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How Nature Based Climate Tech Can Save Our Future Cities.

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

Renderings created by Zauben for a 2,000 net-zero affordable housing projects that is estimated to absorb more than 167 tons of Co2 over 25 year period.

In recent years, research led by the EPA has uncovered the benefits of nature based climate tech, and the results give future cities a roadmap to reimagining how we can co-exist with nature and fight against climate change.

Green building policies and city-wide mandates are spreading across Europe and the U.S to implement living architecture to help offset carbon, improve energy savings, retrofit buildings, and prevent over-flooding in urban areas.

Let's explore how nature-based climate technologies will green our future and transform our cities.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Photo credit by Zauben.

According to a study of temperatures worldwide, the average temperature on our Earth has risen by at least 1.1° C (1.9° F) since 1880. What is more alarming, however, is the fact that the majority of this warming has happened since the mid-1970s, at a rate of approximately 0.15 to 0.20°C every 10 years.

This rapid warming within the last few decades can be attributed to a predominance of greenhouse gas effects caused by urbanization. The built environment is a primary contributor to climate change and is responsible for 30 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, a rise in building construction is destroying the world’s biodiverse ecosystems. This, in turn, increases the emission of carbon dioxide, which is a primary greenhouse gas. According to the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, there is a clear connection between low biodiversity and climate change.

As cities get larger and the need for housing grows, the area available for greenery becomes increasingly limited. While an increase in parks or nature reserves within these urban areas is proving difficult, living walls are being favored as an effective and space-efficient solution.

This is because the plants in a living wall absorb and store carbon dioxide in vegetation and soils without sacrificing valuable ground space. This is known as carbon sequestration. In doing so, they can significantly reduce this primary greenhouse gas, along with the severity of the greenhouse gas effect.

ESG Platform that estimates energy savings and carbon absorption from Zauben's living architecture products and smart building technology.

Just 1m2 of living wall can absorb up to 2kg of carbon dioxide per year. An entire tree can absorb around just 5.5kg of carbon dioxide each year. The plants in living walls also remove harmful toxins from the air, such as nitrogen dioxide.

Considering living walls can span up to tens of meters when installed on the façade of a building, it’s easy to see just how beneficial they can be at alleviating greenhouse gases and improving global air quality when placed within cities all over the world.

Lessening the Urban Heat Island Effect

Project for the world's tallest living wall in Dallas TX designed by Zauben and SCB architects.

Another area where global warming is being experienced is within urban heat islands. These heat islands exist in urbanized regions that have hotter temperatures than their surrounding regions. This is due to the fact that buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit more heat from the sun than natural environments such as forests and bodies of water. Additionally, the heat produced by human activity within these spaces is confined in narrow roads and concrete structures.

As a result, daytime temperatures in urban areas are 1-7°F higher than those in rural regions. These raised temperatures increase the energy required to cool the inside of buildings. Additionally, cooling building interiors raises the climatic temperature over time, therefore compounding the problem.

Thankfully, living walls can relieve the vicious cycle of the urban heat island effect. The plants within a living wall use a process known as evapotranspiration to reduce urban temperatures naturally and consistently. Evapotranspiration encompasses both transpiration and evaporation processes.

Transpiration occurs when the water in plant tissues is emitted into the atmosphere. This typically occurs through stomata, which are small holes in the vegetation's leaves. Evaporation occurs when water in liquid form is converted into water in vapor form. This vapor is then transferred into the air from a surface (like a lake, soil, or wet plants).

According to research, the combination of a living wall's shade, insulation, and these natural processes of its living greenery blocks heat and results in a difference in temperature of up to 10°C (50°F). Living walls, therefore, serve as a heat buffer within urban heat islands, saving energy usage by up to 20 percent.

Reducing the Negative Environmental Effects of Excess Stormwater

Future housing that can generate gardens and ag tech for homeowners while making solar power more energy efficient.

Typically, stormwater would soak into the soil or evaporate into the atmosphere before it has the chance to build up and cause flooding. However, when the land is developed with structures such as buildings or roads, water runoff must be funneled through pipes, gutters, and other drainage systems and quickly deposited into nearby bodies of water.

Without the natural process of infiltration, evaporation, and filtering through the land, bodies of water are becoming more polluted, flood risks are increasing, money spent on flood damage is rising, and more energy is being used to manually manage excess stormwater.

Research has confirmed that living walls can be effectively used as an urban stormwater drainage system. This is because a living wall’s plants, soil, and even soil organisms mimic the functions of a natural ecosystem — particularly through encouraging the infiltration, evaporation, and filtering of stormwater.

Additionally, living walls keep stormwater within the vicinity of where it falls, slows it down, and gives it a greater chance to soak back into the environment. This also encourages a reduction in the energy required to process stormwater, thus having a more environmentally friendly impact on the globe.

Extending the Lifespan of Building Materials

Project design by BIG and West Bank Campus for San Jose featuring green technologies as part of the building facades.

The building industry can cut down on energy usage and waste production by using living wall facades to repurpose old structures. The manufacture of cement, for example, accounts for 4 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. According to research, a typical office building will have emitted 35 percent of its total carbon footprint by practical completion. This figure is significantly higher for residential structures, at 51 percent.

Retrofitting, rather than demolishing and rebuilding, can considerably lower these environmental effects. Thanks to living walls, old buildings that would have once been demolished can be given a new lease of life — all while reducing the energy required to constantly manufacture new building materials.

A Greener World Starts with a Living Wall

Zauben brings the Ford Motors campus to life to create healthier environments for employees to return to work.

If you would like to explore the incredible benefits a living architecture and smart building technology, contact Zauben today. Our future of work Model Z living wall features sustainable, award-winning technology and is trusted by companies such as Google, JLL, Hines, and CBRE.


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