Promote Green Buildings for Biggest, Easiest Cuts in North American CO2 Emissions, says new CEC report

Vancouver, 3/13/2008 – Promoting the green design, construction, renovation and operation of buildings could cut North American greenhouse gas emissions that are fuelling climate change more deeply, quickly and cheaply than any other available measure, according to a new report issued by the trinational Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

North America’s buildings cause the annual release of more than 2,200 megatons of CO2into the atmosphere, about 35 percent of the continent’s total. The report says rapid market uptake of currently available and emerging advanced energy-saving technologies could result in over 1,700 fewer megatons of CO2 emissions in 2030, compared to projected emissions that year following a business-as-usual approach. A cut of that size would nearly equal the CO2 emitted by the entire US transportation sector in 2000.

It is common now for more advanced green buildings to routinely reduce energy usage by 30, 40, or even 50 percent over conventional buildings, with the most efficient buildings now performing more than 70 percent better than conventional properties, according to the report.

Despite proven environmental, economic and health benefits, however, green building today accounts for a only small fraction of new home and commercial building construction-just two percent of the new non-residential building market, less than half of one percent of the residential market in the United States and Canada, and less than that in Mexico.

The report, Green Building in North America: Opportunities and Challenges, is the result of a two-year study by the CEC Secretariat. It was prepared with advice from an international advisory group of prominent developers and architects, sustainability and energy experts, real estate appraisers and brokers, together with local and national government representatives.

“Improving our built environment is probably the single greatest opportunity to protect and enhance the natural environment. This report is a blueprint for dramatic environmental progress throughout North America-mostly using the tools and technology we have on hand today,” says CEC Executive Director Adrián Vázquez. “Green building represents some of the ripest `low-hanging fruit’ for achieving significant reductions in climate change emissions.”

Even with rapid growth projected in the green building market across all three countries, the report says public and private sectors must embrace substantial changes to the planning, development and financing of commercial and residential buildings to overcome what it says are significant barriers to the widespread adoption of high-performance buildings throughout North America.

Jonathan Westeinde, managing partner of The Windmill Development Group in Ottawa and the CEC’s advisory group chair, states “As a developer, I rely on the fact that green building is a proven concept-with construction costs and market benefits that are rapidly improving. This report shows what is needed to scale up and put green building at the heart of a healthy, energy-secure North America.”

The report highlights the importance of green building in urban development. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, whose city hosted a CEC symposium on green building in May 2007, states, “Green building is a cornerstone for creating strong, sustainable communities. In Seattle, we are convinced that cities that make the commitment and investment in green development now will have a significant advantage in the long run.”

Report authors describe a number of disincentives to green building to be overcome. For example, how to encourage developers to incur the marginal cost of green building features when the long-term energy-saving benefits will be passed on to the new owners or tenants.

They recommend ways to accelerate the market uptake of green building and make it the standard practice for all new construction and renovation of existing buildings in North America. Among its recommendations, the report calls upon North American government, industry and nongovernmental leaders to:

  • Create national, multi-stakeholder task forces charged with achieving a vision for green building in North America;
  • Support the creation of a North American set of principles and planning tools for green building;
  • Set clear targets to achieve the most rapid possible adoption of green building in North America, including aggressive targets for carbon-neutral or net zero-energy buildings, together with performance monitoring to track progress towards these targets;
  • Enhance ongoing or new support for green building, including efforts to promote private sector investment and proper valuation methods; and
  • Increase knowledge of green building through research and development, capacity building, and the use of labels and disclosures on green building performance.

 

The recommendations complement ongoing efforts by federal, state/provincial and local governments as well as industry and trade associations and nongovernmental organizations.

The CEC study notes several government and industry initiatives that promote aggressive energy performance improvements in the building sector. One study completed for the report signals the potential of green building to yield tremendous energy improvements and greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the building sector by 2030, and suggests a path toward zero net-energy and carbon-neutral buildings.

The report was produced by the Secretariat of the CEC, prepared under Article 13 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) and is not intended to reflect the views of the Parties to that agreement. Information for the report came from background reports prepared by independent experts and from two public meetings. The report and associated background reports, along with a portfolio of selected green buildings in Canada, Mexico and the United States, will be available to the public on 13 March 2008, at .

The CEC was established by Canada, Mexico and the United States to build cooperation among the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners in implementing NAAEC, the environmental side accord to NAFTA. The CEC addresses environmental issues of continental concern, with particular attention to the environmental challenges and opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade.