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Many revolutionary "green" developments and solutions carry the stamp of an Israeli company - inventions such as radioactive waste disposal systems, natural and chemical-free pesticides, unique techniques to clean and reuse wastewater - and are constantly being invented by local scientists, developed by Israeli companies and funded by local investors.
Nonetheless, when it comes to implementing these high-technology environmental solutions, it seems that Israel lags behind the rest of the world.
One area in which the country may be starting to make some progress, however, is "green architecture." A trend that has caught on in the western world, which helps to preserve and save energy, water, land and other resources, it has just recently managed to grab a foothold in the Israeli market.
Helping to push the trend in a country that desperately needs to improve its attitude towards the environment, are several architectural firms and companies, as well as the Interior and Environmental Protection Ministries, which are encouraging the process.
The first signs of Israeli awareness to the benefits of green buildings emerged over the last couple of years.
The first green building to be certified with the stamp of the Standards Institution of Israel (See Box) is the business center of Bank Leumi, Hashmonaim branch, in Tel Aviv, which was moved to HaArba'a street and was inaugurated in June. The new branch is now equipped with, among other green solutions, smart lighting, which uses natural daylight and prefers economic artificial lightning bulbs such as fluorescent, which don't heat up and save electricity.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry is planning for the construction of the country's first green neighborhood in Kfar Saba.
The green neighborhood is expected to include, among other things, pneumatic trash disposal layout; green streets connecting the houses and the multitude of public gardens and parks; walking paths and shaded bicycle paths; water recycling; an advanced isolation system; a local communication and computer network in order to neutralize the hazards caused by antennae and similar telecommunications facilities; regulation of traffic in the outskirts of the neighborhood; and more.
Zeitouni Company has purchased a piece of land within the future green neighborhood and has presented a building plan for 300 residential units.
"Private building companies cannot handle seriously this sort of project on their own," said CEO Avi Zeitouni. "Without the support the project has received from the local municipality and the authorities, it would have been impossible to plan and to put down infrastructures that fit the ecological approach."
To help reduce the relatively high costs of building with a conscience, several real estate companies involved in the project are searching for purchase groups.
"Building a house through a purchase group is the cheapest way to achieve qualitative construction and significant saving over 17% and more from the price of contractors," said Issachar Kaufman, CEO of Re/Max purchase group, a subsidiary of Re/Max Israel.
Kaufman added that Re/Max is currently negotiating with large hi-tech companies located in the area in attempt to establish a "factory purchase group" - another idea to establish an environment-oriented community.
Similar projects are in the process of receiving approvals from the Interior Ministry.
Another on-its-way project is the Hassid Brothers' green tower in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood named Ganey Zion.
"Green construction has an added value for the long-term despite being more expensive. Research shows that the population living in green projects is of the highest quality, which also leads to a more pleasant lifestyle for the tenants," said Sharon Hassid, marketing manager of the Hassid Brothers.
Architect Zvi Dunsky of Dunsky Architects and Designers says that unlike conventional architecture, when it comes to "green" every project is like inventing the wheel.
"During any new project we have to think as much as possible and to understand in advance what is needed. We never copy a project," says Dunsky.
Green architecture, he says, demands a thorough examination of the territory on which the environment friendly building will be erected.
"We need to learn the natural conditions of the place such as the sunlight, the direction of light and rain in order to exploit their benefits and avoid nuisances. We have to understand how to manipulate direct sunlight from disturbing workstations or living spaces, to use special glasses and films for glass to prevent heat and glare. We can also control the amount of light by using external shades, which are better than internal shades because they prevent both heat and radiation. We use only recyclable materials such as wall-to-wall carpets that are recyclable; aluminum, glass, metal, paints that are water-based and lead-free and we use solar energy for heating water and air. We recycle gray-water, which can be reused for irrigation from public facilities and private housing," Dunsky says.
Also a landscape architect, he thinks that, on an urban scale, cities should use gray-water systems to irrigate open spaces, gardens and parks.
