Growing Green Buildings
China's breakneck urbanization is packing cities with more people, more cars, and more buildings.
Buildings account for 25 to 30 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. If life-cycle construction activities are factored into the equation—such as production and transportation of building materials—the figure rises to 40 percent.
Energy Foundation China has long focused on making buildings more energy efficient. The foundation funded work on China's first-ever Standard for Building Energy Efficiency in Hot-summer and Cold-winter Region, issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MOHURD) in 2001.
Five years later, MOHURD launched a voluntary green building program, the Green Building Evaluation Standard. Looking to secure a mandatory policy, the China Buildings Program (CBP) supported local green building regulations and capacity. The strategy was to show that such a policy could be successful at the local level, creating the groundwork for scaling in a mandatory national policy.
At the same time, CBP worked to counteract misperceptions about “cleaner” buildings. While experts know that green buildings offer significant energy savings and a better indoor environment, some policymakers and industry stakeholders believe they come with high initial costs. In 2010, CBP funded MOHURD’s Building Research Center and Peking University to jointly calculate the true incremental costs of green buildings. Their work showed that one-star green buildings incurred only fractional incremental costs, giving policymakers greater confidence to mandate them.
The study also created a basis for China’s government to launch an incentive program for two-star and three-star buildings—the greenest yet. In April 2012, the Ministry of Finance and MOHURD announced that districts anywhere in China would receive a 50 million RMB subsidy if all of the district’s new construction met green building requirements.
Two years of targeted support to research teams at the National Development and Reform Commission and MOHURD on mandatory green building policy then led to another significant policy win. In January 2013, China’s State Council adopted the National Green Building Action Plan. It mandated that all publicly funded new construction meet green building requirements by 2014 and that 1 billion square meters of green buildings be built by 2020.
Mandatory policy is the most effective means of increasing the number of green buildings, given China’s political and regulatory systems. The fact that it took only eight years from launching a voluntary green building program in 2006 to mandating green buildings shows China’s ambition to lead on this front. CBP continues to support local implementation of green buildings to ensure that the building industry makes this green leap forward.