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Greenwashed Architecture

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Architecture is also a subject deeply woven with sustainability.

Artwork by Tanishk Katalkar

If you go to Google and key in sustainable architecture, a ton of skyscrapers with plenty of plants on them will appear because green equals sustainable, right? No. Assuming that green is automatically sustainable sets a dangerous precedent for how we view climate change.

Sustainability is a complex concept. One of the main problems preventing us from being able to tell what constitutes sustainable building from what does not has a lot to do with something known as greenwashing.

Greenwashing is the practice of overemphasizing the perceived sustainability of an item through marketing and publicity. A building might be constructed in a way that is very harmful to the environment, for instance, but by adding solar panels or a green roof, the project can be advertised as a sustainable structure because there is little to no regulation about what constitutes a sustainable building.

The practice of "greenwashing" gives the business a false sense of environmental responsibility. These eco-cities guarantee a fashionable, cosy, and environmentally friendly future with a smaller carbon footprint. Such methods don't even attempt to investigate the underlying causes of environmental problems; instead, they just claim to have permanently resolved them.

The Problem with Green Building Certifications

Even the preferred and most well-known green building certifications, BREEAM and LEED, can be deceiving. The LEED certification's scoring system was developed in accordance with the regional, geographic, and climatic characteristics of the USA, whereas the BREEAM certification's scoring system, was developed in accordance with UK circumstances. Because state rules, regional interests, and climates vary from country to country, the development and use of LEED and BREEAM green building certification systems have a detrimental impact on sustainability.

When applied in other nations, the LEED and BREEAM certification systems need to be tailored to the norms and requirements of that nation. It may be claimed that using specific criteria and a scoring system for assessments makes the system transparent and simple to use. Yet, similar scores are established for the majority of the criteria in LEED and BREEAM certification systems, making it unrealistic to evaluate in nations with varied conditions.

LEED and BREEAM certificates are the most popular and preferred green construction certifications among businesses worldwide. This is due to the fact that the LEED and BREEAM certification systems' rating systems are more easily attainable and marketable than those of other local and international certificates. Due to their greenwashing and green marketing efforts, many construction companies prefer these well-known certification schemes for their projects, even when doing so raises the cost of their work and necessitates using tactics that are incompatible with the idea of green building.

Example Of Greenwashing

We have all used Styrofoam cups at some point. Butt did you know that It takes about 500 years for the decomposition of Styrofoam cups that are buried in landfills? Why were styrofoam cups created in the first place? Styrofoam is effective at insulating, thus using it in a cup with hot liquids keeps the drink warm while protecting your hands from burning.

When you delve deeply into architectural technology, you will discover that expanded polystyrene eps, which is just another term for styrofoam, is the industry standard for insulating foundations and basements. Just 7.5% of the 200 kilotons of styrofoam garbage produced annually in the European Union get recycled; the remainder is dumped in landfills where it will remain for many centuries. Because it contains so many contaminants during production, EPS is challenging to recycle. We attach it to building facades using adhesives and cement, and it is pretty challenging to remove these and reuse the eps.

"polystyrene in construction," is known to be a sustainable building material because it is a wonderful insulator. Insulation is generally quite helpful since it helps us reduce the carbon footprint needed to heat and cool our buildings.

When we ignore the overall effects and problems that result from relying only on materials like styrofoam, we engage in greenwashing. While styrofoam is advertised as the industry, the underlying reason for its use is its affordability and simplicity.

The materials we use in buildings have a significant negative impact on the environment, and the current construction process is essentially unsustainable.

What Constitutes Sustainable Architectural Practice?

Local or indigenous landscaping

This comprises utilizing locally indigenous trees, plants, and flowers.

Benefits include:

  • Environmental pollution is decreased since native plants negate the need for hazardous pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other lawn management methods.

  • Water quality is improved because native plants filter runoff and graywater.

  • Native plants are designed to require less upkeep, thus mowing and other typical maintenance tools can be removed. Lawn maintenance equipment can generate hazardous particles and up to 5% of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cause ozone to develop. Thus it can help improve the air quality.

Sustainable Building Materials

This means acquiring building supplies from organizations that practice environmental responsibility. Make sure to select companies that make use of recyclable materials and ecologically friendly manufacturing techniques. Recycled steel, concrete, or stones are a few examples of this. organic materials, such as compressed earth, bamboo and wheat, can also be used.

