Entering a new era of sustainable building design

Professional Engineer, Designated Consulting Engineer
  • Nov. 23, 2021

Sustainable Regenerative BuildingsDemand for green buildings has surged with LEED certifications increasing five-fold in the last decade, but do these buildings go far enough to meet our future needs?

To understand the great need for our society to move towards regenerative building design, one must first understand the different levels of the currently existing design standards. At the lowest level, we will find the type of conventional design used by most commonplace buildings, which achieve only building code standards.

Slightly higher are regional green standard buildings, which, despite the name, only marginally improve the performance of sustainability ratings. After this, comes sustainable design that follows standards such as LEED certifications or the WELL building standard, which many people seem to mistakenly consider the peak of building design.

After all, sustainable design works towards net-zero energy and is carbon neutral — that’s the greatest good, right?

We must leave sustainability, enter regenerative design

As it turns out, no. Even at a high level of sustainable design, the current concept of sustainability can only mitigate negative impacts and achieve a form of neutrality. In the words of Cradle To Cradle author Bill McDonough, this level can only be seen as “100 per cent less bad.” When taking into account that most “sustainable” building projects fall far below even this minimum neutrality line, most “sustainable” buildings are actually still part of a degenerative cycle.

The most pressing question now is: how do we break out of this cycle of building for the least harm as opposed to the greatest good? The answer is to leave the paradigm of sustainability altogether and enter a new paradigm of regenerative design.

While sustainable design implies something that endures over time without degrading, it does not regenerate itself or create anything new. It maintains the status quo by cancelling out potential negatives but does not attempt to actually benefit the environment in any way. Simply put, sustainable design aims to provide for fundamental human needs, but regenerative design goes beyond that and plans for the future co-existence of humans with our natural environment.

For example, the Tyson Living Learning Center in St. Louis, Missouri, replaced a former parking lot with a net-zero wooden structure surrounded by native plantings. In Canada, Sudbury’s Vale Living with Lakes Centre employed local materials, grey water systems and green roofs planted with native species to promote local biodiversity and reduce building water use by 72 per cent.

In short, building design no longer has to be about making the impact “less bad,” but leaving the ecology of the site better than before. At Anchor Corporation, we believe that it is only such site upgrades — which are net-positive over a range of environmental criteria — that have the potential to improve an increasingly crowded and cement-coated world.

How does one achieve regenerative design?

At Anchor, we have committed ourselves to answering this question by offering bio-inspired building design services that go beyond sustainability and support regenerative urban spaces, pioneering a bio-regenerative approach to building design that also strengthens local communities by meeting people’s physical, mental and social needs. This multifaceted bio-regenerative design approach includes biophilic design, which reconnects occupants with nature and natural elements to enhance personal wellbeing.

Another term, bio-synergetic design, integrates living and non-living components for optimal building systems. On the other hand, biomimetic design takes nature as the model for engineering solutions. What we’ve learned in offering these services is the huge difference bringing nature indoors can make.

In current building design approaches, nature is a latent component of green technologies or loosely inspires designs, but in Anchor’s unique design concept of bio-regenerative design, nature is at the very center.

In order to accrue environmental and community benefits that go beyond traditional sustainable design, our goals involve regenerative food design to provide food safety, security and diversity through organic and local food production in buildings, regenerative air design through biological air purification of indoor pollutants, regenerative wellbeing design to improve one’s mental, physical, intellectual and social health, regenerative energy design through microgrid and renewable energy production to improve the resilience of buildings and communities and regenerative carbon design through cradle-to-cradle design and carbon capture technology.

As problems like climate change continue to negatively impact the planet, Earth is no longer able to support “development as usual” and something must change. It may be time for the world to move past the mechanistic thinking of meeting the bare minimum and — armed with life-centred approaches and bio-inspired design — enter the new era of regenerative design.



Phil Fung is a Professional Engineer and Designated Consulting Engineer (Energy and Sustainability) in Ontario, Canada. Phil holds several professional designations including LEED Accredited Professional, Certified Sustainable Building Advisor, Certified…

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Phil Fung is a Professional Engineer and Designated Consulting Engineer (Energy and Sustainability) in Ontario, Canada. Phil holds several professional designations including LEED Accredited Professional, Certified Sustainable Building Advisor, Certified…

Read more



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