Look outside the green buildings industry to advocate it

Finding fresh angles on green buildings could help architects, engineers and planners see how their work ties in to the larger sustainability story.

Going beyond the building and construction sector to gain different perspectives and fresher ideas for tackling climate change can result in better results, said speakers at the International Green Building Council on Wednesday. 

At a panel discussion themed “Climate change: transforming thoughts to actions” at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, they were invited to discuss how the discourse around climate change can be turned into real change.

Curt Garrigan, cities and building programme manager of the United Nations Environment Programme, highlighted the immense potential the building and construction sector has in greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

He stated that the building sector and cities intersect with a variety of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) besides climate change, including the ones for infrastructure, communities, partnerships, sustainable consumption, and health and wellbeing. “This really needs to be recognised as something that will allow countries and local authorities to develop more sustainably.”

Garrigan said that in order to become more energy- and resource-efficient, there is a need to transform and green the entire construction industry.

He was further encouraged by the macro-level developments in which national governments beginning to recognise the importance of buildings, and said the Moroccan government has already committed to having a Buildings Day at COP 22, the second after COP 21.

“We envision that buidings will be a focus at every subsequent COP from here on, and we will deliver not just increased collaboration and awareness raising at COP, but we will be able to report increase in scale and pace of actions going forward.” 

But he said there was a need to engage more stakeholders and more organisations to identify their role.

Also on the panel, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group’s regional director for Southeast Asia and Oceania, Milag San Jose-Ballesteros, refocused the topic to the function of cities and people-centric planning.

The issue, she said, is not solely about tackling climate change because greening a city relates to broader urban sustainability questions. “Low-carbon development means a faster rise in living standards and stronger economies,” she pointed out.

She cited the example of how Paris is reinventing itself by launching design competitions for the public - professionals, individuals, and organisations alike - to reimagine uses for those buildings.

The winners of the Reinventer Paris competition will be allowed to rent the space and see their social experiments or solutions executed in real life.

“When we talk about putting people at the centre (of urban planning and design), it’s not saying we think about the end-users during the design phase. It’s about the community being part of the process of design, whether it’s a building or a park,” said San Jose-Ballesteros.  

To move forward into the future, it might also be worth looking to the past, said Shenzhen Institute of Building Research (IBR) chairman, Ye Qing. Combining traditional Chinese living philosophies and modern-day Western technologies could be the way forward for a greener future, he noted.  

If we live like Western societies with their high-carbon lifestyles, three earths will not be enough for China.

Ye Qing, chairman, Shenzhen Institute of Building Research

“The traditional Chinese way of life is a low-carbon one, with a lot of focus on natural daylight, ventilation and less meat in the diet,” said Ye.

The IBR headquarters were designed on these principles and consume 64 per cent less energy than an average Shenzhen office. This is thanks to its use of natural ventilation and rainwater harvesting, among other green features. It also has a kindergarten for employees’ children, where they learn about sustainability from a young age.

She said: “The people of China have the right to be happy too, but if we live like Western societies with their high-carbon lifestyles, three earths will not be enough for China.” 

Eco-Business is producing a special e-newsletter featuring stories on the proceedings at IGBC 2016, kindly supported by City Developments Ltd and the Building and Construction Authority. Sign up to receive the newsletter here.

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