A path for carbon-neutral buildings

Seattle, USA (GLOBE-Net) - At an international symposium hosted by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) - an organization created in a side accord to NAFTA - experts on green building presented new research showing the potential for the building sector to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in North America.

The preliminary results of one study confirmed that the “2030 Challenge,” an aggressive set of targets adopted by American Institute of Architects and the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada (RAIC) that envisions all new buildings be carbon neutral by 2030, is indeed technically achievable. The authors acknowledge, however, that “significant work is required in the area of policy and program development in order to make changes actually happen.”

The RAIC targets include reducing fossil fuel consumption for all new buildings (relative to the existing building stock) by 60% in 2010, 70% in 2015, 80% in 2020, 90% in 2025, and to make all new buildings carbon-neutral by 2030.

Modelling a path to achieve those targets, the study concludes that it is possible with a few key policy adjustments. Valuation of environmental performance was seen as a key driver to asset sustainability as it can help engage profit motivation. With changes to accounting and valuation professions and standards, and increasing recognition of the value of the environment, value and risk will form an increasing art of the progress of sustainability, says the paper.

That echoes the recently launched Vancouver Accord - a process to augment valuation standards globally and to address the interrelationship of Sustainability and Valuation. One of the goals of the Summit was to start a process to develop new standards or measurement tools that could be applied in business case valuations or property appraisals that would reflect sustainability principles and which would weigh the potential risks factors associated with environmental problems.

Commercial and residential buildings have huge environmental impacts. It is estimated that, in the United States, commercial and residential buildings consume some 65 percent of all electricity generated, 12 percent of fresh water supplies and 40 percent of all raw materials, as well as contributing about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions.

“Green buildings have demonstrated their environmental, health and productivity benefits throughout North America, but we need to do a better job of promoting their uptake,” explains Adrián Vázquez, executive director of the CEC. “Our approach is to involve all stakeholders, from architects, builders, real estate developers, policy experts, academia and the public, and develop concrete recommendations for decision-makers.”

Research presented at the symposium also examined how governments at all levels can influence the uptake of green building through the integrated use of building codes, zoning regulations, tax-based incentives, tax shifting, preferential treatment for green developers (such as fast-track permitting), demand-offset programs, preferred purchasing and government-supported research and development and educational programs.

Another study presented at the Seattle meeting looks at opportunities and challenges to meeting affordable housing needs, which are particularly critical in Mexico, with green building approaches.

The symposium is a key step in the CEC Secretariat’s Green Building in North America: Opportunities and Challenges report prepared for the top environmental officials in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The report will examine the current status of, and future prospects for, green buildings in North America. It will highlight the potential for environmental benefits, examine factors behind notable successes and difficulties, and outline public and private measures for fostering the adaptation of green building practices. It will also contain specific recommendations.

Read more about the Green Building in North America report and access background documents here.

For More Information: Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)

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