In the United States, green-certified building development has become more and more common. But did you know that China is actually the world’s largest green building market? In fact, China eclipsed the United States with more than 1 billion square feet of certified green, sustainable building space.
What’s also interesting is that China did this in half the time it took the U.S. – 10 years compared to 20 in America.
This is good news, considering that China is not only the world’s largest construction market, it’s also the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. With a focus on meeting green building and other environmental standards, China has the potential to make steady progress toward meeting its Paris Climate Agreement commitments. Key to that is a big goal by the Chinese government to achieve 50% commercial green building certification by 2020. Big goals lead to big results. If met, China will represent half of the world’s green building floor space by 2020.
Building owners have been choosing wisely. In 2005, green buildings were just 2% of commercial construction in the U.S. Today, they are closer to 50%. We see a similar trend in China, with impressive adoption of the China 3-star rating system for green buildings.
More buildings will be needed to meet the massive influx of people moving into cities. In China alone, 300 million more people (equivalent to the entire U.S. population) will move to cities in the next 15 years. Since buildings consume 40% of the world’s energy, we also know that these buildings need to be green. Clearly, the future of buildings and the future of sustainability go hand in hand.
New China Focus
This week, I traveled to China to attend the 13th Annual International Conference on Green and Energy-Efficient Building. I learned about new focus areas from Dr. Qiu Baoxing, president of the Chinese Society for Urban Studies and former vice minister for the China Ministry of Housing and Urban and Rural Development.
Dr. Qiu has been one of China’s earliest and strongest visionaries for green building. He’s now calling for more vertical gardens to be designed into Chinese city buildings. Imagine building facades that incorporate plants and trees as tall as they rise. No matter if you live or work on floor 1 or floor 40, you would see nature outside in the form of natural vegetation. This type of design would be as much be eco-cool and eco-beautiful as it would be eco-functional. Vertical gardening would introduce nature into otherwise concrete urban centers. More vegetation would naturally absorb CO2 pollutants and convert them to oxygen and according to Dr. Qiu, help address the outdoor air pollution issues in China.
The “Human Spirit” in Green Buildings
Throughout the years, the China conference has been a valuable convening point for green buildings. This year, Dr. Qiu proclaimed that green buildings must embrace the “human spirit.” I couldn’t agree more, and was pleased to present to the nearly 1,000 people gathered that we have new scientific evidence from The COGfx Study* series that green buildings not only save energy and water, they also improve human performance – they improve the health and productivity of people working in those buildings. This research by Harvard is changing the global conversation in the buildings industry.
By focusing on the human performance benefits of green building, in addition to the valuable energy and water savings, we can greatly expand the value proposition of green buildings. This can help accelerate sustainable building development in China and everywhere else. [HuffPo]
Each year in Los Angeles, certified green buildings keep 319 million pounds of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere — the equivalent of not burning 155 million pounds of coal or having the entire city go vegan for two weeks.
These findings from UCLA researchers, published today in Nature Energy, are part of the first study to examine the effectiveness of green building certification programs on a large scale. Researchers analyzed 178,777 commercial buildings using data from the L.A. Energy Atlas, a UCLA project that combines utility data, census information and details about buildings — their age, size and whether they’re used for residential or commercial purposes.
“We found that with the labels there is a significant improvement in energy efficiency,” said Magali Delmas, an environmental economist and member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability who co-authored the study with institute postdoctoral researcher Omar Asensio.
The energy supplied in buildings accounts for 8.8 gigatons of carbon emissions globally and one-third of global carbon emissions, the study notes. Compared to other commercial buildings, those certified by LEED, Energy Star and the Better Buildings Challenge saw energy savings improvements ranging from 18 to 30 percent, depending on the specific program.
That’s good news for those seeking to reduce emissions and battle climate change, but, Delmas said, it comes with a major caveat: the programs had almost no impact on medium- and small-sized buildings, which account for roughly two-thirds of all commercial structures in Los Angeles.
The one-size-fits-all, engineering-heavy approach of major certification programs may not be a good fit for small building owners, said David Hodgins, executive director of the L.A. Better Buildings Challenge. A program with options that can be tailored to individual needs might work better.
Making small business owners aware of the program is another challenge. Hodgins thinks community groups, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and small business councils could play an important role in getting more to participate. “A lot of these smaller buildings are going to be family owned,” Hodgins said. “Part of the pitch should be that we’re going to make sure the building doesn’t become obsolete so it will benefit your children and grandchildren.”
