Green Architecture: How Can Sustainable Urban Planning Make Cities More Livable?

Finn Faust
QLab Think Tank GmbH
4 min readNov 15, 2021


“Any building can be a green building, whether it’s a home, an office, a school, a hospital, a community centre, or any other type of structure.”

World Green Building Council

The Problem: Impact of construction on climate, environment, and health

Climate | Traditional construction methods contribute substantially to environmental pollution, the use of finite resources, and climate warming. According to Britannica, 20–30% of all greenhouse gas emissions are related to construction processes during the young 21st century. In a sector-by-sector analysis published in 2020, stated that 7,2% of the global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to steel and iron production, while cement production contributes another 3%.

Health | A quantitative analysis, published by Elsevier in 2010, utilized an environmental impact assessment model and a life cycle assessment model to describe constructions’ impact on the environment and health. The analysis showed that 27% of the environmental effects of construction sites are related to increased mortality and health risks, attributable mainly to dust produced during pit support work. The paper concludes that reducing dust production, steel use, and the reuse of water and concrete could contribute to a lower environmental impact. Switching to more efficient machinery would not have a significant positive effect.

Environment | Urban centers often form heat islands as materials such as steel, concrete, and asphalt barely absorb heat. In summer, and with generally rising temperatures due to climate change, heat mortality rates are also rising. According to EPA, the main factors contributing to higher temperatures in city centers are:

  • an increased surface area occupied by buildings and pavements and a reduction of green, natural areas,
  • artificial materials absorb less solar radiation and produce less moisture than green areas,
  • tall buildings and narrow streets cannot release heat and reduce wind flow,
  • emissions from vehicles, air conditioning, and industry sites increase the temperatures further.

Green Architecture: Reducing the environmental impact

Green architecture focuses on sustainable construction methods, reusing environmentally safe building materials, reducing energy expenditure during construction, and designing buildings to be more energy efficient in the long run. A transition to sustainable architecture approaches in urban planning is necessary to meet urgent climate goals.

While Green Architecture directly reduces health risks related to construction, green urban planning and biophilic design also lead to substantial increases in living standards and happiness, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

Moreover, a natural environment is associated with benefits for health and fitness. Not having access to well-kept recreational parks, as is often the case in low-income and ethnic minority suburbs, reduces life quality. Green areas, including rooftop gardens, also reduce the formation of urban heat islands.

Green Architecture: Making cities livable

But how, exactly, becomes a building a green building? According to the World Green Building Council, “there are a number of features which can make a building ‘green’. These include:

  • Efficient use of energy, water, and other resources
  • Use of renewable energy, such as solar energy
  • Pollution and waste reduction measures, and the enabling of reuse and recycling
  • Good indoor environmental air quality
  • Use of materials that are non-toxic, ethical, and sustainable
  • Consideration of the environment in design, construction, and operation
  • Consideration of the quality of life of occupants in design, construction, and operation
  • A design that enables adaptation to a changing environment.”

Please find a comprehensive overview of how to design green buildings by the WorldGBC here and an extensive manual on biophilic urban planning by the Global Wellness Institute here.

The Challenge: Green Architecture and inequality

The philosophy, the empirical evidence for the benefits, and the blueprint on how to design green urban centers sustainably are all out there, readily available. However, the problem of racial and economic discrimination persists also in the field of Green Architecture.

According to, low-income and ethnic minority communities suffer disproportionately from pollution. Moreover, low-income households often don’t have the financial means to install air conditioning and are less mobile when escaping urban heat islands.

The challenge for urban planners and policymakers is to not perpetuate such inequalities by excluding minority and low-income suburbs from a green urban rework and the transition to zero-emission transport. Public investments in such areas must be prioritized and can lead to a more equal and just society. Waiting for innovations to trickle down “never worked,” as U.S. president Biden admitted recently.

An article by illustrates how that might be possible; read the article here.

What’s next?

At QLab, we see that businesses are interested in sustainable innovation. Companies and stakeholders desire to work with us and explicitly state their interest in change.

However, few dare to take a leap and commit.

With Germany as our operation hub, we experience widespread unwillingness to think big, to take action. How come? Dive into a new blog series with us, starting Monday the 29th, and explore how this lack of motivation arises. Stay tuned!

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Finn Faust
QLab Think Tank GmbH

I’m an author of the QLab Think Tank blog, and I believe that empirically founded information is essential to prepare stakeholders for climate action.