As countries all over the world continue to submit carbon reduction pledges to the United Nations in a bid to tackle climate change, buildings will play a key part in the success of government efforts to tackle climate change, said experts at the close of the International Green Building Conference in Singapore.
Terris Willis, chief executive of the World Green Building Council (WGBC), noted that already, about 98 per cent of cities in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group are experiencing climate disasters today such as increasing floods, heatwaves, droughts, which are all putting economies and societies at risk.
C40 is a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Comprising 78 member cities, the network aims to address climate risks and impact locally and globally by leveraging on each other’s knowledge and expertise.
This makes working with cities and mayors on climate change a top priority. Speaking to a room full of business leaders at the BCA Breakfast Talk for CEOs on the final day of the event, Wills said: “This is absolutely critical. Cities are in the frontline in the battle against climate change not only because they are experiencing the negative impacts, but also they have the powers to act.”
“Cities and their mayors around the world can take significant action in areas which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that’s why we believe that we at the WGBC need to work with cities.”
Wills added that what’s encouraging is that a lot of work is already being done by city leaders around the world.
Chicago in the United States, for instance, with a population of about 2.7 million led by mayor Rahm Emanuel, set out to slash the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in a programme called Retrofit Chicago.
The overhauls including new lighting systems, smarter climate control practices and window replacements which are estimated to create about 1,000 jobs and save US$20 million a year in energy bills.
Wills also cited Australia’s Melbourne, which has an initiative involving 1200 buildings that is aimed at helping building owners, managers and facility managers improve the energy and water efficiency and reduce waste of commercial buildings in the city, home to about 4.1 million people.
They get rebates and matching funding for projects such as lighting retrofits and building tune-ups that improve energy efficiency.
In India, the Mahindra Group and the government of Tamil Nadu are aiming to create a carbon-neutral development called Mahindra World City Jaipur which spans 3000 acres.
Wills noted that there are many more examples – from Denmark’s Copenhagen to South Africa’s Johannesburg – of cities that are embracing sustainability, and the building and construction sector has a vital role to play in the movement.
“It’s important to remember that green buildings equal green cities,” she said. “We need to help the mayors by working on green buildings all around the world.”
Rallying citizens and people
The key to doing that is to rally property developers and owners to embrace sustainability as an inherent part of business, said Kwek Leng Joo, deputy chairman of property developer City Developments Ltd (CLD), at the same panel.
CDL is recognized as a leader in Singapore’s green building movement, with 57 buildings having been awarded the country’s Green Mark certification.
Kwek shared how CDL started its sustainability journey about 20 years ago, way before sustainability became a buzzword in the corporate sector. It was slow-going at the beginning, but the company pressed on with implementing initiatives such as using environmentally-friendly building materials and energy efficient lighting systems.
If a leader does not believe in what he is doing, he will not be able to mobilize the people to implement the programmes, said Kwek. The second factor is a supportive staff, and the third is a plan that can be implemented “with some degree of confidence,” he added.
“If you have these – the leadership and strong support, and a good majority of the people in the company feel that they can play a part and they will play a part – then the chances of success will be much higher,” he told the 100-strong audience at Marina Bay Sands.
Chris Fossick, managing director for Singapore and Southeast Asia, JLL, who also spoke at the panel, noted that involving building users is also a key part of the green building movement.
At the end of the day, while a city’s government has a lot of power to make significant changes, it “cannot do everything,” said John Keung, CEO of Singapore’s BCA.
“There is a strong need for the private sector to come on board,” said Keung. “Of course we are blessed in thee sense that we have leaders like CDL and other companies in our sector even before we did anything.
“But we want more to come on board…then the whole industry can move forward.”
Mayors from 39 African capital cities signed a declaration of intent during Sustainability Week which took place from 23 to 25 June at the CSIR in Pretoria.
The declaration’s focus is to elevate the social, economic and environmental imperatives African cities need to adopt in order to develop society and the economy without adverse impacts on the environment.
The mayors made a commitment to convene every year to assess progress and find collaborative ways to consolidate their vision for urban sustainability. These include green building methods, waste management, reduction of poverty, transport efficiency, technology, and making the best use of human resources to help facilitate the changes.
Future of Africa
Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, the secretary-general of the United Cities and Local Governments in Africa, explained that the future of Africa depends on effectively managing integration and migration; sustainability and resilience; economic growth and job creation. Mbassi emphasised that all of these contribute towards making Africa sustainable and self-sufficient. “One of the daunting and demanding issues of global development is whether cities are an engine of growth, and whether this growth is sustainable and resilient.”
Mbassi also pointed out that cities should resist the temptation to copy the unsustainable consumption pace of natural resources as other cities of the developed world. As Africa is the continent with one of the youngest populations, the sustainability of its economic, social and environmental resources should be a pressing matter on the agenda of the continent’s leaders.
Sustainability Week highlighted that the core indicators of a country’s sustainable success are energy and water management, waste management and manufacturing ventures. Another indicator is identifying where partnership opportunities are that can ensure funding for projects that will benefit a wide variety of people.
Other green events
Following the three day conference, the Youth and Green Economy event took place on 27 June at Tshwane University of Technology. The Green Home Fair hosted on 27 and 28 June at Brooklyn Mall marked the end of the eventful week. Lively discussions took place where 27 exhibitors offered the public a chance to be ‘green’ and environmentally conscious at home. Energy from the sun, home food gardening and general tips on becoming more energy efficient and resourceful at home made for practical engagement with residents.
“Communication is the key to helping all stakeholders understand what the sustainability issues are and where the solutions will come from. The conference’s aim of ‘putting ideas into motion’ has activated the new wave of thinking around sustainability from a city perspective. The event provided unprecedented opportunities to collaborate and find solutions as the city sets its goals to secure a sustainable development path,” said Gordon Brown, organiser of Sustainability Week.