Green buildings to tackle global warming
As the overwhelming evidence of accelerating climate change builds up, governments across the world see in the ‘built up environment' an opportunity to bring down greenhouse gas emission to address the crisis, says Mr Tony Arnel, Chairman, World Green Building Council. Compared to conventional buildings, green buildings use energy and water efficiently, generate less waste, conserve natural resources and, in the process, provide healthy living and working spaces. But this concept has to be adopted widely to make a significant impact. Governments should lead by example and authority, says Mr Arnel.
Edited excerpts from an interview to Business Line during the Green Building Congress 2010:
What is driving the interest in sustainable buildings across the globe?
I think around the world governments are increasingly looking to those sectors which offer quick and efficient outcomes in dealing with greenhouse gas emission reduction. Many countries are pressured by the slowness of what is occurring in greenhouse gas abatement. When you compare the building sector with other sectors such as transport, electricity supply, and industry, the building sector — and there is a lot of analysis in this regard by Mckinsey and other experts — is uniquely positioned to get quick outcomes at a very low cost. So, more and more, we are seeing a focus on the building sector as a way of delivering in relation to greenhouse gas abatement.
In many developed countries there is ongoing political debate about carbon taxes, carbon pollution reduction schemes, emission trading schemes and governments facing difficulty in carbon pricing. So, there tends to be renewed focus, if you like, on the building sector as a way of delivering individual country obligations.
How is the concept viewed in developed and developing countries?
In developed countries there has been pressure for more than a decade now about doing more with buildings The building sector has been inefficient for a long time and it has taken the spectre of climate change and the need to reduce GHG to motivate industry to deliver quality. At the end of day, a green building is simply a better quality building that focuses on energy efficiency, better indoor quality environment, water saving, and better usage of materials — in an overall sense green equals quality.
In developing countries, people are now starting to connect green buildings with jobs in the economy. So there is further interest what a sustainably built environment can deliver in terms of jobs for people and economic stimulus. For instance, in South Africa, a multimillion dollar investment in social housing uses sustainable techniques such as solar photovoltaic, rainwater harvesting… these create good outcomes not only for the people that live in them but also create jobs relating to renewable power and water recycling. These new technologies that are emerging become part of what is becoming the building approach in developing countries which is creating a green economy.
What are the major challenges to the progress of this green building initiative?
There is a lot of enthusiasm in the green building council movement for sustainable buildings. What is needed is to get the message to a wider audience. In a sense we now need to make sure we get financiers and the banking fraternity involved. If you think about the food-chain of a building, it is in the financial area where lot of key decisions are made. My wish is to get financiers and banks speak the language of green in the next couple of years.
The big challenge over the next 2-3 years is making sure that the focus on the built environment does not shift and delivering the potential in greenhouse gas abatement. Another is the huge issue of dealing with upgrading efficiency of existing buildings. A key area of interest is retrofitting of existing commercial buildings — these are the 30-40-year-old structures built at a time when HVAC and lighting were inefficient, using lots of power and not delivering good interior environment. Policies that governments develop should incentivise and regulate this space.
What do you think should the role of the Governments and other agencies be in pushing for sustainable buildings?
I think governments do need to show leadership. Apart from statutory regulations, they should use the policy instrument of communication, be an advocate of what public should do and lead by example. There needs to be a demonstration in government buildings to show and communicate why sustainable buildings are important.
Also, they need to establish minimum standards.
In a regulatory sense, my view is governments should have a benchmark of minimum requirements and people should build according to that. That then allows the private sector to push the best practices end of the market and the minimum standards end of the market.
How are the green building councils collaborating in taking the initiative forward?
One instance is the agreement I signed with the IGBC relating to the Common Carbon Metric, particularly the use of Clean Development Mechanism. We want to do a pilot project between Australia and India where India actually builds the green building and the carbon offsets that are achieved are utilised by the owner and sold into a worldwide market. This will be an example of how the economics of a green building can be implemented in the global carbon market. The objective of a new Indian building is to get a workable example that transcends both borders and demonstrates in an international sense exactly how the market mechanism works.