By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow

In an interview this morning with Earth & Environment Publishing, USGBC National President Roger Platt discussed how green buildings might be addressed at the upcoming climate talks in Paris. He also explained how introducing green building techniques to the developing world brings unique challenges and opportunities.

Platt detailed the key message about green buildings that he thinks needs to be delivered, both at the climate talks in Paris, and to policymakers beyond that. “We believe that green buildings [and] green construction provide tremendous economic benefits, but also address the carbon emissions impacts of buildings by making them radically more energy-efficient, water-efficient, reducing their impacts on buidoversity degradation. Generally, [they create both] high environmental performance and high economic performance.”

Platt emphasized how the United Nations itself recognized that buildings are the lowest cost, highest impact way to reduce carbon emissions. “A new generation of buildings will both create economic opportunity, and also have a tremendous impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” The developing world is where this new generation of buildings will rise up, so we need to ensure that the wave of infrastructure growth is on the path to energy efficiency.

It's clear that this high-impact solution of green buildings should a priority issue at the Paris climate talks–but it cannot be approached the same way in the industrialized and the developing world. 

The policymakers of the developing world often perceive environmental initiatives as a luxury. These nations are appropriately addressing much more basic needs for their citizens, and tackling pressing humanitarian, political and economic struggles. However, as these countries are beginning to create new industries and build up their infrastructure, they need to understand the economic and health benefits of green buildings. Basic housing that is healthy, safe, and very low-cost is already a priority in the developing world–and Roger Platt sees green buildings as meeting that need very clearly.

In fact, some of the biggest developing countries are setting an example by embracing green buildings in a big way. Although more than 150 countries and territories have adopted LEED, Brazil, China and India are in the top 5 countries for LEED worldwide, showing the power of the emerging green economy. The prioritzation of green buildings by the “BRICS” emerging-market cohort is a crucial step in the advance of this movement, especially as these countries often label themselves as the representatives of the developing world. Their leadership could encourage many other impoverished and economically emerging nations to join in this movement, and start off their infrastructure growth on the right (energy-efficient) foot. 

As the leader of the green building industry, there are lessons from the US that can be applied abroad. Roger Platt explained how green buildings can grow both in countries that are government-dominated, and in those that emphasize the role of businesses. In the US, the government led by example through their widespread policy of having third-party certified green buildings. Recently, the Indian and New Delhi governments are looking to follow this same model.

While our government has pushed energy-efficient policies and broadly use LEED-certified buildings, the private sector is also a major part of the solution. This industry-led approach (including the real-estate, construction, architecture, engineering, and manufacturing industries, to name a few), is a necessary complement to government policies.

Although the US has been a tremendous forerunner on these policies, through the efforts of USGBC and the ever-growing green building industry, the developing world needs more education and support to make green buildings part of their policy plans and one of their private sector priorities.

We can only wait to see how Paris will change the game for the green building industry across the globe.

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