Terri Wills, Chief Executive Officer, World Green Building Council, explains how green building schemes are expanding around the world to bring economic and environmental benefits to city-dwellers and businesses alike.
When we think of green buildings, we often picture towering office buildings with green walls and state-of-the-art technologies – such as the iconic Empire State Building retrofit or the EDGE office building in Amsterdam – with shiny LEED or BREEAM plaques at reception, boasting of their environmental credentials.
But whether small, big, multi-unit, stand-alone, urban, rural, it is actually the humble green home which represents one of the greatest untapped opportunities to improve our lives.
Homes represent directly 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but they can also contribute to serious health problems. According to the World Health Organization, lung and respiratory diseases associated with poor indoor environment quality are three of the top five leading causes of death.
Greening our homes will help us as individuals and as a society to thrive today – and in the future.
So why, then, are all homes not green? Many of our 74 Green Building Councils see a few key barriers. These include:
- a gap in understanding of the why and how;
- lack of financial mechanisms;
- reluctance from governments to set regulations and incentives; and
- an urgent need for housing which drives the construction of fast and cheap homes.
But our Green Building Councils see these barriers as surmountable. So we are rolling out ambitious programs to galvanize communities, governments and the private sector to create more green homes.
GREEN BUILDING SCALE-UP
One of the more successful approaches to scaling up green homes around the world is the use of voluntary certification or rating schemes.
Green Building Councils in Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and the US, among others, are using large-scale implementation of these schemes – like LEED and Green Star – to create a common definition of what a green building is and facilitate the delivery of green buildings by professionals.
Our New Zealand Green Building Council saw an increase in the number of registrations for Green Star homes certification from 550 to 2,500 units in 2014-15 alone. And in Auckland, a proposed policy will see a six ‘Homestar’ rating – the highest – being a minimum requirement for new developments with multiple homes.
In India, 40% of the total 3.61 billion square feet of green building space constructed is residential. The ratings systems developed by India GBC encourages designers to address national priorities – and by working closely with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation to develop guidelines for Affordable Housing, several state governments have given incentives in the form of higher ‘floor area ration’ for green homes.
Ten years ago, the incremental cost of green homes in India was 6-8%, but now it is only 1-2%. For barely any extra cost, these green homes are seeing energy savings of 40-50% and water savings of 20-30%. Soon, these benefits will come at zero extra cost.
In addition to certification, our Green Building Councils are seeing that the right financial mechanisms also drives take-up of green homes. In Europe, a group consisting of major banks and banking federations, valuers and Green Building Councils and their technical members, have started exploring the case for a European ‘Green Mortgage’.
This new mortgage will recognize the potential risks inherent in holding large investments in non-green property, as well as the potential upsides of energy efficient homes. Once implemented, our Green Building Councils believe the Green Mortgage will enable green homes to become mainstream.
Green Building Councils are also seeing that training and awareness-raising can drive both supply and demand for green homes. Jordan’s Green Building Council has partnered with Habitat for Humanity Jordan to increase green building knowledge within the informal sector.
The initiative is helping translate local needs into simple sustainable designs implemented by local builders with support from green building professionals, creating local capacity and knowledge that can spread through the community.
In South Africa, our Green Building Council also developed a few creative awareness-raising approaches. The My Green Home campaign has created a ‘green home makeover’ show that saw one family managing to halve their electricity and water consumption.
During the global COP17 climate talks in Durban, our Council also created South Africa’s first ‘Green Street’ upgrade in a low income area . A total of 30 houses in the township of Cato Manor benefited from green upgrades,including solar water heaters, insulated ceilings to protect homes from heat, LED lights replacing unsafe lighting, heat insulation cookers and rainwater harvesting. Not only did energy use go down, but the average temperature decrease indoors was 4-7 degrees.
The Green Street demonstration proves that green homes are indeed better for people as well as for the climate, with locals fondly naming the street Isimosezulu (meaning ‘climate’) COP17 Place.
Five years on and in the lead up to COP22, we can see that while barriers still exist, the solutions to scaling green homes are clear.
It’s time for every street in the world to become a green street.
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