article : design better buildings for a better future

Teresa Coady is doing her part to help make the built environment more climate-friendly. (link to original story in the vancouver sun) i have highlighte portions of the article that i find most inspiring :

Opinion: Fight climate change with better buildings

Everyone benefits when older, inefficient structures & which are the worst offenders when it comes to consumption and emissions & are retrofitted to reduce their carbon footprint

By Teresa Coady, Special to The Sun June 22, 2012

As the globe grapples with ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption to mitigate the effect of climate change, much of the attention has focused on automobiles and industry as the culprits.

In fact, it may be surprising to know that the single largest contributors to climate change are buildings.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says industry contributes almost 20 per cent of America’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector is responsible for 33 per cent and buildings emit fully 47 per cent.

As for energy consumption, the EIA indicates that industry consumes 23 per cent of electrical energy, and transportation uses less than one per cent. Buildings, meanwhile, through both their construction and operation, gobble up fully 77 per cent.

There’s a simple reason for this. Most buildings were designed and constructed when energy costs were lower than they are now, and the link between greenhouse gases and the climate was not fully known. The result was that buildings were not constructed to be energy efficient.

Today, it is a huge challenge to ease the toll that buildings take on our environment. As demographics indicate, building construction is not going to stop any time soon. While cities are home to more than half of the global population and consume about three-quarters of the world’s energy, by 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population will reside in cities, causing more buildings to go up and energy demand from them to grow exponentially.

Without a doubt, the two most important ways that we in the architecture/design and construction industries can tackle the building problem is by ensuring that new structures are designed and built sustainably and that existing buildings are retrofitted to substantially reduce their carbon output and energy consumption.

The good news is, in many jurisdictions — particularly in North America — new buildings must now be constructed to strict environmental standards. In Canada, new buildings must meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings system.

The other part of the building challenge concerns existing stock. Most of the world’s buildings, including those in North America, are not new. And half of the current supply will still be in use by 2050. A critical step in both the new green-building and retrofit process is to be able to gather and present the efficiency gains to prospective clients. The financial benefits of building and retrofitting to green standards must — and can — be quantified, so we as architects and other members of the design/build community can demonstrate to clients that upfront investments are worth it and can be recouped relatively quickly.

In fact, there’s a strong business case for creating or retrofitting buildings to green standards. Over time, green buildings are less expensive to operate than “non-green” ones, because they’re energy efficient. They tend to pay for themselves quickly through lower operating/maintenance costs.

There are intangible returns, too. Owners and tenants of either new or retrofitted green buildings enhance their reputations by being associated with sustainable buildings.

At a time of strong societal demand for sustainable buildings, this can provide a competitive market advantage. Research shows that green buildings can command rent premiums. Tenants want to lease a building they know has been built to high sustainability standards and may be willing to pay a bit more to be seen as good corporate citizens who care about the planet.

As well, tenants want healthier workplaces for their employees, who benefit from environments with an abundance of natural light, responsibly sourced, healthy materials and a healthy air supply. Research suggests that absenteeism decreases and morale, well-being and productivity increases among employees working in healthy and green buildings.

So where do we go from here? The conversation about green buildings must include not only architects but decision-makers such as civic and other governments, along with international organizations. As architects, we are in a unique position to contribute positively to the challenge and take a leadership role.

We are encouraged by developments among some governments. Recent Spanish legislation limits the internal temperatures of non-residential buildings (new and existing) to a maximum of 21 C in the winter and a minimum of 26 C in summer. Melbourne City Council is linking the salary increments of its city employees to their reaching certain sustainability key performance indicators around energy, waste and other benchmarks.

The City of Vancouver is also exhibiting strong leadership on the issue. It is to be commended for its goal of achieving carbon-neutral buildings by 2020 and by establishing the rule that all new buildings over 500 square metres must be built to the LEED Gold standard.

While buildings are the biggest contributor to harmful greenhouse gases and consume the lion’s share of the world’s energy, with the goodwill of the various members of the building industry, this sector has the greatest potential to tackle the problem.

Vancouver architect Teresa Coady is president, B+H BuntingCoady in Vancouver, has served on the B.C. government’s Climate Action Team and is a member of the United Nations’ Environment Programme and Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative.

Visit the BC2035 Energy site here.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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