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The Climate Change Challenge: How can the industry help achieve a built environment fit for the future?

The urgent need to take action to address the carbon emissions associated with the buildings and construction sector is undeniable. We therefore welcome the inspiring leadership that we have seen represented by CEOs of businesses, mayors of cities, and governors of states and regions as a result of the launch of the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment in 2018. It sends a strong market signal that we must change the way we design, build and operate our buildings to reduce energy wastage and reliance on fossil fuels that are causing irreversible damage to our planet.

These pledges, and the action plans being implemented, represent desperately needed change at scale. We have seen from programmes such as the World Resources Institute’s Building Efficiency Accelerator, which works to accelerate local government implementation of building efficiency policies and programmes, and green building certification schemes that establish benchmarks for best practices across various sustainability impacts, the types of benefits that governments and business can realise from replicating success; but we must now rocket forwards from the pilot testbed phase with the belief that we can and must achieve our goals.

We have learnt that the best approach to a sustainable, future-proofed built environment is to evaluate the best, most strategic pressure points to ensure efforts are effective and result in co-benefits to support wider communities and livelihoods.

Achieving these targets will be incredibly challenging, and require innovative approaches and systemic changes from industry that we have not even conceived yet. But it is essential in order to secure our livelihoods for generations to come. The buildings and construction sector must play our part to redress the balance. Performance standards in new construction must be higher, to reflect the challenge of deep renovations of existing stock.

In Singapore, for example, the Building and Construction Authority, a statutory board under the Ministry of National Development of the Singapore Government, has set long term aspirations for all low-rise buildings in Singapore to be positive-energy, all medium-rise buildings to be net zero energy, and all high-rise buildings to be super-low energy. This approach responds to their unique situation as an island-state with limited land and but very dense populations, to advance towards net zero carbon buildings.

These types of innovative approaches embrace the multitude of solutions and responses needed to achieve our decarbonisation goals, in a way that is appropriate and applicable to the local context. “Net zero” buildings can be found in every corner of the world, and in every building type: from mosques in Amman, Jordan, to affordable housing communities in Hawaii, USA, and high-density multi-use precincts in Sydney, Australia. Applying the philosophy of net zero reduces wastage, optimises performance and improves comfort.

As an industry, we must ask ourselves what role we each can play. These are exciting times, and we must embrace the possibilities and opportunities to collaborate across sectors to achieve collective change that is greater than the sum of our parts.

Green Building Councils across the world are developing roadmaps, tools and resources to raise awareness, educate industry and advocate for accelerated action towards net zero carbon buildings. We celebrate the leaders of today, and thank them for their dedication to the cause, but we also look forward to when this leadership has become the business as usual of tomorrow.

Cristina Gamboa is CEO of the World Green Building Council.