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Towering ambition on green buildings

The iconic Eiffel Tower stands tall above the city of Paris, the scene for next month’s UN negotiations where world leaders from more than 190 nations will meet to thrash out a new global deal on climate change.

But it’s another creation from the firm of Gustav Eiffel which perhaps captures more aptly the winds of change we’re witnessing in the global building industry.

The 1893 Eiffel Palace in Budapest, Hungary, is an historic building which is using innovative green technology – such as solar PV, energy-saving LED lights and pre-programmable elevators - to vastly improve its environmental footprint.

Not only an outstanding and award-winning green building project, it’s just one example of how the past is reinventing itself for a greener future - an appropriate metaphor given the perceived failure of previous climate change negotiations and where we stand today, on a much more optimistic footing.

That’s not to say that the outcome of these talks is a done deal. Far from it.

Which is why the World Green Building Council and a number of other partners, working with UNEP and France, have secured “Buildings Day” in Paris on December 3.

The day, the first ever dedicated solely to the role of buildings, will highlight how green building is one of the most cost-effective solutions to climate change, which also has wider economic and societal benefits such as job creation and improved health and wellbeing.

And so after world leaders hopefully sign on the dotted line, their governments will turn to buildings and those who design, build, operate and occupy them to help deliver on their pledges.

COP21 talks

Read our analysis on why the COP21 climate change negotiations matter to contractors.

The day itself will feature over 50 expert speakers from the global building community, and will tackle head-on some of the major challenges and opportunities that exist when attempting to green our built environment - from access to finance and government policies, to the measurement of performance and the transformation of value chains.

Green Building Councils are playing their part, with many supporting the World Green Building Council’s ambitious global commitment to achieve net zero carbon new buildings and energy efficient deep refurbishment of existing buildings by 2050.

Other GBCs are making commitments on how they will drive more sustainable building in their own national markets.

The UK Green Building Council has, for example, pledged to train 5,000 professionals by 2020 and help to develop and implement policies that support the UK government’s target to reduce emissions from the built environment by 50 per cent by 2025, as well as securing corporate pledges from 30 of its own members.

Yet it’s not just a group of enthusiastic NGOs and that are rallying together to highlight the potential of buildings to reduce emissions.

The private sector is firmly behind a positive outcome at Paris, with major global companies such as Lendlease, Skanska and Saint-Gobain all making long-term commitments on how they will contribute to keeping global temperature rises within the 2 degree limit.

Why? Because they understand that green buildings are simply better buildings.

Not just better for the health of the planet, but better for the health of building occupants and for the health of their businesses.

Terri Wills is CEO of the World Green Building Council

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