Sustainable Buildings – An Immediate & Unprecedented Challenge Demanding Genuine Collaboration !

2023-09-26:  At the time of writing, the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly is taking place in New York City.  Midway through the U.N. Sustainable Development Framework Agenda 2015-2030News about its failing progress is very discouraging

>  Amid growing geo-political crises and war, Multi-Lateralism has little chance to operate successfully and there is a growing stalemate within the Security Council ;

>  Extreme Weather Events (e.g. heatwaves, droughts, severe storms and rainfall, flooding) are becoming a regular occurrence across the Globe, and their impacts are already devastating ;

>  Only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals are barely on track, while development gains in other SDG’s have reversed ;

>  Not only are Climate Disruption Targets not being met, but global greenhouse gas emissions are actually increasing.


[ U.N. 2023 Sustainable Goals Report – Special Edition ]

[ An Outside View: How much Progress is being Made on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals ? ]


Earlier this month (September 2023), the #UN published a Report: United in Science 2023 – Sustainable Development Edition

Compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (#WMO) under the direction of the U.N. Secretary-General, it brings together the latest updates from key U.N. Partner Organizations with a focus on weather-, climate-, and water-related sciences, research and services in support of realizing Sustainable Human & Social Development:

Climate Disruption …

  1. Total Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions from fossil fuels and land use change remained high in 2022 and the first half of 2023.  Fossil fuel CO2 emissions increased 1% globally in 2022 compared to 2021, and global average concentrations continued rising through 2022 and the first half of 2023.
  2. The years from 2015 to 2022 were the eight warmest on record, and the chance of at least one year exceeding the warmest year on record in the next five years is 98%.
  3. It is estimated that current mitigation policies will lead to global warming of around 2.8 °C over the course of this century compared to pre-industrial levels.  Immediate and unprecedented reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions are needed to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, i.e. 1.5 °C.


Graphic Image, Figure 6 in colour, from the InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (#IPCC) 6th Assessment Report’s 2023 Summary for Policy-Makers.  It shows that there is a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to realize climate resilient development, and how multiple interacting choices and actions can shift development pathways towards Sustainability.  Click to enlarge.


Sustainable Cities & Communities …

  1. Cities are responsible for a high proportion of global GHG Emissions and are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate disruption and extreme weather events, which threaten the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 11.
  2. Integrated urban weather, climate, water and environmental services, grounded in best-available science and research, are helping Cities to achieve SDG 11.
  3. Observations, high-resolution forecasting models and multi-hazard early warning systems are the fundamental basis for integrated urban services.

Good Human Health & Social Wellbeing …

  1. Trans-Disciplinary Research is fundamental to analysing, monitoring and addressing climate-sensitive health risks and climate impacts on the health sector.
  2. Climate disruption and extreme events are projected to significantly increase ill-health and premature deaths, as well as population exposure to heatwaves and heat-related morbidity and mortality.
  3. Scaling up investments in climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems, and progress towards universal health coverage (#UHC) are critical for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3.


Graphic Image, Figure 1 in colour, from the recently published UN WMO Report: ‘United in Science 2023 – Sustainable Development Edition’.  It shows how genuinely collaborative weather-, climate-, and water-related sciences, research and services – together – support the achievement of the United Nations (#UN) Sustainable Development Goals (#SDG).  Click to enlarge.

[ The 2030 UN Sustainable Development Framework Agenda is Unequivocally Anchored in Human RightsLeave No One Behind ]


Deep & Genuine Construction Sector Collaboration …

[ Institutional Transformation ]

It is inevitable, therefore, that enormous pressures – social, economic, political, legal, and institutional – are being brought to bear on Building Design Professions, Engineers (all disciplines) and Construction Organizations to rapidly, reliably and creatively transform our existing Built Environment ; new buildings, which constitute just a small part of that workload, will be required to carry the heaviest burden.  To properly realize a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for ALL, however, Genuine Collaboration must be fostered … between each actor in the construction sector … between practitioners and scientists/researchers … and between different industrial sectors … silos broken apart and traditional barriers transcended.


Sustainable Buildings – Reality vs. Superficial Impressions …

The minimum Life Cycle for a Sustainable Building is 100 years.

