A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) finds fault with the property industry for being too slow in addressing its increasing environmental footprint. The energy consumption of the buildings and that caused by their location in relation to transport account for more than half of all global CO2 emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report estimates that by 2020 the primary energy use for the buildings sector will double from 103 EJ (1990) to 208 EJ (1 EJ or exajoule is equivalent 1,018 Joules). The corresponding rise in carbon dioxide emissions from the building sector will go up from 1,900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtC) to 2,700 MtC. Developing countries contribute a substantial proportion of these emissions; in the Asia-Pacific region, for example, over the past two decades emissions have grown five times as fast as the global average. The population increase, rapid urbanisation, and the extensive building that both engender are going to continue. As a result, energy use for lighting, domestic appliances, and air-conditioning will rise. In addition, the extensive use of energy-intense materials such as glass and low-density urban sprawl will add to the increasing energy consumption.

Containing and reducing the environmental footprint of the building sector is by no means an impossible task. Environmentally driven emerging technologies can improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption in residential and commercial sectors. Estimates show that with their adoption the building sector can, by 2020, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 950 MtC and energy consumption by 38 EJ. However, what is more important than using appropriate technologies is a return to the basics in building design that will ensure proper site planning, correct orientation of buildings, and well-designed openings. Unfortunately, many of the current green building certification processes seem to overlook these fundamental principles and emphasise a product-oriented approach. Studies show that simple but sensible design methods can save an average of 40 per cent of energy use in buildings. A well-designed building also makes good economic sense by ensuring “lower operating costs, higher net operating incomes, and improved tenant retention and satisfaction,” as the UNEP report points out. It cites a survey to confirm that sustainability has become an important consideration in corporate real estate and that many will not hesitate to pay at least one per cent more rent for more sustainable spaces. The economic and environmental reasons for green buildings have been well established. Their wider use is overdue.