Environmental Impacts of Reflective Materials: Is High Albedo a ‘Silver Bullet’ for Mitigating Urban Heat Island?
Studies on urban heat island (UHI) have been more than a century after the phenomenon was first discovered in the early 1800s. UHI emerges as the source of many urban environmental problems and exacerbates the living environment in cities. Under the challenges of increasing urbanization and future climate changes, there is a pressing need for sustainable adaptation/mitigation strategies for UHI effects, one popular option being the use of reflective materials. While it is introduced as one effective method to reduce temperature and energy consumption in cities, its impacts on multi-dimensional environmental sustainability and large-scale non-local effect are inadequately explored. This paper provides a synthetic overview of potential environmental impacts of reflective materials at a variety of scales, ranging from energy load on a single building to regional hydroclimate. The review shows that mitigation potential of reflective materials depends on a portfolio of factors, including building characteristics, urban environment, meteorological and geographical conditions, to name a few. Precaution needs to be exercised by city planners and policy makers for large-scale deployment of reflective materials before their environmental impacts, especially on regional hydroclimates, are better understood. In general, it is recommended that optimal strategy for UHI needs to be determined on a city-by-city basis, rather than adopting a “one-solution-fits-all” strategy.