Passive Sustainable Design

Solar orientation, together with other climate factors and window location, is the main emphasis of passive sustainable design. Using passive sustainable design principles will also aid in controlling a building's natural ventilation and daylighting. For better ventilation systems, the passive design also includes air sealing and ongoing insulation.

Active Sustainable Design

Architects who are committed to sustainability collaborate with other professionals to lessen their carbon footprint. Electrical and mechanical engineers in particular are consulted by architects. Together, they employ renewable energy, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems that are incredibly efficient. Using effective heat pumps, heat recovery ventilators, radiant heating, and electrical lighting are examples of active sustainable design solutions.

Spotting Greenwash

Unsupported assertions

A manufacturer makes a claim but is unable to substantiate it.

Examples include: "manufactured from 95% recycled materials" with no supporting documentation, much less in accordance with ISO or WRAP standards;

You can determine that a product is free of materials of concern by asking the maker, for instance, to affirm that a material doesn't include any chemicals on a list of toxins.

Using the word "Eco" in a misleading manner

Using the prefixes 'Eco' and 'Enviro' can make a non-green product hard to differentiate from those having verifiably green credentials.

Examine the product presentation to see if there is anything else that seems to support the claim.

Focusing on one aspect of the product

This is where a producer will concentrate attention on one part of the environmental effect where they thrive, whereas concealing one or less spectacular aspects Look closely at the components of the product or substance. Ask the producer to specify the product's origins and ingredients if you are unsure.


A corporation may introduce a symbolic green product to the market to showcase its green credentials. Although the product may have great environmental features, the company that created it nonetheless produces a substantial amount of unremarkable output.

Role Of Architects

Architects must now look to the past and incorporate ancient building methods with today's utilitarian requirements. Each building should be planned as a solution that works with the local environment and climate. An all-hands-on-deck strategy is required to achieve significant progress, according to Jesse Keenan, PhD, a lecturer at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design and John F. Kennedy School of Government in Science, Technology, and Public Policy.

Keenan believes that by providing the upcoming generation of architects with a critical knowledge basis, architecture schools can have an impact on how the industry responds. There is theoretical, artistic, and conceptual knowledge that can be acquired to interest people in environmental issues, thus institutions need to step up and start training students. We must begin training students and ensure that they are certified to a specific professional standard. Another method for helping architects and other building professionals comprehend the energy use and other environmental impact associated with all phases of a building's life cycle is life cycle assessment (LCA). Results from an LCA can help architects in providing answers to many queries that come up during the planning and development of a green building.

Notwithstanding the difficulties the profession faces in the fight against climate change, architects have one very important tool and that is inventiveness. Making significant advancements in the upcoming years will require big ideas and a rejection of the status quo. Also, it's critical that businesses commit to sustainability across the board, rather than just undertaking the occasional eye-catching sustainable project.


We have created structures and shapes for whatever we felt like for a long time. We selected the least expensive items, some of which require international shipping. What's worse is that many clients and architects are prepared to forgo sustainability in order to satisfy a particular aesthetic. When it comes to construction, sustainability is frequently given the least thought, despite the fact that doing so would have a greater impact and be more cost-effective.

It can be difficult to comprehend the effects this can have on your life if you don't work in the field or truly comprehend how a structure is constructed. Yet by simply showing a little curiosity, you can make smart decisions. Ask yourself: Do you know where the materials for your home or building were sourced? Do you know their final destination after demolition?


Donovan, E. (2016). ARCHITECTURE WASHED IN GREEN. Aarch.

Green Certifications | Zero Waste | B Corp Blog. (2023, April 24). Measure Meant.

Applying Ecological Design: Native Plants | (n.d.).

Hohenadel, K. (2022). What Is Sustainable Architecture? The Spruce.

Hurst, W. (2022, July 15). Architecture is drowning in greenwash. The Architects’ Journal.

Aspects of Greenwash and Greenwashing. (n.d.). Srcnet.

Bahadursingh, N. (2020). 8 Tangible Ways Architects Can Help Combat the Climate Crisis. Journal.

Ubhayakar, N. (2021). Role of Architecture in Climate Change. RTF | Rethinking the Future.

Rinkesh. (2022, July 28). Green Architecture: Materials Used and Principles of Green Architecture - Conserve Energy Future. Conserve Energy Future.

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