Sustainable buildings

Buildings are a key component in the fabric of cities. And the building and construction sector is one of the most important areas of intervention and provides opportunities to limit environmental impact as well as contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals. This sector is estimated to provide 5 to 10% of employment at the national level and generate 5 to 15% of GDP. Moreover it provides housing, mobility, water and sanitary infrastructures, and it represents the physical context for social interactions as well as economic development at the micro-level. Numerous studies have also shown a relationship between buildings and public health. At the same time, the built environment accounts for a large share of energy (estimated to be about 40% of global energy use), energy-related greenhouse gas emissions (estimated to be approximately 30%), waste generation and use of natural resources.

This situation has not passed unnoticed, and the sector is increasingly under pressure from authorities and the public to address environmental and social issues. Nevertheless, sustainable development in the building and construction sector remains hampered by limited coordination between different stakeholders throughout a building's life span. This is why it is necessary to create conditions and incentives that address and encourage all stakeholders to promote jointly sustainable building practices.

To address these issues, UNEP launched the Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (SBCI) in 2006. It promotes and supports sustainable building practices on a global scale with a focus on energy efficiency and GHG emission reduction. SBCI brings together stakeholders involved in the building, planning and policy making process on the local, national and international level by providing a platform for dialogue and collective action. Furthermore, the initiative develops tools and strategies to better evaluate and implement sustainable building practices. Pilot projects demonstrate the important role of buildings for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

One of those pilot projects is UNEP's Sustainable Social Housing Initiative (SUSHI), which promotes sustainability in social housing programmes. In the pilot cities Bangkok and São Paulo SUSHI assessed the status of social housing programmes, policies, market initiatives and voluntary actions and identified barriers for the implementation of sustainable building practices. The Sustainable Buildings Policies in Developing Countries (SPOD) is another project to pilot test tools and strategies. The project aims to assist governments at national and local levels to develop policy tools in support of mainstreaming sustainable construction and buildings approaches. A 'Quick Scan Tool' to assess policies in the building sector and scenarios to improve the current situation are being tested in two pilot cities, Nairobi (Kenya) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).