Green Buildings Rise Above the Smog in China

china smog

While in Beijing last week, one of the English-language newspapers, The Beijinger, caught my eye. It featured a series called “The green blueprint: Beijing buildings that rise above the smog.”

The article stated that while some of Beijing’s skyscrapers “may indeed be infamous eyesores,” what the city’s architecture “lacks stylistically could very well be offset ecologically.”

The article cited two examples: the SIEEB Solar Energy Efficient Building at Tsinghua University is powered entirely by 1,000 square metres of photovoltaic panels, while the Beijing Energy Conservation and Environment Protection Centre has a cool roof system, layered with a highly reflective composite coating, which shields the building from 80 per cent of summer solar heat gain and reduces the temperature directly under the roof by 30 degrees.

These are just two examples of a growing sustainable building movement in China. While it is true that Australia has a more mature green building market than China, the Chinese acknowledge this and are keen to learn from us – and from any country that has undertaken green building projects.

SIEEB Solar Energy Efficient Building at Tsinghua University

China’s willingness to embrace sustainability is central to the world’s long-term sustainability. The scale of construction in China is unprecedented; just one project currently underway will unite nine cities surrounding the Pearl River Delta. The resulting megacity will be unlike anything the world has ever seen. Larger than all of Switzerland, this megacity will cover 40,000 square kilometres and reach a population of at least 42 million. In comparison, New York City spans 790 square kilometres and has just over eight million people.

The nine cities being combined include Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizou and Zhaoqing. More than 150 major infrastructure projects will connect the cities’ transportation, water, energy and telecommunications networks. A high-speed rail line will link the megacity to nearby Hong Kong. The total cost is estimated at more than AUD$300 billion and, without sustainable building principles, the cost to the environment will be unimaginable.

Recently, I was in China to represent Australia’s construction industry along with David Parken, CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects. We took part in a joint Business Services Sector Dialogue in Beijing, which was established by both governments to identify areas where our two nations’ interests intersect and areas for potential collaboration.

It was telling that both governments had nominated their respective green building councils to represent the construction sector. Speaking alongside the highly-influential Chinese Minister for Commerce, Chen Deming, his chief negotiator said: “China will draw upon the successful experience of Green Star.”

Premier Wen Jaibao has thrown his weight behind the sustainable agenda, arguing that “we should promote green buildings, make the uttermost efforts to save energy, water, land and material, reduce pollution and protect environment and improve living comfort, health and safety…We should seize the opportunity by fully pushing forward [the] Green Building Action in such aspects such as regulations, laws, technologies, standards and design. Never lose the opportunity.”

Dr Qui Baoxing, the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MoHURD) also oversees the China Green Building Council (CGBC) and has said “that developing green building is an important strategy for solving the resources problem in China.”

China’s green building system, the Three-Star System, has allowed regional government agencies to certify one- and two-star applications, but the privilege of judging three-star applications, the highest level of evaluation, belongs only to the MoHURD’s Green Building Office. I was told this week that there are now 153 projects evaluated by China’s green building standard – the USGBC also estimates that a further 185 plus LEED projects have also been certified in China.

Australia and China have already established close ties through our respective green building councils. In 2009, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) signed a landmark memorandum of understanding with the CGBC, and since then we have been sharing information on best practices and government policies, hosting business delegations and promoting our joint vision for the world’s sustainable built environment.

 Given the pace and scale of urbanisation, both GBCs recognise that China needs to transform building efficiency, and that Australia has the skills and experience to support this.  During the dialogue, we settled on a number of priorities to advance engagement between our two nations, including:

  • A built environment alliance connecting Australia and China’s property and construction industries
  • Strengthening information exchange at both industry and government levels through an annual conference
  • Voluntary rating systems to encourage the uptake of green building practices.

Together, Australia and China have the capabilities and the capacity to transform our global property industry, and we’re determined to work together to achieve this goal.

By Romilly Madew, Chief Executive Green Building Council of Australia
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