Green Building: Improving the lives of billions by helping to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The following article was first published by the World Green Building Council News & Media. This article was written by Dominika Czerwinska, who is a Director of Membership and Regional Networks at WorldGBC. You can view the original article here.

January 1st 2016 marked a key milestone in our collective efforts to “promote prosperity while protecting the planet” as world leaders agreed, and brought into force, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals set forth a challenge for humanity to decouple economic growth from climate change, poverty and inequality… and this is a challenge that we firmly believe green building can help to solve.

While many might look at a building and see only an inanimate structure, we look at buildings and see both the physicality and the process by which they are created – an opportunity to not only save energy, water and carbon emissions but to educate, create jobs, strengthen communities, improve health and wellbeing, and much, much more. Green building is a true catalyst for addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues.

While the 17 goals are wide ranging, from ending hunger to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, each with detailed targets to be achieved over the next 15 years, there are several goals to which we believe green buildings can, and in fact already have, been contributing to in a significant way.

Goal 3: GOOD HEALTH & WELLBEINGEnsure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages

There is now overwhelming evidence which suggests the way a building is designed can affect the health and wellbeing of its occupants. According to the World Health Organization, lung and respiratory diseases associated with poor indoor environment quality are three of the top five leading causes of death. But green building features, such as improved lighting, better air quality and greenery, have been proven to positively impact health and wellbeing, and this agenda has gained increasing momentum over the last few years. Our Better Places for People global project is focused on creating a world in which buildings are not only good for the environment, but also support healthier, happier and more productive lives. And reducing emissions from buildings – particularly in cities – can reduce pollution and improve air quality, benefiting the health of city dwellers.  

Goal 7: AFFORDABLE & CLEAN ENERGY – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

The cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use, and energy savings from efficient, green buildings – whether commercial office buildings or homes – are often one of the most talked about benefits. Green buildings also use renewables energy, which can be cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives. For example, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) suggests home solar systems in Africa can provide households with electricity for as low as $56 a year – much cheaper than energy from diesel or kerosene. Renewable energy also has the additional benefit of producing no carbon emissions, limiting the impact on the planet. Energy efficiency coupled with local renewable sources also improves energy security.

Goal 8: DECENT WORK & ECONOMIC GROWTH – Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all

As the demand for green building grows globally, so does the workforce required to deliver them, and this is another goal that green building can significantly contribute to. For example, the green building industry in Canada represented nearly 300,000 full-time jobs in 2014. What’s more, the life-cycle of a green building – from conception to construction, operation and even renovation – impacts a wide variety of people, providing even more opportunities for inclusive employment.

And some Green Building Councils such as South Africa have developed ways to integrate more complex socio-economic issues such as unemployment or lack of skills into green building rating systems – creating further incentives for businesses to consider these criteria in their developments.

Goal 9: INDUSTRY, INNOVATION & INFRASTRUCTURE – Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

Green buildings are not only about the here and now. They must be designed in a way that ensures they are resilient and adaptable in the face of our changing global climate. This is critically important in developing countries, many of which will be particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. But it’s not just about future proof buildings, but the spaces in between – the infrastructure that must be equally as sustainable and resilient to future risks. A recent report from the New Climate Economy found that US$90 trillion of investment worldwide is needed in the next 15 years in the infrastructure sector to achieve a prosperous, net zero emissions future. And striving for buildings which push the boundaries on sustainability, such as net zero emissions buildings, is also a major driver for innovation and technology.

Goal 11: SUSTAINABLE CITIES & COMMUNITIES – Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable

Almost 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030, and so ensuring they are sustainable is of paramount importance. Buildings are the foundations of cities, and green buildings are therefore key to their long-term sustainability. Whether it’s homes, offices, schools, shops or green spaces – the built environment contributes to the make-up of communities, which must be sustainable to ensure a high quality of life for all. In fact, in many countries, Green Building Councils have moved beyond the certification of single green buildings and have developed tools that facilitate the formation of green neighborhoods and districts. Others, such as the Philippines GBC, have helped cities like Mandaue to develop and implement policies that promote sustainable building practices across entire cities.

Goal 12: RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION & PRODUCTION – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

This goal focuses on promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services and green jobs. The building industry has a major role to play in preventing waste through reduction, recycling and reuse – ‘circular economy’ principles where resources are not wasted. Our movement includes leading product manufacturers such as Shaw Contract who have developed ways to generate products – in this case carpet – from what was previously considered to be waste, known as the “cradle to cradle” approach. This not only reduces the amount of waste going to landfill but also reduces the amount of raw materials that are being extracted from the earth. Since 2006, Shaw has reclaimed and recycled more than 400 million kilograms of post-consumer carpet.