To be capable of later #Adaptation, a Sustainable Building must possess a sufficient/appropriate, level of #Redundancy.  Lean construction ignores this issue.

Far too many people appear to be still ‘wrestling’ with an obsolete understanding of #Sustainability.  It has many more than just 3 Aspects (social, environmental, economic).  Time for everyone to cop on and catch up !

[ Legal Aspects of Sustainable Human & Social Development: If the World is Serious about Sustainability, it must Embark on a New Era of Global Law ]


The International Fire Engineering Community, in particular, has a fixation with low-hanging fruit … ‘PV Panels’, ‘Timber Buildings’ … and ‘Performance-Based Fire Codes’, which are a hybrid of prescription (rather than Functional Fire Codes, which offer a more free, more open, and flexible option for designers).

So … before moving on in my next Post to look at the potential for Green Walls being a fire hazard, and comparing a top-down Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Approach with a bottom-up Conventional Fire Safety Approach … here is an interesting graphic image, developed by an architectural colleague in Berlin, Ar.Stefanie Blank, showing the difference between all-too-common superficial impressions and the reality of Sustainable Buildings …


Graphic Image, in colour, which compares ‘What people think Sustainable Building is’ with ‘What Sustainable Building actually is’.  There is a world of difference between ‘reality’ and ‘superficial impressions’.  The immediate and unprecedented challenge is the poor performance of existing buildings.  Click to enlarge.


Sustainable Fire Engineering Road Map …

An earlier Post … … presents the complete Road Map for reading and/or download.

As I have written many times before, the concept of Sustainable Human & Social Development is intricate, open, and dynamic … and it is also continuously evolving.  So too, the #SFE #RoadMap must continuously evolve.

Fully reflecting the content and views expressed above, it is necessary to further expand the Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Objectives on Page 10 of the Road Map … in order to clearly and directly integrate the issue of Climate Disruption


Graphic Image, in colour, which lists SFE’s revised Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives … which cover the safety of building users and firefighters, protection of property and the environment, mitigation/adaptation to climate disruption, and finally, sustainability.  This revision is dated May 2023.  Click to enlarge.



#Twitter (#X) … @sfe2016dublin …

#SustainableDevelopment #UNGA #SustainableDevelopmentGoals #SDG #ClimateDisruption #ExtremeWeatherEvents #GenuineCollaboration #ConstructionSector #SustainableBuildings #GHGemissions #UnitedInScience #SustainableCities #HumanHealth #SocialWellbeing #ArStefanieBlank #Berlin #NewYorkCity #PVpanels #TimberBuildings #BuiltEnvironment #PerformanceBasedCodes #FireCodes #FunctionalFireCodes #FireSafety #Resilience #Reality #Reliability #Redundancy #HumanEnvironment #InstitutionalEnvironment #Transformation #Creativity #BuildingDesign #FireEngineering #IPCC #FireEngineeringDesignObjectives #ClimateSynergies #ClimateTippingPoints

Harmonized Indicators of Building GHG & Energy Performance

[ BER Certificates (VII) : UNFCCC COP-15 : CIB W108 – Climate Change and the Built Environment ]

2009-12-18:  Even before the gatherings of UNFCCC COP-15 & Kyoto Protocol MOP-5 began … some remarkably positive progress on difficult technical issues had already been made at international level.  Hot off the presses … comes an important document from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sustainable Buildings & Construction Initiative (SBCI): ‘Common Carbon Metric’ (December 2009), which was specifically prepared for presentation at Copenhagen.

Leading experts from around the world have developed a standardized method of measuring a building’s carbon footprint … allowing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings anywhere in the world to be consistently assessed and compared.  In the case of existing buildings, improvements can also be measured.

This harmonized method for MRV (Measurable, Reportable & Verifiable) GHG Emissions and Energy Use provides the basis for establishing baselines, performance benchmarking, and monitoring building performance improvements.  These activities are, in turn, fundamental in informing international mechanisms for carbon trading, policy development and analysis, and progress reporting on the mitigation of GHG Emissions from buildings.  Policy and decision makers can produce reports from the data collected through these Metrics/Indicators for jurisdictions, regions, large building stock owners, cities or at a national level to form baselines that can be used to set targets and show improvements in carbon mitigation throughout the building sector.

