Market News

 March 30, 2007
Green Buildings go further than Kyoto: UNEP

 Oslo, Norway -- Sustainable building techniques and improved energy performance of buildings could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a far greater amount than the targets of the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations study says.

The right mix of appropriate government regulation, greater use of energy saving technologies and behavioural change could cut energy costs by billions of dollars per year, says the report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The study, Buildings and Climate Change: Status, Challenges and Opportunities, was conducted by the Sustainable Building and Construction Initiative (SBCI), which includes members of the global construction industry.

Buildings account for an estimated 40 percent of energy use worldwide and almost one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. According to UNEP, around 80% of energy is consumed by buildings for heating, lighting, ventilation and cooling during their lifetime, compared to around 20% during construction. Houses are the largest building sector by energy consumption, followed by commercial, industrial, and public buildings.

Simple energy saving measures outlined in the report include switching to efficient light bulbs, using heat reflective blinds to keep the sun out in hot climates, and improving insulation and ventilation. More advanced sustainable construction solutions include intelligent lighting and ventilation systems, highly efficient heating and cooling systems and energy saving household appliances.

"By some conservative estimates, the building sector worldwide could deliver emission reductions of 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide," said UNEP head Achim Steiner. "A more aggressive energy efficiency policy might deliver over two billion tonnes or close to three times the amount scheduled to be reduced under the Kyoto Protocol," he added.

Kyoto contains few specific incentives for the design of energy-efficient or sustainable buildings, and the UNEP urged global action to promote greener buildings.

"Energy efficiency, along with cleaner and renewable forms of energy generation, is one of the pillars upon which a de-carbonized world will stand or fall. The savings that can be made right now are potentially huge and the costs to implement them relatively low if sufficient numbers of governments, industries, businesses and consumers act," Steiner added.

According to the study, implementing energy efficiency technologies and building methods increases construction costs by around 3-5 percent, an amount which is often paid back within a few years in lower energy costs.

Such measures can include using wood instead of steel for house frames, as energy consumption for steel fabrication was shown to be 2-3 times higher than in making equivalent wood laminate beams.

Speakers at GLOBE 2006 confirmed that many green features require an up-front cash outlay, but savings in operational costs can make them attractive investments. Bruce Fowle, Senior Principal of FXFOWLE Architects PC in New York and Peter Busby, Managing Director of Vancouver-based Busby Perkins + Will, outlined the benefits of green features they have employed in many of their existing buildings, including green roofs.

Green roofs make a building more thermally efficient, retaining heat in the winter and keeping cool in the summer. They also improve water management and can be used to treat and re-filter wastewater. Energy efficiency measures - such as window design that allow for '100% daylight' illumination to reduce or eliminate the need for electric lights during the day, can help to cut energy costs while creating more pleasant working environments. Passive air ventilation systems allow for proper circulation of natural air, improving health and comfort.

The UNEP report also recommends refurbishing old buildings rather than demolishing them, and designing new buildings for longer use.

In developed countries the main challenge is to achieve emission reduction among mostly existing buildings, and this can largely be done by reducing the use of energy. In developing countries such as China, the challenge is to leapfrog directly to more energy efficient building solutions, the report says.

Half of the world's buildings constructed between now and 2020 are expected to be in China.

In January, China's Vice Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing said that the country could save 350 million tonnes of coal in the next fifteen years if existing buildings were made more energy efficiency and new construction met stricter standards. The Chinese government announced that it will spend 1.5 trillion yuan (Cdn. $226 billion) to make existing buildings more energy efficient by 2020, and will strengthen efficiency standards for new construction.

  • See: China pledges billions for green energy
  • The UNEP report stresses the importance of appropriate government policies on building codes, energy pricing and financial incentives that encourage reductions in energy consumption.

    The full report can be downloaded here.

    For More Information: United Nations Environment Programme