Goal 13: CLIMATE ACTION – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Buildings are responsible for over 30 per cent of global green house gas emissions, and are therefore a major contributor to climate change. But by the same token, green buildings have huge potential to combat it, offering one of the most cost effective ways to do so, through measures such as energy efficiency. For example, South Africa’s Green Star certified buildings save 336 million kilograms of carbon emissions a year – the same as taking 84,000 cars off the roads – helping to limit the effects of climate change.

Goal 15: LIFE ON LAND – Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

The materials that make up a building are key to determining its sustainability. And so the building industry and its supply chains have a major role to play in using responsibly sourced materials such as timber. Green building certification tools also recognise the need to reduce water use, and the value of biodiversity and the importance of ensuring it is protected, and incorporate this into the space they build on both during and after construction – minimising damage and designing ways to enhance biodiversity, such as through landscaping with local flora.

Goal 17: PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE GOALS – Revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

Historically, the building industry has lacked a collective voice on the world stage at major climate change conferences and has often not been recognised for the huge opportunities it presents. In 2015, a significant milestone was achieved when WorldGBC, UNEP, the French government and several other organisations came together to host the first ever “Buildings Day” as part of the official COP21 agenda and to launch the Global Alliance for Building and Construction. A year and a half on, and our movement is already seeing the benefits of having a seat at the table. Strong new partnerships such as those with the World Resources Institute and the Global Environmental Facility have been secured, increasing our capacity to drive change and ensure that we are all building on one another’s strengths rather than re-inventing the wheel. Our movement has long recognised that the barriers to a sustainable built environment are not technical solutions but rather how we effectively collaborate, ensuring our collective efforts are truly aligned to achieve much greater impact.  

When it comes to the remaining SDGs, direct links between them and green buildings may be less explicit, but that’s not to say they don’t exist at all.

For example, there are a number of educational opportunities created through the process of creating green buildings – the training of professionals in sustainability issues or green building techniques – and by our individual Green Building Councils through their own educational programmes. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has recognised this opportunity by partnering with Green Building Councils, for example in Zambia, to deliver local green jobs programmes. And responsible businesses and organisations working in and around the building and construction industry are helping to breakdown sexism and promote gender equality in the green building workplace. Nearly 50 per cent of our Established Green Building Councils are led by women, and C40 Cities’ Women4Climate initiative is also highlighting the role women are playing on climate action. 

In Australia, as the Green Star certification scheme is revised, the Green Building Council of Australia is looking towards assisting building developers and owners to report on specific criteria against 16 of the 17 SDGs – demonstrating just how relevant they are to our industry.

For all of these reasons, we believe that the green building movement will mean significant progress in decoupling economic growth from climate change, poverty and inequality, helping to achieve the goals and creating a greener world that we can all be proud to call home.

The Knock-On Effect of a Greener Mindset

The past few years have been stressful for many Singaporeans, especially those that have recently just purchased or moved into their new home. With the ongoing difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic more individuals are looking to adopt a more mindful approach to their daily routine.

But did you know that adopting greener home practices for your home can promote your mindfulness? Here are some ways building green into your home can benefit your pursuit for living a balanced, mindful life.

Finding Peace from Plants

Featured image from Singapore’s Greenest Home Town Challenge, uploaded by a fellow Singaporean homeowner.

Looking after plants can be a healthy and positive way to help decompress your cognition maintain your mental wellbeing. In fact they’re helpful for our senior to promotive brain function and prevent dementia. Gardening can be a great intervention for mental health, and can help reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression.

Improving Ventilation for your Breathing

Featured image from Singapore’s Greenest Home Town Challenge, uploaded by a fellow Singaporean homeowner.

Improving ventilation is an effortless way of applying greener practices for your home. Not only does this improve your own physical wellbeing, but ventilation also has a role in improving your breathing. That’s because breathing exercises is one of the most effective ways to adopt a mindful lifestyle, as it helps reduce stress and experienced anxiety.

By improving ventilation for your home, you’re not only protecting your family from unwanted viruses and pollutants, but you’re also improving your capacity to breathe more effectively and overcome mental difficulties.

Soundproofing Distractions

Sound plays a significant role in our mindfulness; they shape our ability to not only concentrate but meditate in our home environments

Using sustainable soundproofing materials are an effective way of not only making your home greener and more sustainable, but also fostering a great space for you to stay relaxed and productive. In fact, studies have shown that making effective acoustic sound adjustments to open office environments, improves productivity and mental wellbeing.

