Why is sustainability a need?
Today, although severe deprivations endure, the world population lives in unprecedented prosperity. Nevertheless, the environmental and social costs paid for such achievements are dramatic. Human-caused global change has increased since the mid-twentieth, creating various ecological stresses: the Earth system is exceptionally complex, and once beyond defined thresholds, even minor changes can lead to significant effects with drastic and permanent consequences. Research has shown that the accumulated impacts of human activities represent a substantial risk nowadays for Earth, implying severe consequences for humanity and all life on the planet.
Lately, growing awareness on the importance of sustainability has risen: Governments, organisations and concerned individuals call for sustainable development. Among the various definitions, sustainable development has been described by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations as a "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Our Common Future, 1987). Sustainability is essential for a straightforward reason: we can't keep the quality of life as humans, the diversity of life on the planet, or simply the Earth's ecosystems unless we embrace it. The key is to understand and strive for sustainability in our houses, communities, and interconnected systems. In this context, the house plays a vital role because it is where we can act on all of the three core elements of sustainability: environmental conservation, social responsibility, and people well-being.
What is a sustainable house?
Sustainable house, or Green house or Eco house, is one possible solution to contribute to the sustainability of our planet. In essence, we can tackle issues such as CO2 emissions, global warming, or natural resources use by transforming the way we build or live our homes.
A sustainable house aims at minimising its negative environmental impact, in line with the final goal of sustainability itself: ensure that our actions and decisions today do not inhibit the opportunities of generations of tomorrow.
A house can achieve such a goal by developing its sustainability over three main streams:
1. Environmental sustainability. The house by-design decreases greenhouse gas emissions, preserves water and energy and lessens waste through its entire lifecycle.
2. Social sustainability. The house by-design ensures safety, preventing injuries through built-in features, as well as security, reducing the risk of crimes. The house also focuses on providing flexibility and comfort to people of varying abilities and at different life stages.
3. Economic sustainability. The house by-design saves money optimising the costs connected to energy use, water use, and maintenance or renovation.
How is an environmentally sustainable house?
The environmental sustainability of a home refers to the fact of being both environmentally friendly and energy-efficient. These two key elements translate in practice into four primary areas of intervention:
1. Size, Design and Location. A sustainable house maximises the resources offered by its surroundings, without harming them. For instance, it can face south to maximise solar heat or can be close to public transport to minimise private vehicles emissions.
2. Environmental impact of materials. A sustainable house is built with materials locally sourced and eco-friendly (such as biodegradable, non-toxic, repurposed or renewable) to avoid harmful chemicals and increase indoor living quality.
3. Energy consumption and Carbon Dioxide emission. A sustainable house uses energy-efficient appliances and strategic insulation/ ventilation systems to decrease artificial heating and cooling while allowing more natural light into the home. It also uses renewable energy resources (such as solar panels) to transform a cost into a profit (namely, by selling the surplus electricity to power companies).
4. Internal and external water consumption. A sustainable house uses efficient sanitary installations and home appliances (such as washing machines) as well as optimised land irrigation systems to reduce water wastes. It also leverages on adequate plumbing fixtures and rainwater accumulators to reuse water.
How does smart home enhance sustainability?
According to the World Economic Forum report entitled IoT Guidelines for Sustainability, "The Internet of things (IoT) is undoubtedly one of the largest enablers for responsible digital transformation". Smart home technology can reconnect people with their environment: enhanced by sensors, the environment can start expressing itself and generating competitive scenarios that reward sustainable behaviours. Smart home, therefore, supports us in both key elements of environmental sustainability, being:
- Environmentally friendly. Smart homes can control several aspects of our living space to ensure the respect of our planet. We can, for example, minimise our carbon footprint through smart thermostats, optimise lighting levels through windows and shades smart controllers, or reduce water usage by intelligent sprinkler systems or leak detectors.
- Energy-efficient. Smart homes optimise energy consumption, decreasing their operational costs. They obtain so by coordinated management of devices like smart radiator and air condition controls, weather forecast services, temperature/ wind/ humidity sensors, smart meters, household appliances, networked light bulbs, and much more. Smart homes not only optimise the energy use but also produce and store it: this will become inevitable in the long run due to the limited availability of fossil resources.
People and the natural environment do not exist as independent realities but are part of an interconnected ecosystem. Studies revealed how this is reflected in our physical well-being in the form of heat-related death, air quality-related illnesses, extreme events like flooding, vector-borne diseases, water- and food-related infections.
People are not only reliant on the environment for material needs such as food and water but also for satisfying psychological, spiritual and emotional needs. Research attested that living in the middle of a climate crisis affects anxiety and depression levels: economic risk, job instability, unpredictable weather patterns, and displacement are all elements impacting our mental health.
Climate change menaces human rights, pushes more people into poverty and increases socio-economic differences. Reduced access to food, water, and essential services threatens the life of millions of people, forcing them to leave their homeland to fight for their survival.
1. Buy just what you need. Buying more does not make us happier or better. Actually, it can increase our levels of anxiety and depression. Buying what you need will save you money, decrease your carbon footprint, increase your appreciation for what you buy, make your life easier and liberate more time for yourself.
2. Decrease your packaging use. Some of the measures that you can take to decrease the amount of plastic and packaging are: avoiding plastic bottles, plastic bags, sugar sachets, substituting bottled beer by draught one, or buying at a local market where vegetables, water, milk and other types of food but also consumables, like shampoo, are unpackaged and where you can use your containers.
3. Avoid single-use products. Being aware of your consumption habits can bring you to discover that you are using more single-use products than you thought. Hereafter you can find some examples: paper napkin vs cloth napkin, paper tissue vs handkerchief, glass containers vs aluminium foil, wood vs disposable bamboo chopsticks or inox vs plastic cutlery.
