In our air update we examined the impact of the construction industry on local air quality. Post-construction there are also legacy issues regarding the energy efficiency of the building and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Energy life cycle studies have shown that up to 80% of a building’s total energy use is consumed during its ‘use’ phase as opposed to construction or demolition. In addition to CO2 emissions the building sector also produces some 40% of all the developing world’s waste.
In response, the United Nations Environment Program established the Sustainable Building and Construction Initiative (SBCI) in 2006, in collaboration with 15 global leaders in the building and construction sector.
The Initiative provides a forum to promote the adoption of sustainable construction and processes. The response from industry has been positive with companies sharing valuable experience and knowledge across the industry. Membership has already doubled and widened to include other key groups along the value chain such as real estate agents, financiers, architects and local authorities.
The group’s first report, “Buildings and Climate Change: Status, Challenges and Opportunities”, raises awareness of the significant role companies in the sector can play by minimising their environmental impact.
The report found that there are a number of dimensions that influence the sustainability of our buildings – everything from geography and climate, to the use of the structure and the gender of its inhabitants. There is no one size fits all approach and it is vital that these conditions are examined during the commissioning and design process.
A further element is the consideration of life cycle factors from the outset. Again local manufacturing standards, proximity to suppliers and climatic conditions will all contribute to the embodied energy and ‘in use’ performance for individual buildings.
Having said that, there are some common features that should be examined, namely thermal insulation, high performance windows, solar shading and air tight structural details. A number of these items can be introduced post construction to dramatically enhance the performance of the building. Also worthy of exploration is the potential for the production of renewable energy onsite. For more information on this see our previous case study on Johnson Controls.
Suggested guidelines for enhancing building efficiency include:
- Designing for long life and adaptability
- Ensuring that materials can be easily separated (making them easier to recycle)
- Building the size required
- Modifying or refurbishing rather than demolishing
- Recycling or re-using materials
- Sourcing building materials locally
- Choosing products with low embodied energy
- Avoiding waste
Also recommended within the report are educational and training programmes aimed at building users – everything from turning computers off overnight to adjusting their clothing to better suit the climatic season. Calls are also made for incentives to be provided for the owners and inhabitants of residential buildings.
“Buildings and Climate Change” also draws attention to interaction between systems within a building. This is highlighted by a Swedish example where the heat created by energy using equipment means that buildings still require cooling, even when the outside temperature is -10 degrees!
It points to trade offs between natural light and the potential need for air conditioning that can result. Buildings in Brazil have actually become less efficient as people use more and more glass, especially in the design of large commercial buildings.
Whilst the report acknowledges a range of common barriers to greener buildings - from the cost of initial investment, complex internal decision making structures and a perceived or real lack of specific solutions - the fact that most energy systems have a life span of 30 to 40 years and many buildings even longer makes it vital that work such as this continues to promote greater understanding and action.
- UNEP Sustainable Building and Construction Initiative website
- UNGC Leaders Summit website
- "Buildings and Climate Change: Status, Challenges and Opportunities"
Also in this feature:
- ScotAsh CSR case study - waste or a whole new business opportunity
- Stora Enso CSR case study - dealing with potentially heated conversations