Green buildings are becoming more common around the world, as governments and private organizations invest in the efficient use of energy, water, and other resources. The role of buildings is particularly important in energy conservation and emission reduction; the buildings sector is responsible for 28% of global energy-related CO2 emissions and 30% of global final energy consumption, according to International Energy Agency’s Global Status Report 2017.
Sustainability Factors for The Buildings Sector
A key sustainability issue with the buildings sector is insufficient energy efficiency measures compared to the rapid increase in buildings. The Paris agreement sets a final energy use target of 100kWh/ m2 of floor area by 2030. To meet this target, the buildings and construction sectors need to increase energy intensity/ m2 by 30% on average, adds the IEA report.
The situation is further complicated by the absence of mandatory energy building codes in countries where the majority of new buildings will be built over the next 20 years. IEA notes that out of the 132 nationally determined contributions (NDCs) they received, most did not include specific goals or projects related to “energy performance standards or efficient building technology deployment.”
Another noteworthy factor is the interaction between occupants and technology. Sensors and user controls enable occupants to interact with the building and provide real-time energy consumption data to utilities. “Active controls could reduce energy consumption by 230 EJ cumulatively to 2040,” suggests IEA analysis.
Climate, Health, and Business Benefits of Green Buildings
Industry research indicates green building benefits in several areas, including CO2 emissions, public health, operational costs, and asset value.
A comprehensive study done by Harvard shows that green buildings can help save billions in climate and public health sectors. Known as HEALTHfx, the study spanned over 16 years and it estimates $1.4 billion in climate benefits and $4.4 billion in public health benefits.
The HEALTHfx team studied LEED-certified buildings in six countries: Brazil, China, Germany, India, Turkey, and the U.S. The total CO2 emission savings equaled 33,000 kilotons. The health savings resulted from a decrease in deaths, hospital visits, respiratory symptoms, and off days from school and work.
Besides the climate and health benefits, green buildings offer business benefits as well. A 2016 Dodge study, involving over 1,000 construction professionals from 69 countries, identified several business benefits of green buildings, including lower operational costs, higher asset value of properties, and quality assurance certification.
The World Green Building Trends 2016 report shows a median decrease of 9% in operating costs in the first 12 months for the 2015 respondents and a median decrease of 14% over the next five years of the building for the same respondents. The results are similar to the results of their 2012 study that found median figures of 8% for 12 months and 15% over five years. US participants reported a 32% decrease in operational costs in the first 12 months and 53% over the first five years. However, despite the lower operational costs, 73% of participants found an increase in building costs compared to non-green buildings. The median payback period is eight years for both 2012 and 2015 studies.
For the asset value research, property owners compared the expected increase in asset value of green buildings with non-green buildings. The owners reported a 7% median increase in the 2015 study, a 2% increase compared to the 2012 study. Researchers also asked the architects and contractors among the participants to estimate the increase in building value. They estimated an 8% and 7% increase in 2015 and 2012 respectively.
Growth in The Certified-Green Buildings Sector
Several countries and regions are moving towards certified-green buildings. The U.S. Green Buildings Council’s (USGBC) recently announced the top 10 countries using their LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. China is leading the list with 1,211 projects and 47.17 GSM (gross square meters), closely followed by Canada with 2970 projects and 40.77 GSM. India (20.28 GSM), Brazil (14.83 GSM), and Germany (7 GSM) complete the top 5 of the LEED-certification ratings. For comparison, the U.S., LEED’s largest market, has 30,669 projects covering 385.65 GSM. The gross square meters data is for 31st Dec 2017.
The USGBC has taken measures to increase growth in the green buildings sector. The council recently announced a new grant program called LEED for Cities Grant Program. The program is supported by The Bank of America Charitable Foundation, and it will provide grants to U.S. cities pursuing LEED for Cities certification. Six initial recipients include Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; San Jose, California; and Washington, D.C.
Many states and regions have also set energy efficiency goals for themselves. The over 200 members of the Under2 Coalition, who aim to keep global temperature rise below 2°C, are setting targets to make buildings more energy efficient. According to the World Green Building Council, California has established a mandate for new residential buildings to be Zero Net Energy by 2020. Since 2011, the Welsh government has provided £217 million to improve the energy efficiency of 85,000 low-income homes through their Warm Homes Wales Programme.