Sustainable Building Models and Tools

The scale and complexity of climate change and sustainable development make it difficult to understand and address. In built environments, questions, such as the ones below need to be tackled:

  • Is it more important to become net zero energy or net zero water?
  • Can I achieve greater energy or water improvements by upgrading technologies or changing behavior?
  • How can I achieve net zero energy and water performance and at the same time support the development of small enterprises and create local jobs?

Models and tools can help.

My presentation at the GBCSA conference focussed on models and tools that I have worked on recently and showed how these can help make sense of sustainability and how this is addressed in buildings. The following is a brief outline of what was covered:

  • Models simplify complex ideas, events, or processes to enable these to be understood and to predict future patterns. Examples include complex models used to understand climate change.
  • Tools provide scaffolding that can help us think with more depth and structure. When they are used in groups they can help achieve shared understanding and agreement on solutions and actions.

Recent examples of building models and tools I have worked on include:

  • Self-Developed Interventions: This methodology is based on an ecological footprint tool that enables users to understand the impact of lifestyle choices. The methodology, developed with Claire Wagner, has been used with students and resulted in interesting findings which have implications for the design of student housing and campus planning and management.
  • Building Adaptive Pathways: This methodology was developed to address risk and uncertainty associated with climate change and COVID in buildings and develop robust future plans. It has been used in studies of office buildings in South Africa and its application in Canada is being explored.
  • Rainwater Harvesting Simulations: This model uses daily rainfall and consumption data to simulate flows in buildings and rainwater harvesting systems. Findings using the tool provide detailed inputs into how rainwater harvesting systems should be designed and indicate that current rules of thumb may provide inaccurate guidance.  
  • School Water and Energy Tools: These tools are easy to use and provide graphic reports which allow consumption patterns to be readily understood. They are designed for non-professional users and specifically for principals, teachers, and School Governing Bodies and provide them with a way of making decisions that will result in lower costs and more resilient supplies.  
  • SHIP OOM Tool: This tool models the capital and operational costs for student housing. By enabling a wide range of planning, financing, construction materials, and equipment specifications as well as green options such as renewable energy and greywater systems to be modeled, the tool supports effective evidence-based decision-making and can be used as an input for feasibility studies and PPP agreements.