London’s green building sector threatened by quantity over quality approach

The global rise in green buildings is providing proof that cites shouldn't be "trapped and weighed down by aging infrastructure", with a new whitepaper suggesting that London should mirror Paris's strategies in order to become the global leader on green buildings.

The “Top 10 Cities for Global Green Buildings” whitepaper from market strategists Solidiance has ranked London third, behind Paris and Singapore, for its integration of green buildings in the city, with a lack of city-wide performance goals hindering it from becoming the global leader in green buildings.

While London’s position in the top three seems promising, the rapid growth of green buildings in Dubai, Shanghai and Beijing could eventually put the capital’s position under threat if policy continues to strive for a figures approach that focuses on the number of buildings constructed, rather than the actual efficiency of these buildings.

“Green buildings are the pillars to building more sustainable cities around the world; and building more sustainable cities around the world is integral to achieving sustainable development and preserving our world’s resourcing for present and future generations,” the report states.

“Paris proves to us that old cities do not have to be trapped and weighed down by aging infrastructure; a strategic and methodical approach to retrofitting can dramatically improve efficiency.”

Numbers game

Green buildings are doubling every three years worldwide and London has become a central hub for green building construction. Only Singapore has more than London’s 1729 green buildings, but despite this figure, which represents 68% of London’s building stock, the city is still struggling to improve efficiency.

With buildings accounting for around 40% of global energy use, and roughly responsible for 30% of city-wide emissions, the UK was the first country to introduce a green building certification system (BREEAM) as a way to benchmark the efficiency measures of modern buildings.

But, as the new whitepaper reveals, buildings in London are currently emitting 32m metric tonnes of CO2 annually, compared to the two million emitted by building in Paris. Energy consumption is also higher in London, with buildings using 101,228GWh compared to 15,050GWh in Paris.

The whitepaper attributes France’s world-leading green infrastructure to the country’s willingness to set quantifiable targets for energy efficiency and performance in buildings, whereas other cities, including London, are still focusing on activity-based goals such as the number of certifications issued.

With the green building material market set to reach more than $234bn by 2019, London has been urged to increase its uptake in both renewable sourcing – currently sitting at 7% according to figures from UNEP – and its waste recycling, which remains stagnant at 34%, as ways to rejuvenate the green building market and promote efficiency across the city.

Silicon city

While there is room for improvement in London to promote green building regulations, the foundations are in place to supplement the growth. For existing buildings, public bodies can engage with the private sector to reduce emissions through the Green Organisations Programme, which incentivises efficiency improvements for landlords.

The RE:FIT programme is also available for public buildings to consider retrofits as a way to achieve financial savings. Both BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes pre-assessment provide the framework for new buildings to achieve efficiency improvements.

But even with a $50m backing from the London Energy Efficiency Fund (LEEF), London’s progress is still being hampered by policy reforms that have seen a zero-carbon homes commitment controversially scrapped.

While the unveiling of a Government backed data platform looks set to stimulate green building construction in the UK, new percentage-based targets that focus on efficiency rather than numbers may still be needed if the UK is transform London into the “Silicon Valley” of green construction and innovation.

Matt Mace

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