Jane Henley, World Green Building Council
The Rio+20 conference presents an unparalleled opportunity to highlight the central role that buildings and cities play in a green economy. More than half the world’s people live in cities. These cities, and the buildings within them, have a profound impact on the environment, the global economy, and the quality of life of the world’s citizens.
Challenges and solutions
Our buildings are responsible for around 40% of global energy consumption and over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, buildings also represent the single largest opportunity to mitigate climate change. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that ‘no other sector has such a high potential for drastic emission reductions’.
Built with water and energy efficiency in mind, green buildings cost less to operate and deliver a range of benefits for building owners and occupants; from lower operating costs and higher returns, through to increased health and productivity, and savings on utility costs.
However, green buildings are not only great for the people who live and work in them - they are great for the entire community. In fact, green buildings can help communities and cities save money, support job growth and improve the health, wellbeing and living conditions of millions of people.
In developed nations, energy efficiency retrofits for buildings save energy and create jobs. UNEP has found that investments in energy efficiency measures in buildings could generate 3.5 million green jobs in Europe and the United States alone.
Green buildings can improve the health and wellbeing of occupants – increasing worker productivity and student learning, and reducing health problems associated with ‘sick building syndrome’. All of these factors have the potential to significantly affect a nation’s competitiveness and economic security.
A survey in the US has found that green schools can deliver a 15% improvement in student productivity and a 25% improvement on test scores. In Australia, one landmark green building study found that office workers’ productivity had increased by 10.9% simply by moving into a green certified building.
Green building projects can reduce poverty and empower local communities to improve their lives.
In South Africa, for instance, an entire street was retrofitted with green building technologies to coincide with COP-17 in Durban last year. The Cato Manor project will deliver a range of socio-economic, health and environmental benefits, such as lower energy costs, reduced illness and safety risks, skills training and job creation for disadvantaged members of the community, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact.
On the other side of the world, the the Los Silos in Tlajomulco, Mexico, is building 6,000 sustainable, affordable homes for low-income families. The world’s first national sustainable housing program under the Clean Development Mechanism, at Los Silos greenhouse gas emissions are tracked and recorded, and credits are then traded on the international market.
On the Road to Rio+20
The global green building industry has worked together over the past decade to prove the business case for green building, develop new products and processes, and build capacity and knowledge all over the world. Now it is time to apply this expertise with buildings to our cities. To do this, we need business and government to work together on effective policies and strategies to ensure we get much better outcomes – for our buildings, for our cities and for the people who live in them.
About the author
Jane Henley leads the world’s largest non-profit organisation influencing the green building marketplace. As Chief Executive Officer of the World Green Building Council, Jane’s role is to drive collaboration between 90 national green building councils, provide leadership, support and advocate for green building as a mechanism to deliver environmental, economic and social benefits.
This article has been produced with the support of Skanska. Read more about how Skanska contribute to a more sustainable built environment by visiting: www.skanska.com/sustainability