01 February 2016

COP 21 wave - Towards a new era in the green construction sector

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The impacts of the Paris Agreement on green business environment: The role of the private and public sectors, the effects in terms of legislative & legal frameworks and possible benefits for novel construction materials

“History will remember this day,” said Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, moments after the green-topped gavel, symbol of the Paris talks, was dropped on what is considered the most ambitious deal on climate change that the world has ever seen. 

Households are responsible for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions and 42% of energy consumption in Europe. During the COP21 Buildings Day on 3 December, a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction was launched, with the aim of scaling up low-carbon development in the sector.

Participating countries include Austria, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Senegal, Singapore, Sweden, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Furthermore, over 60 organisations are members of the alliance.

The World Green Building Council is a key member of the initiative. “While the Paris Agreement is not itself legally binding, many countries will choose legislative and legal frameworks to support its implementation,” says Terri Wills, CEO of the World Green Building Council, a network of national green building councils in more than one hundred countries. Many of them are working closely with their national governments to develop renovation strategies.

“Some countries will opt for a ‘carrot’ over a ‘stick’ approach” adds Wills, explaining that “they will decide to offer incentives in the form of subsidies, grants for ambitious green building projects, or planning approvals for extra building space if a building complies with a green certification standard.”

 The COP 21 Paris Agreement has put emphasis on the construction sector and on the adoption of novel building materials, designs and technologies.

"States should provide long-term incentives and support for emissions reductions to show real commitment to change. Policy actions could include carbon pricing, ambitious buildings standards and targeted spending on new technologies through green public procurement”, says Simon Hunkin from Greenovate!Europe. The independent expert group, dedicated to developing sustainable business, is collaborating with a research project called ISOBIO, which aims to develop bio-based materials as an alternative to traditional insulations while reducing their cost.

The researchers are developing a new approach to insulating materials, through the combination of existing bio-derived aggregates with low embodied carbon and innovative binders to produce durable composite construction materials.

With these novel composites, the aim is to cut embodied energy and carbon dioxide at component level by 50%, and to improve insulation properties by 20% compared to conventional material. The study will also seek to demonstrate a reduction in total costs by 15% and in the total energy spent over the life time of a building by 5%.

But could such biomaterials be commercially attractive? “To a certain extent, these materials may appeal to businesses, contractors and homeowners. As they have low or even zero-embodied energy, there is proof of increased sustainability and energy efficiency when compared to traditional materials,” says Anthimos Pavlidis, a civil engineer and quality coordinator in the project of the skyscraper centre One Blackfriars, London.

Financial profit can be identified from manufacture through to impact across the operational life-cycle of buildings. “Nevertheless, a rationalised piece of legislation is needed in order to woo manufacturers and contractors. Integrated policy measures including incentive schemes and training seminars have to be implemented in order to achieve widespread use of biomaterials,” Pavlidis tells youris.com.

As for construction companies, they are smelling the business opportunities. “These companies – particularly those in the green building sector - aren’t going to wait for their national governments; they are simply going to act on climate change because they know it makes good business sense,” says Wills, “There is no longer any question of whether or not to decarbonise. In our opinion, this is the greatest triumph of the COP21".

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