The massive rebuild facing Christchurch in the wake of the recent 7.1-magnitude earthquake presents a unique opportunity for the city to lead New Zealand in sustainable building practices, according to the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC).
“The recovery effort following a disaster is a crucial time — it’s a chance for communities to be at the heart of planning, creating homes and buildings that meet social, environmental and economic needs,” NZGBC chief executive Alex Cutler says.
“This is a great opportunity for Christchurch to think long term and build the city back sustainably through great design, sustainable materials, efficient appliances and renewable energy sources.“
A new report released this week by the World Green Building Council highlights how green buildings can play a valuable role in meeting local needs worldwide, including in areas hit by natural disasters.
The report, Tackling Global Climate Change, Meeting Local Priorities, was launched to coincide with World Green Building Week, an annual event in its second year.
According to the report, buildings consume 30% to 40% of global energy. There is no single larger global contributor — and thereby potential reducer — of carbon than the building sector. So the building sector has a crucial role to play in reducing climate change.
Importantly, while green buildings typically cost only 3% to 5% more than standard buildings to construct, they can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 35% and, in some cases, can be carbon neutral.
Moreover, green buildings reduce waste output by 70%, water usage by 40% and energy usage by 30% to 50% — in some cases producing energy that can be sent back to the grid.
“Clearly, Christchurch has a lot to gain by building back green,” Ms Cutler says.
“Build it back green” is a global movement encouraging communities to rebuild with a reduced carbon footprint following severe natural disasters.
Similar rebuilding efforts are occurring right around the world in the aftermath of natural disasters, including:
• After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is being transformed by thousands of green homes and neighbourhoods.
• Flowerdale, Victoria, Australia, is being rebuilt using sustainable reconstruction practices following the February 2009 bushfires that destroyed 2000 homes and 3500 structures in total.
• After being hit by a tornado, Greensburg, Kansas, USA, is rebuilding with sustainability and community development in mind.
“Back home, Christchurch City Council is already leading the way with green building practices in New Zealand with the 6 Green Star – Office Design-certified Civic Building. Now there’s an opportunity to extend their leadership to the wider community,” Ms Cutler says.
The NZGBC, along with BRANZ and Beacon Pathway, is soon to launch a residential rating tool called Homestar that will be highly relevant to the rebuilding of homes.
Some basic principles about the site, orientation to the sun and access to amenities are covered by the tool.
Simple options such as updating buildings with wall and ceiling insulation, effective lighting, heating and cooling systems can all increase energy efficiency.
Such small-scale improvements can, collectively, make larger steps towards reducing the total energy usage of homes and buildings.
“Investing in community tools for green rebuilding will encourage significant private sector investment, and showcase New Zealand’s green building excellence,” Ms Cutler says.
“The immediate response to the rebuilding of Christchurch has been heartening, and the NZGBC looks forward to following and supporting the progress.”