China's construction industry has slowed recently but is still huge by any international comparison. Its construction sector consumes around half of the world’s steel and cement and employs 37 million people. But building carries a huge environmental price.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) authors noted in their recent fifth assessment report on climate change (AR5), buildings contribute more greenhouse gases than trucks and cars. Every building or structure erected now according to out-of-date building codes - i.e., not designed to minimise the use of fossil fuel energy - creates “significant lock-in risks” associated with the long lifespans of buildings and infrastructure. And the global construction market is set to grow by 70% by 2025.

In 2010 (the date of the latest data), the building sector was responsible for 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions - compared to transport's 14%. Additionally, the sector accounted for 32% of the world’s energy use and around a third of ‘black carbon emissions’ from fossil fuels. This will double by 2050, the IPCC says, causing CO2 emissions to increase by between 50 – 150%.

Only the proper implementation of high building standards for life-cycle carbon impacts can tame this trend. This requires training, accreditation, monitoring and regulation, and represents a challenge for cities everywhere.

So it is good news that the British and Chinese governments announced yesterday that Chinese buildings could in future be built to British green construction standards.

The UK construction firm Building Research Establishment (BRE) signed an agreement with the Shenzhen Municipal Government to set up a training and R&D centre in China’s fastest growing city to deliver training on a national scale to other cities and promote its services including certifying buildings to green construction standards. BRE China aims to certify over 1000 buildings across China to its standards.

BRE

BRE is particularly well known for developing the BREEAM standard and adapting Passivhaus standards for the UK. BREEAM is the world's leading environmental assessment method to assess new, existing buildings and community scale development. BRE Global develops the BREEAM methodology and trains and licenses independent BREEAM Assessors.

Campus M Business Park in MunichPerhaps the Chinese negotiators were impressed by some existing BREEAM projects such as Campus M Business Park in Munich (right), which achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating without additional cost. Key features of this project included:

  • Entirely natural ventilation 
  • high frequency lighting
  • high levels of natural daylight
  • low energy usage meeting the requirements of the German energy saving regulations EnEV2004
  • excellent public transport links and extensive cyclist facilities
  • storage areas for recyclable waste
  • highly efficient gas condensing boilers for space heating
  • re-use of an existing brownfield site.

BRE also offers third-party certification services in several areas:

  • Energy Assessor Accreditation - covers all aspects of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and ensures that Energy Assessors deliver the highest levels of service to their clients.
  • Microgeneration - certification of products and installers under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.
  • Responsible sourcing - a BRE Global framework standard (BES 6001) demonstrates the responsible sourcing of construction products.
  • Environmental profiles - a method of identifying and assessing the environmental effectas associated with building materials.
  • ISO 9001 - the world's most established quality framework for assessing and certifying an organisation's quality management system.
  • ISO 14001 - the standard for assessing the quality of an organisation's environmental management and commitment to the environment.
  • ISO 18001 - a specification that helps to fully integrate health and safety into company policies and working practices.

Green building standards in China

The green building market is in its infancy in China, as it is in the other fast-developing BRIC countries. However the Chinese Government has established a goal of having green buildings account for 30% of new construction projects by 2020. The Green Olympics Building Evaluation Standard (GOBES) was the first domestic green building standard in China, established in 2003.

A study by the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory published earlier this year showed that realistic improvements to building codes could reduce building energy consumption in China by up to 22 percent by the end of this century. Meredydd Evans, the PNNL scientist who managed the project, commented: "More energy could be saved with additional standards and policies, but this study shows that a distinct set of codes can have great impact".

Since China implemented its first building energy codes in the 1980s, the country has expressed a commitment to reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions through improved codes, Evans said. In fact, China's codes are not radically different than those in the US, though significant gaps remains.

Among China's strengths is a high compliance rate, which has been achieved through private, third-party inspectors that oversee construction on a routine basis, and government oversight. China has also begun implementing a voluntary for rural buildings, which house about half of China's population who often lack proper insulation, air-tightness and energy-efficient cooking methods.

World trade centre in Beijing III

The World Trade Centre III, developed by Vantone, in Beijing is hoping to become LEED Gold certified.

The green building market is how emerging rapidly in China. According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), China has over 80 million square feet of LEED-certified buildings, many of which were certified in 2011. It also has its own three-star Green Building Certification program, which started in 2006. It does not publish information about the total number of buildings certified under that program, although experts estimate that China now has roughly 200 buildings certified at the three-star (highest) level of that program, mostly government buildings.

The Vantone Group is one of China’s leading property developers and developer of Beijing's World Trade Centre III. It has committed to ensure that all newly developed commercial buildings be certified as LEED Gold, and similarly pledged that its residential properties will meet the Chinese Green Building Code grade I or II standards.

This program forms part of the national Green Building Evaluation Standard (GBES), which defines green buildings as “buildings that save a maximum amount of resources (including energy, land, water, and materials), protect the environment, reduce pollution, provide healthy, comfortable and efficient space for people, and exist harmoniously with nature” throughout their lifecycle. There are dozens of other definitions in the country that fall into three broad categories: local, project-based, and international.

Building automation will be key to the development of green building in China. Demand will grow for building energy management systems (BEMS), instrument control and automation systems (ICA), and supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA). China’s building automation market was the world’s 5th largest in 2012, dominated by the “Big 4” global suppliers: Siemens, Johnson Controls, Honeywell and Schneider Electric, according to the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA).

The IPCC says in AR5 that adopting very-low-energy building codes works. China stands to receive huge benefits from adopting these codes.