
Atkinson is quick to note that while uniformity in environmental standards is the objective for all projects, each job and sector is unique. “What is uniform across all projects,” she insists, “is that we want people inside those spaces to be happy, which is achieved with open spaces and lots of light. These are also environmentally friendly principles.”
“Green buildings should have a minimal impact on all facets of their human and natural environment— this is ultimately what it means to go green.” – Josée Atkinson – Blue Print Management