Originally published on Sourceable, by Jock Gammon

How can living infrastructure help you achieve environmental ratings like the WELL Building Standard, Living Building Challenge and Green Star?

Australian Ethical Investment

Australian Ethical Investment; Photography: Siren Design

The key advantage of living infrastructure (also known as green infrastructure) is its multi-functionality – that is, its ability to deliver several different environmental benefits at the same time. Unlike the majority of ‘grey’ infrastructure typically designed to carry out just one function like storm water management, indoor air filtration, and noise reduction, living infrastructure can deliver these benefits (and more) often simultaneously.

This means living infrastructure is not only a cost-effective sustainability solution, but also a clever way to meet criteria in a number of environmental rating systems including the WELL Building Standard, the Living Building Challenge and Green Star.

Indoor air quality

Did you know that the average person breathes in about 14,000 litres of air every day? Our lungs are constantly exposed to our external environment. So good air quality is essential to our health and well-being.

Particulate matter and chemicals commonly found in the air like ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) can result in headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, sick building syndrome, asthma, upper respiratory illnesses, reduced lung function, cancer, cardiovascular disease and more.

The Green Star Indoor Pollutant credit in the Interiors tool (v1.2) targets CO2 and VOCs. It includes two points for indoor plants that are distributed across the nominated area and regularly maintained (12.3). Now these plants aren’t there to look good; they have been categorized under the Indoor Pollutant credit because plants and trees are known to improve air quality and our overall health by acting as living biofilters.

In fact, recent research from the University of Technology Sydney has proven plants (and the microorganisms in plant substrates) actively remove VOCs as well as particulate matter from the air, and unlike even top-of-the-line HVAC systems, these plants don’t just sequester the pollutants, they use it so there is no filter to dispose of or replace.

In this vein, living infrastructure can be utilised to control indoor pollutant levels (CO2) for projects seeking a Green Star Performance rating. The performance rating tool includes an Indoor Air Quality credit with two points available for successful Indoor pollutant control: carbon dioxide concentration (8.3).

Advanced living infrastructure have been shown to actively remove CO2 as well as VOCs and particulate matter from indoor air. To achieve this credit, you need to measure CO2 levels in the regularly occupied primary spaces and ensure 80 per cent meet the 800ppm compliance requirements. A breathing wall will improve indoor air quality beyond what is currently being recognised in Green Star (creating potential for applying for innovation credits).

Living infrastructure is an economically viable way to green your next project. Its range of benefits extends beyond those detailed above to deliver more bang for your buck than conventional ‘grey’ infrastructure, making it a win-win option whether or not you are pursuing a Green Star, WELL and/or LBC certification. So get creative and remember the multi-functionality of living infrastructure. A green facade can provide that human-nature interaction for building occupants as well as act as part of your storm water run-off solution. Your green roof offers a place staff can connect with nature and pick a few salad leaves for their lunch.

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