Rives Taylor is a sustainable buildings expert with Gensler, an international architecture firm. He said that even among larger buildings, less than 10 percent commit to getting certified. But when they do, it makes a big difference in the results.
“There’s absolutely no question that a third-party tool makes it happen,” Taylor said. The external requirements and the reward of getting certified provide incentives for engineers and builders. Without them, important engineering details and building materials usually get sacrificed, he said.
Firms willing to invest in green buildings often see quick returns in the form of energy savings, recouping their initial investments within a couple of years, Taylor said. Building owners have also become more interested in how sustainable buildings affect employees’ health. Such benefits can be hard to translate into numbers, but they have long-term effects for quality of life.
“You would think it would have been a no brainer,” Taylor said. “But for the last 20 years, no one would believe that improving a building’s air quality, daylight or views would do much for well-being. Only in the last handful of years have we seen data that starts to sway those who spend money.”
That’s where research like this new study can make a difference. UCLA’s Delmas said having more concrete data — including information about energy use — is the first step to get more buildings to participate in green certification programs.
“We need more transparency,” Delmas said. “If you don’t know about your usage, how can you change it? If you don’t know that your building is using 10 times more energy than the one next to you, how can you make adjustments?”
The study notes that the United Nations Environment Program and energy experts argue that the buildings sector has the largest potential to deliver long-term, cost-effective reductions.
For that to happen, certification programs will need to expand — a possibility that suffered a big setback with President Donald Trump’s recent budget plan. Experts in green business and energy raised alarm that Energy Star was marked for elimination as part of the president’s proposal to slash Environmental Protection Agency funding by 24 percent. But the budget process is just getting started, and many lawmakers expect the elimination of the popular program to face resistance in Congress, even among Republicans. [UCLA]
New research from the Harvard School of Public Health finds that workers in high-performing, green-certified buildings think and sleep better than those in similar buildings that were not green-certified.
Led by Dr. Joe Allen, director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program, researchers studied 109 workers in 10 buildings in various climate zones across the country for one week. All the buildings were high-performance in terms of having high ventilation rates and low total volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but six were specifically green-certified.
The researchers found that compared to workers in the non-certified buildings, workers in the green-certified buildings had 26 percent higher cognitive function scores, reported 30 percent fewer “sick building” health symptoms, and saw 6.4 percent higher “sleep quality scores” (as measured by wearable sleep monitors).
This research follows a bombshell 2015 study by the same group that found elevated indoor carbon dioxide (CO2) has a direct and negative impact on human cognition and decision-making — at CO2 levels that most Americans (and their children) are routinely exposed to today inside classrooms, offices, homes, planes, and cars.
That first study measured a typical participant’s cognitive scores dropping 21 percent with a 400 ppm increase in CO2:
In the new study, the biggest differences in cognitive function between workers and the two types of buildings were in crisis response (73 percent higher in green-certified buildings); “applied activity level — the ability to gear decision-making toward overall goals (44 percent); focused activity level — the capacity to pay attention to situations at hand (38 percent); and strategy (31 percent).”
In both studies, researchers made use of a sophisticated multi-variable assessment of human cognition used by a State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University team, led by Dr. Usha Satish.
In an interview with Climate Progress, Dr. Allen explained the reasons why he thinks workers in the certified green buildings outperformed those in the high-performance buildings that weren’t certified.
First, workers in the certified buildings spent more time working in the “ideal comfort zone” (the optimum range of temperatures and humidities, which provide 90 percent or higher occupant satisfaction). Second, those workers had more and better quality light, most likely driven by more use of daylighting. Future studies will examine these factors in greater detail.
You may be wondering how it is that people in green-certified buildings slept measurably better at night. The answer appears to be better quality (bluer) light and more light (a larger contrast between daytime exposure and night-time):
Passive House is an international standard for green building which reduces a buildings footprint on ecology. Passive House was created in Darmstadt Germany. And has a much larger concentration in Europe, but is swiftly increasing it’s penetration in the United States. Passive House reduces the buildings operational energy demand through passive measures and components. This includes insulation, heat recovery, solar heat gains, solar shading and internal heat gains.
Passive House provides up to 90% reduction in heating and cooling demand and up to a 7% reduction in overall primary energy demand compared to the typical building. This created a building space which is more comfortable, health and affordable.
There are a number of Passive Houses being created in New York City, many of which are located in Brooklyn. These accomplishments will be substantial considering the rapidly increasing cost of living and owning a home in Brooklyn. Most of these Passive House buildings are residential buildings.