As more Singaporeans continue to do flexible working arrangements, investing in soundproofing materials for your office setup.

Green Means Go Healthy

Building green into your home isn’t just about the novelty of championing sustainability, it’s also making an active step in making your home comfortable and healthy for the residents.

For more information, visit the SGBC Product Directory to learn more about certified green products and materials to help build green into your home.

Green In Our Homes and Lives

Renovation planning – all too often, we are consumed by a focus on price and aesthetics. Today, however, we have so many options that allow us to build green into our homes – beautifully and affordably. Bearing in mind that beyond a positively greener footprint, these sustainable choices often bring value in terms of improved home comfort, health and the longer-term maintainability of our homes.

We have the capacity to think more critically about the materials we choose to bring into our homes, what they are made of and where they come from, and below are some ideas to help get us started!

Ground Up

A consideration during renovation – whether its for a new BTO, or to breathe life into an older home, is flooring. The materials we choose have a huge influence on the way our home can look and feel. Whether it’s tiles or wood that you are looking at, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

Tiles: Tiles are a great consideration that can mimic the look of wood, marble and other stones; but importantly many tiles today, are made of recycled materials and they can themselves eventually be recycled.

Wood: Whether as an indoor feature, outdoor flooring or even as feature claddings, wood ensures as a luxurious and distinctive material. With options such as reclaimed wood, engineered wood, and sustainably sourced woods available, we have every opportunity to make more sustainable choices.

Cork: Who knew that cork makes for excellent flooring. Sustainably harvested, cork is a renewable material that comes from the bark of trees; this means that rather than felling trees, only a portion of the bark is taken, and the trees themselves produce new layers for subsequent use. Cork also is a great sound absorber, it provides cushioning underfoot, and it’s mould and mildew resistant making for a beautiful and comfortable flooring to boot.

Divide and Conquer

Walls and partitions help define the spaces within our homes, they establish separation and create the functional and private environments that we are familiar with.

Dry walls: Constructed of sustainable products such as plasterboards or fibre cement boards, innovations and improvements mean that the dry walls of today are far superior to what they used to be. They provide good acoustic and thermal insulation, and boast natural resistance to fire and the damp.

Rather than conventional brick and wet plastering, dry walls are easy to install, reduce the need for noisy hacking, and allow for easy onsite reconstruction. With smooth surfaces, they are quick to set up and ready for paint once installed.

As we look to soften and cover raw walls and ceilings, we look to a range of applications that transform white walls into vibrant, calming, engaging, textured or colourful surfaces.

Paints: While we’ve taken tremendous steps forward from older lead-based paints, it is important to bear in mind that to date, there are paint options that can actually be harmful to ourselves and families. Many paints still produce harmful VOC emissions that negatively impact both the environment and our health – triggering issues such as headaches, nausea, conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, skin, irritation, dizziness, occupational asthma and the likes.

The same is true for many lacquers and thinners which often coat our furniture – these sealants often off gas harmful VOC emissions months after they have been applied.

Today, there are a range of low to no VOC paints, and water-based sealants that we should be pursuing to both our health and peace-of-mind, even as we look to beautifying our spaces.

Everyday Consumables

Lastly, we look at the everyday things we bring into our homes post renovation, as the living kicks in. From our dish washing detergents to our laundry detergents and many of the household cleaners we bring into our homes contain polluting materials either inherently or in their production.

  • – Aerosol spray products, including health, beauty and cleaning products;
  • – Air fresheners
  • – Chlorine bleach
  • – Detergent and dishwashing liquid
  • – Dry cleaning chemicals
  • – Carpet and upholstery cleaners
  • – Furniture and floor polish
  • – Oven cleaners

From over the counter, to home-made and organic solutions, today’s homeowners and future homeowners have access to a range of green and plant-based cleaner options that are great for the environment and better for our homes. An excellent starting point would be to pay attention to some of the eco labels and certifications that are widely available here in Singapore.

Green Means Go Natural

While it may not be feasible to eliminate all harmful materials from the home environment, the range of options that we have today, means that it is completely possible to reduce our dependency on products and consumables that are harmful. Look out for green products and offerings for your home use, and explore directories of green product manufacturers, service providers and retailers available in Singapore.

Green Means Go Deeper

We are at a point in our collective green consciousness where we can look past the more typical messages of ‘choosing LED lightbulbs’ and buying ‘green-ticked appliances’ and start to explore more critically how we can actively make better green choices as we renovate, furnish and live in our homes. In this article we review some of the more common Green Home messages and look more critically at how we can take a step further.

