In all, these measures are aimed at reducing energy use of the UN complex by 50 per cent, and the energy used for heating and cooling specifically by 65 per cent. The resulting cut in carbon dioxide emissions is estimated at a minimum of 45 per cent, or 23,000 tonnes annually.
The UN official in charge of the Capital Master Plan, Michael Adlerstein, believes the biggest contribution it makes to sustainability is the decision to retrofit the existing structure, rather than to move out and construct an entirely new building.
This, says Adlerstein, is a message that needs to be applied more widely in the construction sector if it is really serious about reducing its climate footprint.
“Building greener, more sustainable new buildings will not be enough—we simply must build less,” says Adlerstein. “The old expression —‘the greenest building is the one you do not build’—must be given more credibility. By far the most significant achievement of the decision to restore rather than replace the UN buildings is avoiding the energy embodied in the materials that would have been used,” Adlerstein argues.
“We will preserve up to 95 per cent of the existing exterior walls, floors and roofs, not including windows, and at least 50 per cent of the interior elements, thereby avoiding the equivalent expenditure of years of operational energy by preserving the main elements of the original building instead of demolishing them.”
The principle of retrofitting old structures rather than constructing new buildings is also at the heart of China’s first climateneutral hotel company. URBN hotels, a member of the UNEP Climate Neutral Network, renovated an old building in Shanghai’s colonial French Concession district, using 90 per cent recycled materials such as reclaimed hardwoods and old Shanghai bricks (see photo on opposite page).
Energy is saved in the hotel with measures such as passive so- lar shades and water-based air-conditioning, and the remain- ing emissions, including those from staff commuting, clean-
ing services and the energy used by each guest, are offset through investment in clean energy projects within China.
According to Jules Kwan, director of URBN hotels and resorts, the biggest challenge has been pioneering the climate neutral process in China’s hotel sector—but, he says, it is worthwhile. “We have to work out the whole process by ourselves,” says Kwan. “But we have customers who tell us they stayed specifically because we are climate neutral—so that’s a huge benefit to the bottom line.”
And his advice to other hotels or building managers considering the climate neutral route? “There is a growing consumer base supporting environmentally conscious companies. So get on board now, it’s the future.”
“We have customers who tell us they stayed specifically because we are climate neutral—so that’s a huge benefit to the bottom line.” —Jules Kwan, Director, URBN hotels and resorts
Another pioneering company which recently joined the Climate Neutral Network, BioRegional, sees the emissions associated with constructing and running buildings as just part of its footprint as a developer of housing and commercial properties.
BioRegional’s Pooran Desai argues, “Of course buildings are important, but really what we should be looking at is creating sustainable lifestyles, whether that is in new, purpose-built developments or whether it is going into existing communities and helping them retrofit their buildings.”
The UK-based BioRegional has its head office at a showcase development in South London known as BedZED. Its apartments and commercial spaces were constructed using recycled aggregate and low-temperature clay blocks, reducing the embodied energy of the materials. Energy to run the buildings is saved through high levels of wood-fibre insulation and apartments are fitted with low-energy appliances.