Green architecture believes it all comes back to you eventually - even the money you spent on this allegedly trendy theory.
"The initial investment is higher but it pays off in two years. For instance, the long-term usage of less electricity by installing efficient lighting fixtures or using as many on-site materials as possible and local materials that consume less energy to transport," Dunsky says.
While a green neighborhood or building may be the "ultimate" in environmental friendliness, those concerned about the environment who don't want to leave their traditional homes can still go green.
Members of Kibbutz Lotan, for example, are friends of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), a global confederation of worldwide communities dedicated to restoring the land and living "sustainable" lives by putting more back into the environment than they take out, started to gain attention 10 years ago.
Mark Naveh, in charge of educational programs and of the center for creative ecology at the kibbutz which is located 60 kilometers from the southern city of Eilat, says their green revolution started small with things like reducing garbage and growing organic vegetables.
"In time, Lotan became a Jewish ecological cooperative community whose members follow the idea of reducing the use of energy as much as possible," Naveh says.
As part of the discipline, Kibbutz Lotan's new dormitories were designed with a high ecological orientation and were built from mud, which supplies insulation and makes them fully fireproof.
"The goal is to create an environment that is both people friendly and Earth friendly. It demands a constant awareness and it's easier to work together in a community structure than as individuals. We all need to be looking towards building communities and sustainable communities - even urban sustainable communities," says Naveh.
In spite of of the growing interest in green architecture, there remains a strong fear that, in the end, capital and market forces will win the battle over the environment.
"Green Architecture is not a trend nor a passing fashion. This is us, human beings, returning to our sources and using the nature's resources for our basic needs, as natural heating during the cold season and cooling our homes during the hot season without polluting the earth with air condition gases and enormous use of polluting electricity," says Shlomo Gertner, an architect and city designer.
He strives, though without great success, to bring the advantages of building green to factories and industrial areas, which tend to pollute more than a conservative residential building does.
"As long as Israel's green architecture is voluntary and not divided into sorts of buildings that force the private and public contractors, the industrial and the business sectors as well as the state's buildings to follow a certain code of environment friendly building, the efficiency is negligible. We should understand that mankind's future is at stake," declares Gertner, citing countries such as Germany or Britain and the State of California, which have adopted green architecture completely and desisted what he calls the destructive construction.
"Unfortunately, as we speak, Asian and East European countries go on as if there was no tangible ecological threat. If we want to survive, we, the clients, must signal to the capitalists and the state that we don't buy or use products and services that put our future in danger."
What is green architecture?
After observing and examining the western world's green standards for building, the Environmental Protection Ministry developed a local model to fit Israeli requirements, and in November 2005 published the Standards Institution of Israel - the voluntary Standard 5281 for "green" building.
The Standard 5281 consists of a series of criteria and requirements that serve both developers and consumers and grant buildings with an accumulated score of 55-75 points with the "green label." Buildings that are built with higher green orientation are certified as an "outstanding green building."
Green building standards are covered by four chapters, each of which has minimum threshold criteria and maximum scores it can be awarded.
First and most important is the Energy chapter. It includes a climatic review of the building and its environs and calls for planning the building to provide thermal comfort in all seasons of the year. Elements as orientation of the building, use of passive techniques for heating, cooling and air flow, improvements of native air conditioning or heating systems, use of natural light and insulation, energy efficiency and conservation and more make up the green energy wise.
The second chapter refers to the Land and elements such as average density of the building, maximization of land use, above-ground and underground, land conservation and ground contamination.
The third chapter deals with water, wastewater, drainage and the solutions used to conserve fresh water, reuse and recycling of drainage and gray water [wash water], and to preserve run-off from unpolluted areas.
The last chapter of the Israeli green Architecture disciplinary is a general one that includes 27 possible points of which 10 are threshold conditions. It comprises of seven different subjects; environmental management of the building process and of the construction waste, air quality and ventilation, noise, radiation, separation of solid waste into components, bicycle stands and use of "green labeled" materials and products.
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