I am pleased to say that Monsieur Jean-Luc Salagnac (CSTB France), Co-Ordinator of CIB Working Commission 108 : Climate Change and the Built Environment, was directly involved in its development …

Colour image showing the cover page of the UNEP-SBCI 'Common Carbon Metric', recently published in December 2009.  Click to enlarge.
Colour image showing the cover page of the UNEP-SBCI ‘Common Carbon Metric’, recently published in December 2009. Click to enlarge.

 UNEP-SBCI ‘Common Carbon Metric’ (December 2009)  for measuring, reporting and verifying (mrv) greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption of buildings in use.

Click the Link above to read/download PDF File (1.97 MB)


Recommendations on Implementing the New Harmonized Approach

All research, design and teaching disciplines involved in the European Building Sector … extending right across to any person who works on a construction site or has any part to play in managing, maintaining, servicing or operating a building … should familiarize himself/herself/themselves with the contents of this document.

As soon as practicable … calculation methods, computer software packages, reports, BER Certificates, etc … and working practices generally … should all be revised and updated to take account of this newly harmonized approach.

Whatever the outcome from Copenhagen in December 2009 … in terms of the presentation of priorities … these should now be switched around … with a strong first emphasis being placed on ‘GHG Emissions’ from Buildings … followed by, and secondly, ‘Energy Consumption’ resulting from the Use/Occupation of Buildings.

What is Measured in the UNEP-SBCI ‘Common Carbon Metric’ ?

While all stages of a building’s life cycle produce GHG Emissions, building use accounts for 80-90% of these emissions … resulting from energy consumed mainly for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting and electric/electronic appliances.  This, therefore, is the stage of the building’s life cycle that is the focus of the ‘Common Carbon Metric’.

The following Metrics/Indicators shall be used to compile consistent and comparable data:

1.  Energy Intensity = kWh/m2/year (kilo Watt hours per square metre per year)

Scope: Emissions associated with building energy end-use defined in Appendix 1 are included; purchased electricity, purchased ‘coolth'(opposite of warmth)/steam/heat, and/or on-site generated power used to support the building operations.  If available, emissions associated with fugitives and refrigerants used in building operations should be reported separately.

If available, occupancy data should be correlated with the building area to allow Energy Intensity per occupant (o) to be calculated = kWh/o/year.

GHG Emissions are calculated by multiplying the above Energy Intensity times the official GHG emission coefficients, for the year of reporting, for each fuel source used (see Appendix 3).

2.  Carbon Intensity = kgCO2e/m2/year or kgCO2e/o/year (kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per square metre or per occupant per year)

Note: GHG conversion factors for each fuel type shall be the same as those used under national reporting for flexible mechanisms for the Kyoto Protocol for the six GHG Gases (see Appendix 4).

Why Buildings ?

The environmental footprint of the Building Sector includes: 40% of energy use, 30% raw materials use, 25% of solid waste, 25% water use, and 12% of land use.  While this new document focuses on the scope of emissions related to energy use of building operations (see Appendix 1), future metrics are required to address these other impacts in addition to social and financial impacts.  At this time the UN’s top priority is climate change … and the building sector is responsible for more than one third of Global GHG Emissions and is, in most countries, the largest emissions source.  While 80-90% of the energy used by the building is consumed during the use (or operational) stage of a building’s life cycle (for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, appliances, etc.), the other 10-20% (figure varies according to the life of the building), is consumed during extraction and processing of raw materials, manufacturing of products, construction and de-construction.  Furthermore, significant energy is used in transporting occupants, goods and services to and from the building.

The UNEP-WMO Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report estimated that building-related GHG Emissions reached 8.6 billion metric tons (t) CO2equivalent (e) in 2004, and could nearly double by 2030, reaching 15.6 billion tCO2e under their high-growth scenario.  The report further concluded that the building sector has the largest potential for reducing GHG Emissions and is relatively independent of the price of carbon reduction (cost per tCO2e) applied.  With proven and commercially available technologies, the energy consumption in both new and existing buildings can be cut by an estimated 30-50% without significantly increasing investment costs.  Energy savings can be achieved through a range of measures including smart design, improved insulation, low-energy appliances, high efficiency ventilation and heating/cooling systems, and conservation behaviour by building occupants.




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