Defined as a ‘self-sufficient vertical row of plants that are attached to the exterior or interior of a building’, living walls provide a natural way to transform a wide range of structures, visually. From the use of various plant species, through to bright colours, and even the integration of company logos and other brand assets, living walls are known to draw the eye of many passing by.
But whilst living walls offer physical transformations that we as humans can benefit from mentally, most of the value provided comes from its support towards meeting environmental objectives, both at a local and global scale.
In this article, we explore the benefits of a living wall beyond its visual appeal and how they support the principles of a circular economy.
1. Living walls reduce waste & carbon production
Usually fuelled by the decision to renovate or expand property, building demolitions are an unfortunate yet common occurrence in the construction industry. And whilst there are times no other choice can be made (due to unsafe structural reasons), there are situations where buildings should be developed upon, rather than destroyed.
Not only does each demolition remove a piece of history from time, but creates harmful environmental impacts which are often unavoidable – especially the emission of carbon.
So, instead of completely knocking down a structure and starting from the ground up, living walls can be used to overclad and refurbish the exterior of a building, giving it a new lease of life from the outside. This can help counteract both the need and want for the demolition of a building, resulting in a reduction in waste and a more visually attractive site. A win, win!
2. Living walls support the efforts against global warming
Everyone’s aware of our current climate and how the situation with global warming has escalated over generations. Each year, scientists discover more on the consequences of global warming, which include disappearing glaciers, rising sea levels, and the disruption of habitats across the world.
Global warming also presents greater health risks in cities due to increase heat outbreaks, along with the decline in water supplies.
Essentially, the message from NASA, WWF, and many other organisations, is that we must do what we can to slow down and prevent these environmental consequences. Otherwise, global greenhouse gas emissions could increase by up to 50% by 2050, resulting in a rapid deterioration of wildlife and extreme weather conditions.
Fortunately, though, are many habits we can change and plans that can be introduced in order to protect the planet we live on.
Aside from the obvious, like encouraging more of the population to cycle or walk to work, and recycle more waste properly, the creation of living walls is something that can certainly make a difference.
Because living walls are naturally insulating, they help us keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In fact, in a study cited in the London Living Roofs and Walls Report (2019) showed that green walls have been shown to reduce the temperature of an external building wall behind them by as much as 16°C. Living walls prevent the temperature from rising by increasing the humidity of the environment on hot days.
Research in the semi-arid climate of Iran found that a modular living wall reduced the ambient air temperature by up to 8.7°C. There is plenty of data showing how traditional and vertical greening reduces temperatures, and can be successfully applied to urban areas to reduce the 'urban heat island' effect.
This means that buildings featuring a living wall can rely less on heating and air conditioning to save electricity for a more sustainable future.
3. Living walls provide a sustainable use for natural water collection
Alongside the creation of living walls, you’ll often find other types of green infrastructure and/or nature-based solutions working in tandem. This means that solutions can be made to ‘piggyback’ on one another in order to achieve greater environmental results.
For example, living wall systems can be paired with a green roof to make use of rainwater harvesting. This involves the collection of rainwater, which is often used in a commercial setting for urinal flushing and garden irrigation – a great way to use natural resources effectively for a circular economy.
So, how exactly does this work?
Once the rainwater is collected by a green roof system, the water can be stored for up to two months. During this period, it can be used by the green roof plants as a natural source of water, but can also be shared with the irrigation system of a nearby living wall if integrated. This reduces the need for water being sourced elsewhere and supports the use of local resources for a circular economy.
The run-off water from the living wall (although it’s typically very little) can be collected in the gutter, filtered and used to irrigate the wall again.
Run-off from the green roof or green wall could even be collected in the gutter and directed to a rain garden, where the water is then filtered slowly back into the environment, whilst allowing other plants and local animal species to flourish. Considering water usage on a scheme and creating co-dependant, connected green infrastructure systems is key to creating a project that not only actively supports and has limited impact on the local environment, but is efficient too.
Contribute to a circular economy with living walls from ANS Global
Here at ANS Global, we provide all types of buildings with integrated living wall and other green infrastructure solutions that have been carefully designed, installed, and maintained over the past 13 years. Our team have the knowledge and experience needed to guide you through each step of the process and ensure results that speak for themselves.