The Building Industry Could Cut Our Global Emissions By One Third–So Why Hasn't It?

Illustration for article titled The Building Industry Could Cut Our Global Emissions By One Third–So Why Hasn't It?

The building and construction industry is a massive source of global CO2 emissions—but it could easily reduce its impact with existing technology. At today’s climate talks in Paris, 18 countries and 60 organizations formed a new alliance aimed at doing just that.


Just how widely does the construction and building industry affect emissions? The numbers are massive: “Buildings represent a third of global emissions, and a third of energy and materials consumed worldwide,” said Ibrahim Thaw, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, at a press conference in Paris today. “More than half of the world’s population live in cities, and that will rise to 70 percent by 2050. You can imagine the consequences of that on climate.”

According to the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, existing technology—from solar cells and combined heating and cooling plants, to low-carbon concretes and intelligent cooling systems—could help the building and construction industry save 3.2 gigatons of CO2 every year.

“We know that we can build buildings that don’t produce emissions,” said Pierre-André de Chalendar, CEO of Saint Gobain, a major producer of construction materials. “Why doesn’t it happen? It’s because we don’t work together. We need architects, producers, builders... everyone, to work together.”

That’s the idea behind a new alliance, announced earlier today, in which 18 countries from around the world—including the U.S., France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and more—commit to speeding up their attempts to reduce the emissions produced by the construction and use of buildings.

Those countries will also be joined by 60 other organizations, ranging from professional groups for architects to construction industry trade organizations. Those include the International Union of Architects, the Royal Institution of Charted Surveyors, and the European Construction Industry Federation.

The new alliance will try to tackle some broad problems: it will minimize energy demand in buildings, reduce the carbon emissions associated with manufacturing building materials, and demand that cities take a more integrated approach to building design and urban planning. It will also seek to use more local materials, which consume less energy for transport.


In the longer term, the alliance will push to make buildings that contribute to the greater good of a city or community–for example, buildings that actually contribute energy back into the grid. “From a technical standpoint, we know how to produce buildings that don’t consume energy—but we could also construct energy positive buildings, too,” said de Chalendar.

Image by potowizard/Shutterstock




Hi there, resident grumpy Architect here! Great question, and the answer is a few things.

1. There are an awful lot of existing buildings out there already, and they are difficult, if not impossible to upgrade totally to current energy retention standards.

2. ASHRAE standards have been adopted by all states for design of exterior walls for energy conservation, but this only happened in 2012, and even with it, the building products industry is just presenting us with options for decreased thermal bridging and continuous insulation techniques.

3. Developers and owners are notorious for not wanting to spend money on what are seen as nice to have and not need to have elements of a building structure. Even if I sneak it into the drawings, the second the Construction company gets pricing from subs and comes up with budgetary numbers, all that goes right out the window.

That answer your question?