Archived article

Building Energy Efficiency: Why Green Buildings are Key to Asia’s Future by Wen Hong / Madelaine Steller Chiang / Ruth A. Shapiro / Mark L. Clifford / Margarethe P. Laurenzi (editor)

Building Energy Efficiency: Why Green Buildings are Key to Asia’s Future, an Asia Business Council book, is an excellent, comprehensive primer on Asia’s green building trend. More than half the world’s new construction is underway in Asia, and the boom is accelerating: China plans to shift from 30 percent urban today to 70 percent urban by 2050, and will build some 400 new cities to house 600 million rural-to-urban migrants over that period. That is, China alone plans to construct new buildings equivalent to two Americas by 2050. Up to 50 percent of all energy is consumed by buildings, including the lifecycle of developing the materials, constructing, and operating them. If the world is to have any hope of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, maximizing building energy efficiency and shifting toward zero-energy and ultimately plus-energy buildings is imperative.

Building Energy Efficiency: Why Green Buildings are Key to Asia’s Future by Wen Hong / Madelaine Steller Chiang / Ruth A. Shapiro / Mark L. Clifford / Margarethe P. Laurenzi (editor)
Building Energy Efficiency: Why Green Buildings are Key to Asia's Future, Wen Hong / Madelaine Steller Chiang / Ruth A. Shapiro / Mark L. Clifford / Margarethe P. Laurenzi (editor) (Chameleon Press, October 2007)

This book is essential reading for policymakers, architects, developers, business owners, and all those interested in practical solutions to global warming. The authors provide a highly readable treatise that (1) characterizes green buildings, (2) identifies the profit-making opportunities of developing and retrofitting buildings to be energy efficient, (3) describes market failures that hinder efficiency opportunities, and (4) catalogues policies that redress those market failures by providing both market push (minimum floor requirements via energy codes and standards) and market pull approaches (tax and fiscal policy incentives) that together drive a green transformation in buildings.

Green buildings, however, are rare. Far more inefficient buildings continue to get built, embedding a heavy carbon footprint throughout a given building’s useful life—upwards of 60 years. These inefficiencies are beginning to be addressed: governments are acknowledging their duty to address market failures that plague the buildings sector. For example, typically only building occupants have an incentive to invest in energy efficiency, since only the occupants pay electricity operating costs. As a result, rarely do developers and owners design a building envelope for energy efficiency nor do they install efficient lighting, and heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) equipment, since operating costs are passed along to occupants. Capturing energy efficiency opportunities, however, delivers broad public benefits in the form of mitigated greenhouse gases, thus it is incumbent upon governments to develop both building energy codes (which require energy efficient building designs), as well as appliance and equipment standards. Incentives for going beyond code—including “reach” codes and standards—drive market innovation and catalyze zero- and even plus-energy buildings.

The book provides a useful blueprint for every business seeking to cut energy costs through unleashing the power of incentives. The first step is to establish a baseline by accurately measuring a company’s energy consumption. Next is to set practical targets for energy savings that ratchets higher over time. Mitigating a company’s greenhouse gases can be a team-building exercise, encouraging leadership and multidisciplinary team efforts. Ultimately, maintenance programs that regularly monitor energy performance (particularly of the highest energy consuming equipment), coupled with measurement and verification systems, create cost savings opportunities while building staff morale and improved productivity.

The second half of the book describes leading green building projects throughout Asia; these one-off demonstrations show that all countries have the capacity and ability to build efficient buildings cost effectively. A prescription for carrying this pilot experience into standard construction practices—and the rationale for why it is crucial to do so—are among the book’s many strengths.

The authors also provide current country-by-country descriptions of public policies that catalyze green building markets, including code requirements to implement state-of-the-art envelope performance requirements as well as appliance and equipment efficiency standards. Public policy progress is underway in all Asian countries. The biggest challenge, however, is robust implementation and enforcement; institution building around code compliance requires stepped-up government resources and training throughout the region. Helpful to building government compliance capacity is expansion of industry associations that provide training and capacity building; the authors point out the gold standard—the U.S. Green Building Council—which coordinates the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) criteria and certifies (and labels) buildings as green. An important insight by the authors is that the LEED criteria will need to be tailored to local circumstances to accommodate varying climate zones as well as capacities for implementation.

A promising trend in China is the Ministry of Construction’s eco-city pilot program. MOC has designated several eco-cities—new towns that aim to incorporate green best practices, including urban growth boundaries, dense in-fill development, transit-oriented development, and green buildings. Given China’s meteoric urbanization plans, requiring every development nationwide to be as close to zero-energy as possible will be crucial to China’s—and the world’s—sustainable development.

Overall, this is an important book with insight and wisdom sprinkled throughout. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions comes down to efficient fossil energy production and use while diversifying toward renewable resources. Buildings comprise up to half of all energy consumption, and thus represent both the largest and most cost-effective solution to global warming. Building Energy Efficiency is an important resource that points the way forward in delivering solutions to a greenhouse-constrained world.

Doug Ogden is the founder and former director of the China Sustainable Energy Program (, a $20-million per year grants initiative that has supported the development of building energy codes and appliance efficiency standards in China since 1998.