What’s wrong with Choosing LED lightbulbs?

Absolutely nothing – there isn’t anything wrong with LED lightbulbs, it is established that these diode-using, power-reducing marvels use much less energy than the older incandescent light bulbs. In fact these lightbulbs have become so widely accepted that a homeowner would be hard pressed to find the older incandescent ones – so does the message of ‘Choose LED Lightbulbs’, really add value today? In a market where almost every lightbulb is LED, the better question might be – how much light do we need?

Working on your home lighting plans, whether on your own or with an interior designer, it is easy to over specify the amount light that you think you need. Mood lighting, main lighting, mirror lighting, entranceway lighting, cupboard lighting often takes over from the more fundamental adequate lighting. The act of identifying how much light we need for our homes, shapes not only how much lighting energy we consume, it influences the levels of comfort that we experience in the difference spaces of our homes.

Looking Past the Green Ticks

As consumers cotton on to the importance of choosing appliances that reduce energy, manufacturers similarly have been working hard to provide us with what we want. From fridges, to air-conditioners, washing-machines to water heaters and even the kettle, our everyday electronics are getting better at reducing the amount of energy that they need to do what they do. This can create an insidious and false sense of, ‘I’ve done my part by buying green ticks…’.

The more complex reality of buying green ticked appliances come to the fore when we consider how we use and maintain these powerful appliances. Leaving the water heater on longer than you need it for, flipping on a 2 litre kettle for single cup of coffee, winterising your home by setting the air-con to sub 20 degrees Celsius, are all indulgences that counteract any meaningful value those green ticks provide. An air conditioner that is 12 months past its maintenance period, will not perform as well or efficiently as it was intended to. The green ticks are huge step forward, but they are only the first step in a much longer home-journey with our appliances.

More on Recycling?

The importance of recycling cannot be overstated; in this instance we are simply asking the question of how? Asking people to recycle more is vague, and can often lead to sporadic periods of activity followed by a reversion to the old ways of mixing the trash. As we think about our homes, we should consider recycling as a process and a daily activity. In the same way we think about dedicated spaces for our washing machines, why not incorporate recycling spaces into our homes?

Creating actual spaces – albeit small, can trigger longer-term behaviour, and it acts as a signal for all in the household to participate. Educating ourselves on the processes also helps improve that the way we separate out our recycling, and ensures that more of what we recycle actually gets recycled!

Green Means Go Forward

Today, we are surrounded by greener products, innovation and possibilities, but we need to look beyond face value and find our own ways of taking action. As a country and a community, we’ve come along way in terms of cultivating better and greener practices, and we are at a tipping point where we have the capacity to think about the actions we take in building green into our home.

Smarter Approaches to Greener Homes

One of the simpler ways of maintaining a green home is to be more conscious of how your home consumes energy.

As homeowners, we’ve always continued to monitor and track how we utilise our electricity for our own home. But the growth of accessible consumer technology has allowed homeowners to have more control over how we spend and consume our electrical appliances. It’s not just about figuring out your electric bills anymore – it’s also about understanding your own energy consumption and finding opportunities to become more efficient and sustainable.

Here are a few ways you can go smart with the way you consume energy for your home.

#1 Mobile Energy Applications

Energy providers are becoming more technology savvy and are releasing mobile applications for consumers to download to track their energy and water usage. Having access to real-time information on energy usage provides us immediate feedback to change our energy consumption. Regularly checking ahead of your billing is an uncomplicated way to make your home greener and more efficient.

Mobile app provides real-time information on energy usage, housed within a safe platform tied to your credentials. For example, providers such as Senoko and SP have designated apps that are available on the App Store to monitor your utility usage.

#2 Smart Plugs and Bulbs

Featured image from Singapore’s Greenest Home Town Challenge, uploaded by a fellow Singaporean homeowner.

Creating automatic routines and switches not only makes your energy consumption more efficient, but your home lets you be more comfortable. This is done by installing smart plugs and bulbs which turn can turn your home to become an efficient ecosystem.

Simple plugs can be added on to make regular appliances such as kitchenware, lights, and electronic devices connected to your home Wifi and the internet. They also allow you to remotely turn on/off your appliances and set routines based on your lifestyle and room environment.

Smart bulbs are bulbs with a built-in Wifi receive to connect your lamp to the internet. When connected to internet, they help monitor your watt usage but also set specific routines based on your home usage and profile.

#3 Smart Home Assistants

Featured image from Singapore’s Greenest Home Town Challenge, uploaded by a fellow Singaporean homeowner.