Passive House does not only have to be a home, it can be a school, factory, office, etc. It can be a modern or historical building.
The results of a Passive House Green Building are the following:
• Energy Efficient – Reduce energy up to 90%
• Healthy – Fresh Air, free of mold and dangerous contaminants
• Comfortable – Interior environment with steady temperatures
• Affordable – Construction Costs are offset by reduction in system size. Lower energy bills
• Predictable – Electrical and HVAC optimized
• Resilient – maintains habitable interior, better power distribution, reducing power to make net zero
Find out more about Green Building and Green Living at the Eco-Carnival. On Sunday, October 11 the 2nd Annual Green City Challenge Eco-Carnival will be presented at La Plaza Cultural Community Garden on Avenue C and East 9th Street from 12 – 4 pm. This event is open to everyone and is absolutely free!
At the Eco-Carnival, you will learn about recycling, energy, green building, composting and much more.
The Green City Challenge Eco-Carnival on Sunday, October 11 is just a few short weeks away. You may be asking, “So what?” For one thing, the Eco-Carnival will be fun! This family oriented event will not only be educational, it will be enjoyable as well. For example, you can try the Recycling Challenge. In this challenge, you have to sort 20 items into the proper bins in 3 minutes. This may sound easy, but most adults do worse than children with this challenge! Even if you do well, you will learn something and will have fun doing it. Every New Yorker thinks they know how to recycle but very few people really know what they are doing.
Of course, recycling isn’t the only thing we need to do to be environmentally responsible. Of the 3 Rs, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, recycling is the least important thing to do. The most important thing for all of us to do so that we can lessen our environmental impact is to reduce waste of all kinds. This means that we avoid buying stuff that we don’t need. It means that we buy things in bulk whenever possible. It means that we rent, borrow, share, and buy used stuff whenever possible. It means that we think before we make any kind of purchase because everything you buy or acquire was made from natural resources that are limited such as oil, wood, metal, coal, water, etc.
Many neighborhoods of New York City are implementing a residential composting program. If you live in one of the selected neighborhoods, you have to separate your food scraps and put them in a bin to be collected by the Department of Sanitation. Food scraps consist of something like 80% of all our household waste and most of it ends up in landfills or incinerators. Basically, it’s a big waste of food and resources. When we compost our food scraps, the end product is a rich and natural soil that can be used in parks, community gardens, street tree pits, etc. Even if you do not live in one of the selected neighborhoods where composting is taking place, you can take your food scraps to a Greenmarket or to a community garden. If you are really daring, you can set up a worm compost bin in your house or apartment and make your own compost. This is also called vermicomposting. The Lower East Side Ecology Center offers workshops on vermicomposting and will have a table at the Eco-Carnival.
Residential trash collection in New York City is the responsibility of the New York City Department of Sanitation. Even though the Department of Sanitation is far from perfect, its workers are unionized, they get fair wages, they have health insurance, and they have respectable jobs. Commercial trash collection from small and large businesses is the responsibility of more than 200 private waste hauling companies. The commercial waste hauling system in New York City is like the Wild West! Every day, thousands of old, diesel spewing private waste hauling trucks cross the five boroughs, often on the same streets, over and over again. This contributes to our extremely high rates of asthma and poor air quality in New York City. Additionally, the workers who collect commercial trash are mostly not unionized and they have little or no health insurance and very low wages. The recycling rates for commercial waste are very low because commercial waste haulers are not required to recycle and they have very few incentives to do so.
There is a campaign in New York City to change the commercial waste hauling system to make it more environmentally responsible and fairer to its workers. This is the Transform Don’t Trash NYC Campaign and its goal is to pass legislation in the New York City Council that will create commercial collection zones throughout New York City which would be bid on by hauling companies. Once a company would win a contract for a particular zone, it would be required to recycle a certain amount of the garbage it collects, operate trucks that are safe and environmentally responsible, and offer health and other benefits to its workers. The Transform Don’t Trash NYC Coalition is led by Align NY and includes the local Teamsters Union, BJ32 (the union for building superintendents and maintenance workers), the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Environmental Justice Alliance, and other civic, labor and environmental organizations. You can learn more at the website www.transformdonttrashnyc.org
Whether you are a life-long environmentalist or you are new to the idea of being environmentally responsible, you will find something interesting and fun at the Green City Challenge Eco-Carnival on Sunday, October 11 2015 at La Plaza Cultural Community Garden on Avenue C at East 9th Street from 12 – 4 pm. We hope to see you there!