That's the bad news.
The good news is that, according to the United Nations Environment Program: “No other sector has such a high potential for drastic emission reductions.”
The global built environment can deliver rapid and cost-effective reductions to emissions and energy consumption – with a significant percentage realising positive returns to the global economy – using systems and technologies that are already available.
Low-carbon, sustainable buildings and communities can also play an integral role in creating green jobs and rebuilding economies still struggling in the wake of the global financial crisis.Article continues below…
Green building offers a stable investment with good financial payback from energy savings. It can also underpin productivity gains from modern and healthy workplaces that are a major preventative health opportunity.
Building international energy efficiency
A recent study by Johnson Controls, a global diversified technology and industry company, shows that improving energy efficiency in buildings is the top European carbon reduction strategy, with cost savings and government incentives driving energy efficiency initiatives.
The 2011 Energy Efficiency Indicator Study: European Regional Results Summary, conducted by the Institute for Building Efficiency, focuses on the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Poland and Italy. The study found that energy cost savings were seen as the number one influencer on energy efficiency decisions in 2010 and 2011.
On the other hand, hyper-urbanisation across the Asian region is the biggest economic, environmental and social challenge facing the planet. It is here that human beings live in the greatest concentration.
Nearly one million people move from rural to urban environments each week in the Asia-Pacific region – the equivalent to building a medium-sized city every seven days. On current trends, the eight Asian cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai in China, Mumbai and Kolkata in India, and Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila in Southeast Asia will have a combined population equivalent to that of the United States by 2020. As a result, CO2 emissions from coal-fired electricity in the Asia-Pacific are predicted to double by 2025.
By 2025, China will have built enough skyscrapers to fill ten New York cities. Consulting firm McKinsey and Co. has found that around 40 billion m2 of floor space will be built in China over the next 15 years, requiring the construction of between 20,000 to 50,000 new skyscrapers of more than 30 floors each.
While this is a global challenge, Australia will provide some of the solutions. The nation is already recognised as a world leader in the design of green building technologies, systems and approaches, and Australia has a mature green building market, with more than 12 million m2 of certified or registered green building space.
Australia’s green building excellence
The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) is the second largest green building council in the world, trailing only the US Green Building Council in terms of size and influence. The GBCA has certified more than 360 Green Star buildings, including 50 6 Star projects, which represent ‘world leadership’ in sustainable development.
The Pixel Building, Melbourne, Victoria
Projects such as the carbon-neutral Pixel Building in Melbourne are transforming the way we design and construct our buildings. Pixel is a prototype office of the future that tackles the issue of carbon head on. While it is small, with a gross floor area of just over 1,000 m2, it contains several innovative features intended to light the way for the sustainable building industry.
Its features range from the ‘pixelated’ sun shade system, which allows daylight to enter the office space while giving protection from glare and heat gain in the summer, to its smart windows, which open on cool nights to flush the building with air and lower its temperature.
The Pixel Building’s ability to produce all its power needs onsite makes it truly unique. An extensive photovoltaic array on the roof, mounted on a tracking device to improve output by 40 per cent, combined with the first commercial application of the most efficient 1 kilowatt wind turbines currently in production, as well as a raft of energy efficiency measures within the building, allows Pixel to generate more electricity than it requires.
As Green Star-rated buildings become more common in Australia, design solutions which were once seen as leading edge are rapidly becoming ‘standard’ practice. As Daniel Grollo, Chief Executive of Grocon, the development company responsible for Pixel, says: “If you’re not building Green Star, you’re building in obsolescence.” Innovative designers and developers continue to push best practice benchmarks and, as a result, Australia has some of the world’s greenest buildings.
The Katitjin Centre, Perth, Western Australia
Another example is the Australian Institute of Management’s (AIM) new building, the Katitjin Centre in WA. This facility is designed to have exceptional energy performance, producing as much energy as it uses.
Smart site orientation allows the Katitjin Centre to benefit from high levels of daylight penetration, while also reducing the building’s thermal loads. This means the air-conditioning and ventilation system does not need to work as hard, and the lighting system is only used sparingly, which reduces demand in two traditional areas of high energy use. This orientation, coupled with such highly efficient systems, allows the centre’s remaining energy requirements to be met by the installed solar array.
Better still, the design and features effectively eliminate the centre’s power bills. As the Executive Director of AIM, Patrick Cullen says: “AIM will derive a major financial benefit from this investment. Our running costs will be reduced and we’ll have protection against future increases in energy prices.”
Spreading Australia’s green building know-how
Australia has the ‘micro’ skills and capabilities, learnt on a building-by-building basis, to support other nations to green their built environments on a ‘macro’, city-by-city scale.
The opportunities before us are enormous. The Chinese Government sees clean energy as China’s greatest economic opportunity and has set the world’s most ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions by committing to a 40 per cent reduction in its energy intensity by 2020.
Equally impressive is China’s commitment to investment in green technology and green building. In 2010, China retained the top spot as the world’s leading investor in low-carbon energy technologies, with a program of investment in clean energy of $US75–$100 billion each year for the ten years between 2010 and 2020.
Tony Arnel is the Chairman of the Green Building Council of Australia, and is also Victorian Building and Plumbing Industry Commissioner. As well as being a founding Director and Chair of the Green Building Council of Australia, he is also Chair of the World Green Building Council.
As a member of the Australian Building Codes Board, Mr Arnel has overseen the implementation of new energy-efficiency standards into the national building code. He continues to play a key role in the transformation of the Australian property market to sustainable practices.
Mr Arnel is a Life Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects and a Victorian Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia. He is a past Chairman and Director of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – Australia's largest arts festival. In 2009 he received the Australian Financial Review's 'True Leadership' Award and in March 2010 he received the inaugural 'Leadership in Sustainability' Award from the Australian Institute of Architects.