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China, green buildings and human health: The time to act is now

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In China, a country that defines global leadership, there is visible indication that we have stressed Mother Nature far beyond her limits. It is time to bring equilibrium to business and environment, to productivity and people, to leadership and legacy — the principles that influenced the creation of LEED.  

Recently, we were in Shanghai and Beijing to meet with a range of leadership to talk about LEED v4 and how it can be applied to solve our global challenges: transforming the performance of our buildings, minimizing carbon footprints and, most importantly, optimizing human health. This is especially true in a country like China, where major cities are being choked by some of the most oppressive air quality on the planet, a result of the nation’s rapid urbanization.

The stories you’ve read are true: The air is quite bad in China, if not worse. This unavoidable pollution greeted us in Shanghai, though nothing quite prepared us for Beijing, which at times looked like something out of Blade Runner: parks and plants awash with grey haze.

Buildings that were nearly invisible. It’s a permanent terror that is slowly killing people, physically and emotionally. No one should tolerate outdoor air that turns one’s home into a prison.

Many people we spoke with seemed resigned to the endless poor air, believing little, if anything, can be done. Yet, something can be done, in China and in every corner of the world.

While many may feel there is no immediate solution that will bring blue skies to China’s cities, drinkable water across all of India or relief for America’s rising health care costs, at USGBC, we believe solutions are possible. LEED, our tool for market transformation, can instantly address many of these global challenges.

LEED buildings stand for quality. They are structures that improve our indoor health in the spaces where we spend 90 percent of our time. They help us heal faster, reduce sickness and disease and boost our productivity. More importantly, they are not only structures designed to stand the test of time, but structures that inspire and make their occupants happy.

With 153 million gross square feet of LEED-certified space in China, the country is already on good footing. But we have more work to do, and we will reap the rewards of making sustainable, healthy choices. Where do we start? LEED has always been rooted in human health. But as the world experiences unprecedented global health challenges assaulting our physical, emotional and social well-being, it’s time that all of us start focusing on how our built environment as a whole impacts our health. This focus, when well implemented, will contribute to tangible benefits to the society at large. As I noted in a speech in Beijing, our latest version of LEED, LEED v4, does just that.

Or, put more succinctly by my colleague and friend Scot Horst, USGBC’s senior vice president of LEED, “LEED is about keeping bad things out of our buildings.”

The bad things range from formaldehyde to tobacco, the latter of which can be found in virtually every indoor bathroom in China.

Dr. Qiu Baoxing, China’s vice minister of housing and urban-rural development, has much to say about China’s pollution blight. All too often in China, he said, many buildings are taken down after a few years because they are in the wrong location. A better planning process must be in place to prevent this from happening so that all parties, when it comes to future buildings, are thinking “100 year buildings.”

Indeed, buildings that last — healthy structures, both from the outside and inside — are key to China’s future growth and prosperity.

I was greatly comforted when the vice minister remarked to me in a meeting, “Green building means building with longevity.”

Longevity and legacy. We have the ability to create a better future for our children, our loved ones and ourselves. We must think beyond the present tense, which can, at times and in places, seem bleak. By focusing on solutions, we can be the change we wish to see in the world.

With the vice minister’s leadership, along with the many other leaders we met with in China all doing remarkable things, we all can work toward building a healthy, safe and productive nation. LEED v4 is here to help.

Visit the slideshow to see our China journey through photos of the amazing buildings being built, the ones that currently stand and, most importantly, the leaders and people behind them. After all, every LEED building is a story about the people.

(Photo credit: Joe Crea)

 

 

  • 10
    Mahesh Ramanujam made 10 contributions in the last 6 months

Mahesh Ramanujam

Chief Operating Officer U.S. Green Building Council

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