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Toronto, Canada – Calling for global guidelines on green building standards

The World Green Building Council calls for a standardised global sustainability measure

Five years ago, only a handful of green building councils (GBCs) were dotted around the globe. Today, there are almost 80. Until recently, the primary role of the World Green Building Council (WGBC), a Toronto-based umbrella group, was to support these fledgling organizations as they established themselves and built a membership base. Now, as design and construction become an increasingly global matter, so does the call for international green building expertise.

Sensing a leadership vacuum, the WGBC is rapidly transitioning from a support role to policy and advocacy. In the year that has elapsed between Copenhagen’s fiasco and Cancun’s modest achievements, the emission reduction potential of the built environment has been increasingly recognized. Not only can it be a major contributor to reducing greenhouse gases, but investment in decarbonizing buildings is cost-effective.

Jane Henley, director of the WGBC, notes that although this case is now clear, governments are slow to react because ‘our sector is too complicated. There is no one place to go’. There is no consensus about which building types to tackle first or what policies and incentives can drive the market. And there is no quick fix.

Success means more than simply addressing the oft-mentioned ‘low hanging fruit’ of energy efficiency. It means seizing the opportunity for deep environmental retrofits whenever a building is refurbished, which is precisely where architects excel. Careful strategic thinking about building envelopes and daylight penetration combined with ruthless attention to detailing to ensure airtightness are all part and parcel of an architect’s toolkit. It also means looking at buildings in context with integrated thinking about energy and transport provision.

Yet climate, building stock, the profile of the construction industry and the role of government vary enormously from country to country. There is a growing need to compare a BREEAM Outstanding building in the UK with a LEED Platinum building in China. And many countries are developing their own tailor-made environmental rating systems. According to Henley, of the 12 Asian countries with GBCs, 11 have their own rating system. More technical detail on China’s emerging Three Star tool is to be announced at a Shanghai green building conference in March.

And that’s precisely why the WGBC is likely to play an increasingly important role. One of its initiatives is an ambitious call for common carbon metrics across member countries. Henley explains that while some countries base data on gross floor area, others use net; this difference can result in as much as 10 per cent variation in carbon measurements. The WGBC has proposed a common protocol and hopes to develop a collaborative approach to shared data.

Another development of the past year has been the emergence of regional GBC networks with their own workstreams and activities. The European network intends to open a direct line of communication with Brussels to clarify the impact of EU policy in different countries.

In an industry riddled with silos, the strength of the GBC movement is that its members span the construction life cycle from property developer to designer, from contractor to product manufacturer. According to architect and UK-GBC trustee Rab Bennetts, ‘GBCs are the most creative focus for sustainability issues in buildings because of their pan-industry memberships. Architects simply must be involved. Pioneering work by the UK Green Building Council has been hugely influential on government policy as well as on the practical implementation of good ideas. Architects will be left behind if they don’t take this opportunity to be in the front line.’

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