4. Give things a second life. Finding the way to fix something that presents minor problems or defects can increase the lifetime of products and decrease the stress you put on the planet. Transforming a piece of carton into a toy for your children, sewing a sock instead of throwing the couple, moving on with your life even if the screen of your smartphone is broken (or replacing it), and selling or giving the things that you do not want any more are some of the actions that you can take to enlarge the lifetime of products.
5. Recycle. Recycling is the last step after having reduced and reused. Carton, plastic, glass, metal, textiles, electronics and batteries are all materials that can be reprocessed and reused in the form of raw material by manufacturing industries. Take a look at your hometown indications to make sure that your recycling actions are in line with their guidelines.
6. Count on technology and services around you. Using communication technologies, like the possibility to make video calls, or using services, like home delivery for your groceries, can avoid you moving around with your car and as a consequence decrease your carbon footprint.
1. Eat local and seasonal products. Eating seasonal products from local producers reduces your carbon footprint and the devastation of carbon-storing forests, but not only: you receive more tasteful and nutrient-rich products, it brings you closer to producers, it gives you the chance to know the processes behind what you are eating, it allows local producers to continue their small-scale activities following a sustainable approach and, as a consequence, converts the action of eating or sharing a meal into a more purposeful experience.
2. Decrease your food waste. Planning your weekly meals, defining the quantity of food you need and controlling the use-by dates of the fresh food in your fridge are the first steps to decrease the amount of waste generated at the consumer stage. An additional action that you can take is to accept eating suboptimal food (products that may present some discolourations or other minor problems), or at least to give it to organisations that redistribute it to those in need.
3. Use your freezer appropriately. Freezing just what can be frozen (like meat, fish or bread but not vegetables with high contents of water like lettuce or raw tomatoes), avoiding to freeze things again after being thawed (unless cooked in between), freezing the food in realistic batches to feed the number of people at home, labelling the food you freeze with a descriptive name and the date it has been frozen, and keeping your freezer full are some of the measures that will help you to optimise the way you consume food while increasing the efficiency of your fridge.
4. Grow your garden. Raising your vegetables, either it is in a portion of the soil or through vertical gardens in your balcony, can avoid several steps across the supply chain like packaging and transport. When doing so, limit the use of pesticides, thus to contribute to a reduction in air pollution.
1. Use your body. Exercising and staying in shape with the only use of body weight is possible. Avoiding free weights and gym machines will lead you to decrease your environmental footprint while increasing your savings.
2. Walk or cycle. Walking or cycling are more natural ways of moving than using a car or any other mean of transport, even an electric scooter. So be aware of your needs and where you invest your time. It does not make sense to recurrently lie on the sofa watching a movie and then drive your car for 5km to arrive in time for your coffee appointment.
1. Make the most of natural air. Air-drying your clothes after being washed and using natural ventilation to provide freshness to your home can decrease your energy consumption.
2. Use renewable and clean energy sources. Using solar panels or other types of renewable energy sources, and avoiding the use of biomass or coal stoves to heat or cook at home will decrease the number of pollutants that come from fossil fuel combustion.
3. Be selective with your home materials. Using non-toxic paints and furnishings will decrease the concentration of air pollutants within your home.
1. Make the most out of the sunlight. Rolling your shutters up and drawing the curtains will not just avoid the use of artificial light, but it will let you experience a series of additional benefits like an improved mood and an increase in productivity.
2. Decrease your energy consumption. Using LED light bulbs to make more efficient use of energy, installing dimmers to adjust the quantity of light you need for a specific activity, and sensors or timers to turn on and off the light as per required are all resources available today to decrease your electricity consumption.
1. Decrease your noise pollution. Optimising aircraft movements, installing road and rail noise barriers and increasing the focus on urban planning are some of the measures that governments are taking to decrease noise pollution. The increase of electric vehicles on our streets, although they include artificial noise generators to improve safety for pedestrians, is also contributing to reduce noise pollution. However, all these measures make no sense if we as citizens do not help by rethinking our way of doing. Adopting silent appliances and devices like washing machines or lawn mowers are some of the measures that we can take at the household level to decrease noise pollution.
1. Use natural ventilation. Opening the windows or doors at both extremes of a specific home area can significantly decrease the amount of energy needed for cooling. At night you can roll down the blinds and let the windows slightly open to let the airflow within the flat while keeping your home secure.
2. Avoid unwanted sunlight. Using blinds, roller shutters and awnings, planting trees to use their shadows, creating a green roof with vegetation, painting your roof white to increase the reflection of sunlight, or improving the insulation of the building are some of the actions that can decrease the amount of heat coming from the outside and the need for artificial cooling.
3. Decrease your energy consumption. Sealing up air leaks in windows and doors to prevent energy loss, considering different heating and cooling solutions, like ceiling fans instead of air conditioners, and making responsible use of technology by avoiding overcooling and overheating are some of the measures that you can take to satisfy your energy needs decreasing your pressure on the planet.
1. Bring water waste to zero. Selecting drought-tolerant plants, watering the soil instead of the leaves, installing a proper irrigation system, avoiding overwatering, reusing water, eliminating leaks, avoiding over-time showers and baths or merely closing the tap while you are brushing your teeth are some of the measures you can adopt to bring water waste to zero.
1. Do not leave applications in Stand-by mode when not in use. Unplugging the energy drains like TVS, computers, vacuum robots, microwaves, chargers or any other device by simply switching off everything on a power strip can help you to save some money.
2. Use renewable energy sources. Using solutions that rely on the power of nature to generate energy for your home (like solar panels or small wind turbines) will save you money on the mid and long term, decrease your environmental footprint due to a cleaner generation process and a reduced amount of power losses, and decrease your dependence from the electricity grid.