Build "green" to cut emissions fast, report says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - “Green” construction could cut North America’s climate-warming emissions faster and more cheaply than any other measure, environmental experts from Canada, Mexico and the United States reported on Thursday.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Besides energy efficiency and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, environmentally-conscious buildings are healthier for the people who use them, the report’s authors said.

The report was issued at a conference in Vancouver by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a panel set up by the United States, Canada and Mexico to address environmental concerns raised by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Payback for increased construction costs would begin almost immediately, said John Westeinde, a partner in the Windmill Development Group in Ottawa and chairman of an advisory group that guided the report.

“The investments made for climate change benefit in buildings have direct payback, generally from the point of view of reduced energy costs and water costs as well the indoor health environment and increased productivity of the inhabitants of those buildings,” he said in an interview.

North America’s buildings release more than 2,200 megatons, or about 35 percent of the continent’s total, of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. If the construction market quickly adopted current and emerging energy-saving technologies, that number could be cut by 1,700 megatonnes by 2030, the report said.

But there are obstacles to putting green building techniques into widespread use.

One is the so-called split incentive policy, where those who construct environmentally-friendly buildings do not necessarily reap the benefits of using them.

Also, governments and other institutions separate capital and operating budgets instead of budgeting for the lifetime of a construction project, creating a disincentive to build “green,” the report found.

It recommended setting up task-forces in all three countries to tackle the issue, set clearly defined targets to spur more green building and foster environmentally-friendly construction already in the works. (Editing by Alan Elsner)