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Green Building

Green Building — Four Years Later

Back in 2007, I wrote a five-part series for Property Guide on the subject of green building which looked at the broader aspects of environmental sustainability and focused on more specific issues such as the economic considerations, energy and water efficiency, waste and recycling, renewable energy systems, environmentally-friendly building materials and products, drainage, erosion control, landscaping, and site design. Now, four years on, it’s interesting to look back on these articles, to think about what’s happened and how things have moved on, for better or for worse.

The global economic recession of the past two years has obviously had a big impact on us here in the BVI, with a significant downturn in the number of new projects being initiated. Unfortunately, with this downturn, the focus of developers and building owners has been on basic survival, with discussion and interest in the environmental side of projects often pushed down the list of priorities. On the flipside, we’re hoping that the lessons learned during the economic squeeze will mean that new projects will be better considered for the longer term, more appropriate for their locations, more realistic and sustainable.
Perhaps the most significant development in green building in this period has been the widespread adoption by the construction and development industries of the LEED system for environmental certification. In the United States, the system has become ubiquitous, and has set the standards by which the environmental performance of buildings is measured. Four years ago, we were hoping that we’d soon be seeing LEED projects being developed in the Caribbean region, but the recession has slowed a number of ambitious projects down. We remain hopeful, but we’re yet to see any LEED-certified buildings here in the BVI.
One of the knock-on effects of the success of LEED and other environmental initiatives is the improvement in standards of building materials, as product manufacturers compete to develop more environmentally-friendly solutions. These products are slowly trickling into the BVI; we can now find no-VOC paints locally, at prices comparable to traditional paints, and it’s becoming easier to specify and procure previously hard-to-find alternatives such as bamboo flooring and LED lighting. We’re also seeing improvements in building systems; more efficient and effective air conditioning and pumps, better lighting controls, less chemically harmful swimming pool options.
Four years ago, we were hoping that we’d soon see the introduction of government subsidies for environmentally-friendly products, but these have yet to materialise, so better solutions are still being abandoned by building developers, in favour of lower-cost traditional alternatives. We were also expecting government to overhaul outdated electricity supply legislation, to encourage and assist home owners to install renewable energy systems—photovoltaics and wind generators—but sadly this is still subject to much debate and indecision, with infrastructure firmly dependent on fossil fuels, and owners still very unclear about their legal rights.
There’s still a long way to go to improve erosion control measures during construction. Despite increased public awareness of the causes of siltation and effects on coral reefs, most excavation continues to be unregulated and uncontrolled. The evidence of this was plain to see during the heavy rains of late 2010, when stormwater runoff carried previously unheard-of quantities of silt into many of the bays around Tortola. We continue to do what we can to discuss these issues with clients, to design in erosion control to our projects, but this is a drop in the ocean (pun intended), given the steady pace of development on our hillsides. Reefs will continue to be subjected to damage and stress, unless government can introduce increased enforcement of mitigation measures.


One small but significant success story is the recent emergence of Green VI, a not-for-profit group aiming to demonstrate the principles of sustainable living through educational and practical projects. The first project, a glass studio in Cane Garden Bay, is due to open this month, to recycle glass waste from the surrounding community. It’s the first of what is hoped to be an ongoing series of projects, to include composting, biodiesel production and renewable energy advancement. We hope that this and other local initiatives will continue to gain momentum, and that as the economic situation gradually improves, sustainable design and construction standards will eventually become the norm, rather than the exception.

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