As homeowners, smart home assistants make it even easier for you to go smart with your home and take on greener actions by consuming efficient energy.These Internet connected devices can assist you with simple tasks through connected devices and systems.

Smart Home Assistants are best used with smart devices such as plugs and bulbs to make it easier for you to set routines and devices on/off through voice activation. They complete the entire system and allow you to have full remote and automated acccess in how you use and manage your electrical appliances.

There are a wide variety of ways to go smart with your home and make greener actions to make your home comfortable and sustainable. Using technologies such as internet devices and mobile apps provide enough feedback for us to learn how to consume energy more effectively, and more efficiently.

To learn more about smart systems and other products to make your Green Home, visit our Build Green In Home Planner. You can also visit the SGBC Directory to see other green-certified items that can make your home more green, and more comfortable.

10 Tips to Greenify Your Home

A green home is as much about the environment as it is about your family’s health and wellbeing: a green home reduces or eliminates negative impacts on the environment and health of those living there and create positive impacts.  

There are many ways to build green into your home, such as using sustainable, non-toxic materials or maximising the natural resources around your home such as daylight and natural ventilation or using technology in a way to cultivate eco-friendly habits.  

Here are ten tips to help you embark on your own green renovation journey. 

#1 Use renovation materials that are certified green. 

High impact, high volume materials such as paint, flooring, coatings, laminates and wall coverings can contain high levels of toxic substances like VOCs and formaldehyde, which are harmful to human health with prolonged exposure.  

Ensure that these materials have a valid green building product certification, such as the one issued by the Singapore Green Building Council

#2 Use of green walls or greenery to purify indoor air. 

Indoor plants not only enliven the interior of the home, they also act as natural air purifies to improve indoor air quality. Certain species of plants such as the peace lily, spider lily, golden pothos, Chinese evergreen and snake plant particularly excel at cleaning indoor air. 

#3 Use energy-efficient LED lighting. 

Every home will undoubtedly make use of lighting. Ensure that all lighting used in the home are LEDs that last far longer than halogen-based lighting and consume lesser energy to operate. 

#4 Set up task lighting to optimise usage. 

Do you really need to switch on all the lights if you are just occupying a small corner of the home as your work-from-home station? Considering using dedicated task lighting for your WFH area or home-based learning setups! 

#5 Make use of smart lighting or smart home management systems to optimise consumption. 

Knowing how your household uses lighting and other electronics can help to optimise usage patterns and lower utility bills in the long run. Pair suitable devices to a smart home management system to help reduce energy wastage. 

#6 Use solar film or blinds to regulate glare control and reduce heat penetration. 

Featured image from Singapore’s Greenest Home Town Challenge, uploaded by a fellow Singaporean homeowner.

In sunny Singapore, window film, blinds and curtains are must-haves. Certain types of window film reduce both visible light and heat, helping to cool the interior of the home.  

#7 Use ceiling fans to ventilate the home. 

Instead of using air-conditioning systems to cool and ventilate the home, consider installing a ceiling fan to help regulate airflow indoors for greater comfort. 

#8 Ensure that electronic appliances such as air-conditioning systems are rated 5-ticks. 

Air-conditioning systems consume the most amount of energy in any home, which is why it is important to ensure that the most efficient ones are used to generate the best possible cost savings. Look out for the 5-ticks badge under the Energy Labelling Scheme managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA). 

#9 Install solar panels or solar heaters. 

Featured image from Singapore’s Greenest Home Town Challenge, uploaded by a fellow Singaporean homeowner.

Where feasible, having solar panels can help to power low-consumption household devices, such as irrigation systems for houseplants or even to charge your smartphone. Solar thermal hybrid air-conditioning systems which harness solar energy and ambient heat throughout the day are also available to homeowners. 

#10 Switch to a green electricity retailer. 

Signal your commitment to environmental sustainability by opting for green electricity offered by some of Singapore’s electricity retailers. Going green for electricity does not cost significantly more and will also help you to do your part in supporting carbon-neutral energy generation. 

Facilitating Green Renovation

Now that you know how to build green in, make your green home a reality with special financing rates under the DBS Green Renovation Loan. The DBS Eco-aware Renovation Loan aims to raise awareness about the eco-friendly choices you can make in your home renovation process, whether it’s selecting non-toxic paint, choosing energy-efficient appliances, or leveraging smart technology to reduce carbon footprint.

Fulfil at least 6 out of the 10 items under the “Eco-aware Renovation Checklist” developed in collaboration with SGBC and enjoy an attractive interest rate of 4.68% p.a. (EIR 5.41%*) on your renovation loan.

Click here to find out more.