Monday, May 10, 2010

LIVE BLOG - Promoting Green Building Rating Systems in Africa - Policy and Finance

How Can National and Local Government Policies and International Programs Encourage and/or Finance the Construction of Green Buildings and Rating Systems?

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative is a program that studies and defines the global metrics of sustainable building policies. It is a policy-oriented program and does not deal directly with the technology involved in sustainable building practices. Rather, it explores the financial impact of green building and the industry reaction to the trends. These industry reactions are explored in terms of financial markets and government policy and input.

Niclas Svenningsen of UNEP states that in actual practice, the the long-term cost benefit of sustainable design is not a reality to the construction and development industry when compared to the high cost of initial investment. For it to become real, there need to be mechanisms in place to move the long-term savings of resource-efficient design to the front-end of the finance model. Enter the Stick, the Carrot, and the Tambourine. The stick that will get developers to implement sustainable design practices are policy measures such as the adoption of codes and regulations as well as penalties for under-performing buildings. The carrot, of course, is the opposite and offers tax incentives, and other rewards for well-performing buildings and development. The tambourine, though, is slightly more intangible, but perhaps less policy-oriented and therefore more relate-able to the public. The tambourine involves actions and initiatives that public promote sustainable building practices such as public relations, marketing efforts and awareness campaigns, and educational programs.

However, according to Svenningsen, the bottom line is that sustainable design cannot be promoted as a separate agenda. The concepts and benefits of green design need to be tied to other policy agendas. For example: Schools and offices with better indoor environments have statistically better performance records. Responsibly designed communities have a statistically lower rate of poverty and crime, and have a better public health record. If the benefits are explored and extolled in terms of larger issues, the ability to be implemented within the context of industry and government as a whole, from the top-down, becomes more likely.

In the opinion of the blogger, this is an issue that LEED in the United States has failed to address. Although there are some ties to government and industry, the system as a whole has positioned itself as an actual force within the market, rather than a network amongst it. This has commodified the green building field, and being a commodity, it inherently becomes an extra to the process of design and building. It is not promoted as a part of responsible design practices, rather, it is promoted as an additional service that can be included in a project if the client is able to fund the inclusion of the practices. Little effort is put into incorporating these practices into codes or regulations, and until it is done, "green buildings" will continue to be seen as a privilege instead of the norm.

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