Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 328).
What really drives sustainability?
To put this another way, how can the market be nudged or even forced towards low carbon buildings?
Given there seems to be agreement on the need for more high performance buildings I am disappointed in the muddled market and policy initiatives to facilitate low carbon buildings. I am starting to think that Green Building certifications (there are over 600 worldwide) are a distraction and provide cover for not doing enough.
In reality, I see 3 main drivers that move the market towards low carbon buildings:
1. Virtue Signaling
2. Price signals
Virtue Signaling = Soft Nudge
The genius of the USGBC LEED Green Building Certification program is that it created a demand for better more efficient buildings in North America where energy and water are abundant and cheap. It did this by providing social proof of a buildings virtue i.e. my building is better than your building. This game continues with Net Zero buildings and Tesla cars.
This has been reasonably effective to date and recognizes that the wealthy, upper end of any market sets the trend and importantly, can afford to do so. The upper end of the market “peacocks” to the middle and lower end. However, this strategy only works to a point because only a certain percentage of the population responds to virtue signals and peacocking. At this point I think green building certifications are just more “cowbell”. I believe the power of Green Building certificates are starting to fade. The “S” curve is stalling and a new, more authentic paradigm needs to emerge.
Price Signals = Hard Nudge
As a free market enthusiast I believe price is the fasted, most reliable signal to deliver change. High prices force change i.e. the cure for high prices, is high prices, so that change is enacted naturally, in the aggregate.
This requires politicians to phase out the epic levels of subsidies for cars, roads and fossil fuel companies and let prices rise to their natural levels. Short term subsidies deliver short term pollical gains but store up long term political and environmental problems. However, a slow phase out is required to prevent the plebiscite from revolting.
Legislation = Force
Legislation can be effective as it has force and consequences behind it. It also has the benefit of being national and also local, so can respond to local market externalities.
Regularly reviewed (every 5 years) performance based building Regulations (Codes) that set target building EUI are required. The key here is open source validation of actual EUI of the completed building. The weakness in current building regulations and Green Building Certifications is they set performance intentions that are not validated and reported once built and in use.
To answer the question of how to move forward to a low carbon future, I believe it needs to be driven by a combination of price signals and legislation.
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