There is a direct correlation between climate change and nongreen buildings, with 98% of the world’s megacities already experiencing climate risks, World Green Building Council (WGBC) CEO Terri Willis said on Wednesday.
Addressing an audience at the country’s ninth yearly Green Building Convention, in Sandton, she explained that these climate risks included flooding, heatwaves and other dramatic weather events, such as the tornado that tore through Tembisa, in Gauteng, on Tuesday.
“Green buildings can help combat climate change owing to the positive environmental impact they have on the planet,” she said.
Willis pointed out that at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP 21), held in Paris, in December, world leaders signed an agreement to combat climate change and limit global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.
She highlighted that buildings were featured prominently at that event for the first time.
“We were able to communicate to countries that the WGBC is here as a movement to help them reach their targets as part of the Paris agreement,” she said.
“Sectors that have a significant impact on climate change include buildings, transportation, and [traditional] energy suppliers,” she said.
She added that if people continued with business-as-usual practices across these sectors, the planet was headed towards 6 °C of global warming, the results of which would be catastrophic.
“We can get to the 2 °C target, but that means that in the buildings sector, we have to reduce 84 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2050, the equivalent of eliminating 22 000 coal-fired power plants.
She added that if the 2 °C reduction target was to be reached, “we need to get to net zero building as quickly as possible and we need to build green cities to ensure that buildings that are being constructed are green.”
Willis explained that a net-zero energy building, is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on a yearly basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.
“We have to also work with national governments on policies that can create a positive environment for green building,” she said.
Last month, the WGBC launched a new project entitled Advancing Net Zero, with eight green building councils committing to introducing a ‘net green zero’ certification.
“To get to the 2 °C target all green buildings and renovations should be at net zero starting in 2030; that means no buildings should be built below net zero standards beyond 2030.”
She highlighted that all buildings should be net zero buildings by 2050.
The WGBC has collected analysis looking at the power of megacities around the world and it found that cities had a lot of power, compared with national governments, when it came to building regulations.
“Fifty-seven per cent of the world’s megacities have strong power when it comes to building regulations, meaning that the world’s mayors can set standards, benchmarks and regulations over buildings.”
Meanwhile, Willis noted that the WGBC had been collecting evidence that outlined why green building was better for people from a health and wellbeing perspective.
“We have looked at the average operating cost of companies around the world. People often think that a green building’s impact is mainly focused on energy, but looking at companies, usually only about 1% of their overall operating costs come from energy,” she stated.
Willis pointed out that 90% of overall operating costs related to people, including staff costs and benefits and the productivity and happiness of employees, “which is critical to the success of a company”.
She said the WGBC had seen that green buildings have a tremendous impact on these operating costs.
“Statistics, evidence and case studies that we have been collecting show that people who sit next to a window, on average, sleep 46 minutes more at night than those who don’t,” she said.
She explained that the impact of that was better-rested staff who were more productive and engaged.
Air quality was also very important, she noted, adding that studies showed that, through improved air quality, productivity could increase by more than 11%.
A Harvard study, the ‘COG Effect Study’, compared people working in green buildings to people working in non-green buildings, and found that the cognitive performance of people working in green buildings improved by 300%, owing to lower CO2 levels and fresher air flow through green buildings.
“Information use, strategy and crisis response all showed a large improvement,” she said.
The WGBC also looked at the impacts of green buildings in the retail sector and found that customers stayed longer in the green retail space and that there was more foot traffic into green buildings.
“This shows the economic benefits and a potential boost in profits for green buildings when it comes to business,” she said.