As climate change draws near, many individuals are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Biophilic design is one of many options in sustainable architecture gaining traction. However, while the concept of incorporating nature-inspired elements sounds good on paper, carbon reduction requires a more cohesive approach. To achieve substantial environmental impact, a broader framework that connects biophilic elements with green building practices is imperative for sustainable construction.

Biophilic Design Benefits

While discussing biophilic design’s lesser impact on carbon emission reduction, recognizing its incorporation into a construction project still has benefits.

Promotes Mental Wellbeing

Most people use so much technology, whether at home, school or work. Various devices help with staying connected to loved ones and peers. However, there are a variety of drawbacks to this, from unrealistic beauty standards to online harassment.

Individuals need to do whatever they can to preserve their mental health against such triggers. Luckily, society and nature have a positive interaction that improves mental health. Biophilic design’s presence can make an indoor environment more soothing.

Improves Connection to Nature

Mental health aside, losing an attachment to the living world can affect one’s sense of self. Biophilic design aims to bring nature inside and deepen your connection. Incorporating some plants here and there can make a significant difference.

Biophilic design also fosters a sense of responsibility. Because of nature’s presence, people are constantly reminded of its beauty. This appreciation can then blossom into concern over climate change’s impact and how to fight it back to preserve the environment.

Provides Eco-Friendly Elements

Another advantage of biophilic design is its incorporation of different eco-friendly elements. For example, stormwater infrastructure with different structures like rain gardens and fountains steers contaminated liquids away from the waterways.

A significant principle of biophilic design is letting natural light shine through a building. Luminosity is an essential element of the environment. Luckily, utilizing daylight can save energy from artificial lighting in the long run.


Limitations of Biophilic Designs

Anyone seeking sustainability should know this option alone is insufficient. In fact, it’s lackluster in multiple aspects compared to other green building practices.

Minimally Reduces Carbon Emissions

A big misconception about biophilic design is it can be an air purification strategy. While greenery does have a reputation for cleanup, more than one plant is necessary to make a significant impact.

Let’s say you have a 1,500-square-foot establishment. Unless you put 680 plants in that area, you can’t fully clear the air. It’s important to utilize different ventilation systems to improve the airflow and quality in an enclosed space.

The most noteworthy impact biophilic installations can have on a space is to minimize carbon emissions when interior designing. A study on the carbon emissions intensity of different building decor found they amounted to 254.5 kg of carbon dioxide throughout the decoration, transportation, and end-of-life stages.

Maintains Regular Building Practices

People look to incorporate biophilic elements into interior and exterior design for appearances. While this can make the environment more natural, buildings are constructed similarly, meaning the carbon emissions level stays the same.

Circular Ecology held a carbon assessment between two houses. They concluded that a home can create around 78,000 kg of embodied carbon emissions if built as usual. However, active efforts to minimize these emissions can create a 59 percent reduction.

If biophilic elements had been incorporated into either house, the amount of carbon generated would not have changed. As the United States needs to cut emissions by 6 percent to reach the 2030 Paris Agreement, we must look at more effective ways to lessen the country’s footprint.

Fails to Address Other Environmental Injustices

Green building practices are not expected to solve any mistreatment towards people and the environment they live in fully, but their addition should provide some meaning to those injustices. Unfortunately, biophilic design falls short of that.

For example, stormwater infrastructure is integrated into the urbanization of certain areas with intentions to reduce flooding and add an essence of nature. However, a study finds residents perceive the installments as greenwashing and gentrification.

Biophilic design’s reputation for being more performative can stem from a lack of public engagement in planning. Certain installations require land clearing and the removal of nature without the input of others, which can be counterintuitive.


Are Biophilic Designs Still Worth Investing In?

While biophilic elements enhance well-being and connection to nature, they fall short of significantly curbing carbon emissions on their own. True carbon reduction demands a holistic approach, integrating efficient building materials, advanced energy systems and meticulous design strategies.

That said, biophilic elements are still worth investing time, resources and effort into because of their advantages. Commercial establishments will succeed more in these sustainable decarbonization efforts if they combine biophilic design with other carbon emission reduction practices.

Integrate Energy-Efficient Building Materials

Energy efficiency is crucial for reducing carbon emissions. Since biophilic design includes lighting, consider using more green building materials to help with insulation. Equip various aspects of a space with these sustainable materials.

For example, metal roofing can be ideal for a commercial establishment in a hotter climate, as it lessens the heat by 30 degrees Fahrenheit or so. Fiberglass for the windows is a perfect reinforcement because it avoids heat transfer.

Focus on Passive House Design

Passive house building is a key construction standard for minimizing emissions reduction. Changing the building orientation and design to utilize external energy sources can make a difference, resulting in almost 90 percent energy savings from heating and cooling.

One key part of a passive house design is a comprehensive ventilation system. Allowing winds to enter, circulate and leave can improve indoor air quality. Properties in warmer climates will find this structure can also release heat from the household.

Contrary to popular belief, construction projects don’t have to choose between biophilic or passive house design. If anything, a fusion of both can work wonders in achieving sustainability.

Invest in Renewable Energy Sources

Lessening carbon emissions means relying less on conventional energy sources. Annual U.S. electricity consumption produced about 1.82 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2022. Smaller businesses can create a hybrid system to stay connected to the grid, but bigger establishments with the means to invest in renewables fully should do so.

Biophilic design already incorporates natural elements, but sustainable energy generation puts that into action. For example, solar power can provide the space with enough electricity to function, reducing emissions.

The California Academy of Sciences is a great example of melding biophilic design and solar energy simultaneously. It has a living roof to help stormwater runoff, and serve as a habitat for birds and butterflies. A solar canopy is attached to the perimeter to harvest sunlight, preventing 405,000 pounds of greenhouse gases yearly.

Minimize and Recycle Construction Waste

Concrete has a reputation for being one of the least eco-friendly materials, as it produces a significant amount of carbon dioxide when manufactured. In addition, concrete waste is responsible for 70 percent of construction materials sent to landfills.

One effective way to reduce emissions is to recycle materials. Crushing and mixing concrete with water is one of the best ways to utilize it again. The new mix can serve as extra material without excess production.

Listen to the Impacted Communities

One underrated green building practice is to seek the input of others. Practice listening to social justice advocates in the community for their input, and check in with environmental experts to measure the impact of your project.

A shared discussion between these parties can create trust when constructing a new space. Use the feedback as a point of reference to see what could make the project more beneficial to the environment and its people.


Go Beyond Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is a mere drop in the ocean. While it can be worth incorporating into the space, it’s important to reinforce those efforts with other green building practices. Combining these endeavors can effectively reduce carbon emissions over time.