Top trends driving green building in 2018

Climate and carbon, human health and high technology are among the top trends expected to drive the global green building market in 2018. Leaders from GBCs around the world will be heading to Melbourne for Green Cities in 2018. We checked in with them to unpack the trends.

Energy and emissions drive global action

With global greenhouse emissions growing by two per cent in 2017, reaching a new record high of 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, the global property and construction industry will have its sights squarely set on carbon and climate.

“In 2018, the UN will undertake a global stock take of emissions reduction actions and progress, and signatories to the Paris Agreement will be required to demonstrate their progress towards accelerating emissions reductions,” says Romilly Madew, the GBCA’s Chief Executive Officer.

Romilly says this stock take will “undoubtedly reveal the leaders and laggards on climate action, and will put pressure on national governments to step up”.

Chris Pyke, Chief Operating Officer for GRESB and board member of the USGBC, agrees.

“The combination of plunging costs for renewable energy, broader adoption of distributed energy storage systems, new financing strategies, and real concerns about local and global air pollutants are coming together to fundamentally change how we provide energy for buildings and communities,” Chris says.

“These factors will combine to accelerate innovation in the design and operation of community- and building-scale energy systems,” Chris says, adding that we’ll see increasing numbers of “very low carbon” building and communities.

The CEO of the South African GBC, Dorah Modise, expects to see “significant pressure” on countries and companies to develop net zero carbon strategies.

“These will be linked to science based targets, and will lead to greater disclosure of carbon emissions. I also think we will see more carbon taxes and incentive schemes from governments around the world,” she says.

While Dorah predicts we will see more property owners take the lead, advocacy and training will be required to bring the late-adopters along.

“The gap between property investors, owners and city governments that have acknowledged the need for resilient buildings and infrastructure and those who continue with business as usual will continue to widen,” Dorah adds.

Technology triumphs

Joelle Chen, the Regional Head of the WorldGBC’s Asia Pacific Network, says advancing technology is supporting the concept of “hyperlocal”, and redefining our physical experience of the built environment too.

“People are looking more at ‘near me’ searches, and supporting local businesses. And this is driving the need for walkability and local experiences; which fits in nicely with our current obsession with clocking 10,000 steps daily,” she says.

Technology is also behind Joelle’s second trend, the sharing economy, which will may positive impact on carbon emissions, and also accentuates placemaking.

“The design of our neighbourhoods and buildings will need to focus a lot more on placemaking and communities, on health, wellbeing, resilience and happiness,” she says.

Simon Wilson, Chair of the New Zealand GBC’s Advisory Group, also points to technology as a dominant trend that will help us to better manage resources. Think onsite technologies for the control and management of energy and water, smart controls for minimising energy use and increasing comfort, as well as electric vehicles, he says.

“I think we’ll see greater demand side controls that allow buildings to interact with the grid,” Simon adds.

For Chris Pyke, advances in technology means that “it has never been cheaper, easier, or more practical to measure the operational performance of buildings, portfolios, or even entire communities”.

Chris says we’ve reached an “inflection point” where building operations now demands performance measurement as standard practice, and the “absence of information about asset performance is increasingly seen as a risk and liability”.

Human health in the headlights

“Aging populations, rising health care costs, social inequity, and related concerns are motivating policy makers to look to the built environment as ‘medicine’ to improve population health,” Chris adds.

He draws a distinction with corporate wellness, and says more emphasis on the “intentional use of green buildings” can “address the social, economic, and environmental drivers of global health challenges, such as asthma, obesity, and social isolation”.

NZGBC’s Simon also has social sustainability in his line of sight.

“Social capital issues and their honest measurement, review and reporting are increasingly important,” he says. This may mean mandatory requirements in rating tools around health and safety onsite, more transparent reporting on diversity and pay parity at the leadership level, and disclosure of the percentage of time and money invested in humanitarian causes.

Romilly Madew says the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are increasingly influencing the way businesses think about a wider range of sustainability issues – human health among them.

“Expect 2018 to be focused on getting the balance right in our buildings. A building that is energy efficient but uncomfortable for occupants is not a green building. Nor is a water-wise wonder sited on land of ecological value, or a low-emissions masterpiece built on the back of modern slavery,” she says.

The trends point to both obstacles and opportunities for the global green building market in 2018. But with 1.24 billion sqm of building space now been certified by green building councils around the world, the foundation has been laid, and the future looks bright.

Chris Pyke, Dorah Modise, Simon Wilson and Joelle Chen will be taking the floor at Green Cities 2018, 13-15 Melbourne, to explore the global perspective on green building. Early Bird discount closes this Friday, so don’t miss out!