The developing world, particularly China and India, could soon be major players in the booming green building market, according to a report by cleantech market research firm Pike Research last week.
While the industry is evolving differently in every country, the one element that all nations — developing and developed — share is government involvement, says report author Eric Bloom, a research analyst at Pike.
“As a general rule of thumb, national-scale programs that were established within a country to address buildings in that country tend to be favored by the government and/or have government involvement in the development of the program,” Bloom says.
“One of the easiest first targets has been public sector buildings. And that goes for pretty much every country,” he adds. “In the U.S., all government buildings need to meet LEED silver or higher, and in China and India the path to green building has been similar.”
What’s different about the movement toward green building in China and India, however, is that local government-developed certification programs have been launched in tandem with the adoption of international standards. These global programs include the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system and the UK’s BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
By contrast, in the U.S., the LEED rating system was in place long before the government even thought about mandating green building. When the government did move, it opted to simply mandate a certain level of LEED certification, rather than come up with its own standards.
In 2007, meanwhile, China announced the launch of two national green building standards — the Green Building Design Label (GBDL) to certify the design of buildings and the Green Building Label (GBL) to certify operational efficiency. Around that same time, as the world started talking about the “green Olympics” in Beijing, developers in the country began to embrace LEED.
For the first two years of its existence, the government initially did little to support its own green building program, other than releasing several technical guidelines. By mid-2009 only ten building designs had received GBDL certification.
However, over 100 Chinese buildings had applied for LEED certification during those same two years.
Interest Explodes in China, India
Things have changed dramatically in recent months.
According to Bloom, the last six months have brought an explosion of interest in the nation’s green building labels. That fact, Bloom says, is mostly due to the inclusion of green building as a focus in the country’s most recent five-year plan, and China’s sudden interest in pushing its own green building system.
“Overnight, the [Chinese] government has said they want there to be more GBL and GBDL certified buildings, and so there has been an explosion of interest and of government involvement at the same time,” Bloom says.
The benefit of country-specific green building certifications is that they are tailored to the climate and construction realities of the country.
“I think we’ll see big government involvement in pushing green building in China and India. And also, there’s just a lot of building happening in both places in the coming decade, so they’re thinking, ‘Okay, we need to find way to make all this greener,'” Bloom says. “Because they’re going to be under international scrutiny, but also because these governments really believe it’s important.”
Nonetheless, international programs such as LEED and BREEAM are working to provide country-specific versions of their standards, such as LEED India. And the international certifications remain popular in cities where developers and building owners want to attract international tenants, Bloom says.
India has been involved in green building for longer than China, beginning with the launch of its eco-housing certification for residential green buildings in 2004. Indian developers also have the option of using LEED India or the country’s national green building system, Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA).
Not unlike China, the government favors the national systems it helped to create — Eco-Housing and GRIHA — while the private sector often opts instead for the more internationally recognizable LEED certification.
In terms of the rest of the developing world, however, Bloom says the Pike team isn’t seeing as much government involvement in green building.
“A lot of developing countries are trying to short circuit the process of developing their own program,” Bloom says.
“In Brazil, for example, they talked about whether they should do their own program or go with LEED, and opted to go with LEED because people know it and it’s already a robust tool.”
While not every country is developing its own green building certification system, Bloom says green building councils are popping up all over the world. In South America, for example, there’s a council in every country — or at least one in the works — with the exception of Bolivia, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana, according to Bloom.
South Africa, the Lone African Nation to Build Green
The exception to this trend is Africa, where South African cities stand alone in embracing green building.
“It’s just not on the radar for people in a lot of those [African] countries, it’s just not a priority,” Bloom says. “There’s not a lot of international corporate presence that would drive interest in green buildings.”
African nations, and other poorer countries, face another challenge: the lack of local green builders.
With the interest in green building surging throughout the world, construction professionals are increasingly in demand, particularly LEED Accredited Professional (AP) consultants, according to Bloom. That bodes well in the short term for green building consultants from the developed world, who can find work worldwide. But Bloom says it is not a long-term solution.
“It’s always expensive to bring a consultant in anyway, and then the average pay level of, say, an American consultant is higher than the average in most developing countries, so it makes it very expensive,” Bloom says.
To counteract that problem, the U.S. Green Building Council is increasingly hosting LEED training workshops outside the U.S., including a recent training in China during which some 60 building professionals were certified LEED AP.
“Given the fact that China is currently building 20 to 25 billion square feet per year, if even a fraction of its new buildings are certified green, that’s going to contribute to the overall global certified green building footprint,” Bloom says.