This morning I heard a comment on radio that I thought was quite profound. The thrust of the comment was that we may calculate in billions, economic losses due to COVID-19, but what we cannot calculate accurately is the social cost, the loss of mobility, interactivity with loved ones and even mourn the loss of family and friends. From Australia to Zanzibar, no matter how curled up you are in your little corner, we have all been affected by COVD-19. Our lives have so changed; public gatherings prohibited, churches and schools closed and most economic activities brought to a halt. We are having to live our lives on WhatsApp and Zoom as well as finding new ways of doing things.
This week, I have been meeting my team members in a bid plan towards our annual Ghana Green Building Summit, which we have had to move online. Last night a question popped up in my mind- what is the relevance of green building in these COVID times? Are green buildings able to offer better protection against pandemics? What are the contributions of green buildings in the fight against COVID-19?
Whilst I will delve into the substance of the matter, it is perhaps useful to recap on the essence of what green buildings are and establish a correlation between building design and the role this plays in the fight against disease.
A green building in the simplest terms is a building that is energy and resource efficient. For most people, the easiest visualization of a green building is one with solar panels, some rain harvesting as well as loads of greenery. Whilst these hold true, green buildings are much more that these. In various studies, using the main elements or pillars of green buildings; design, water conservation, energy efficiency, indoor air quality and material use as a basis, a green building has been defined as one so designed that it takes maximum advantage of the sun and wind to heat, light, and cool the building. Green buildings install water-efficient appliances and plumbing fixtures, feature landscaping with drought-resistant plants and efficient irrigation, and put rainwater and gray-water to use. They are ones that employ building materials that minimize or eliminate indoor air quality concerns, avoid toxins, and greatly reduce waste Green buildings reduce, reuse, and recycle construction and demolition waste to cut costs and improve building quality. They are designed for efficient use of materials and for durability, avoiding future waste. Green buildings promote good indoor air quality. Indoor air quality centers on well-designed ventilation and moisture control, which goes hand in hand with energy efficiency and building durability. Indeed research has it that indoor air quality could sometimes be poorer than outdoor air if the building is so badly designed and traps bad air which recirculates.
Now that we know what green buildings are, how about getting to know a bit about COVID-19? Coronavirus belongs to a family of viruses that affect the respiratory tract and cause a range of illnesses—from a mild cold, to a serious case of pneumonia. COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new viral strain of the coronavirus, not previously seen in humans. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 can be spread in three main ways, with the first two suspected to be the most common: Person-to-person via direct contact, Person-to-person via airborne respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes as well as surface-to-person via contact with surfaces or objects that hold the virus, followed by an individual touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
The correlation is quite clear- the pandemic as it has been proclaimed is essentially forcing people to stay indoors and or within compounds so that they can socially distant as much as possible while also practicing good personal hygiene. So, clearly a poorly designed property, be it the internal design or the immediate external common areas has a significant impact on keeping healthy and specifically boosting an immune system which is the second line of defense if the disease unfortunately hits the body.
I have on occasion been asked by some homeowners how they can go green since their houses have already been built. I am sure a few of you have that in mind as well but that is really not a challenge at all, as some fittings and fixtures can be retrofitted easily. So you see, the benefits of going green are for us all. Shall we then delve into the possible contributions of green buildings in the fight against COVID-19? To make a bit more relatable, we will focus on the wellness aspect as that contributes directly to maintaining a sound immune system. Let’s go!
As stated earlier, if a building is designed such that ventilation is poor, the air recirculates, thereby increasing the possibility of the virus being trapped and subsequently infecting its inhabitants. If the building is also so designed that it cools naturally, then it reduces the need to use ACs which may also have viruses trapped in vents and are subsequently recirculated. Even if the virus isn’t present in that particular internal space, poor ventilation and indoor air quality can cause other respiratory diseases that can all compromise our immune systems and makes one more susceptible to disease.
Boost Physical and Mental Health
In a bid to further boost our immune systems, you cannot discount the role of metal health. You can observe all the hygiene protocols but if you don’t have peace of mind and are rather living in fear with little peace of mind, your immune system is further compromised. It has been established that your immediate external environment can contribute greatly to your mental health. This is where green buildings come in handy. These are so designed to plug in to nature which have calming effects on our bodies, reduce stress and thereby stave off diseases. Research and other studies indicate that offices experience a 15% increase in productivity when plants are included in office space. Studies have also shown that workers or employees with plant views have fewer headaches and complete concentration tests 19% faster than those without plants. Plating of trees and gardening also boosts physical health as it has been established that that sitting under trees for instance, reduces stress, heart rate and blood pressure etc.
Having now digested the issues, it’s pretty clear that the question isn’t whether they can, but rather how, and to which extent, green buildings can contribute to the fight against COVID-19 and other pandemics. Let the discussion continue.
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The writer is the Executive director of Yecham Property Consult
& Founder of Ghana Green Building Summit.
Linkedin: Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh