Global trends driving major transformation in green building

By Kerstin Stranimaier, Director Planet Possible, AkzoNobel

The challenges of urbanization and climate change are driving a global transformation of green building to include new innovative, sophisticated and highly efficient building techniques, processes, materials and products.

It’s an interesting time to be part of the building industry, no matter where in the world you are. An ambitious and innovation-filled transformation is underway, driven by the challenges we all face including population growth, climate change, urbanization and resource scarcity. It is estimated that by 2030, 70% of the world’s population will live in mega-cities. At the same time, we are using natural resources 1.5 times faster than the world can replenish itself.

Green buildings

It’s a serious and complicated situation, but we are seeing world leadership rising to the challenge with increased environmental legislation. The EU, for example, has set 2020 targets of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions versus 1990 levels, and these are being implemented through binding legislation. Furthermore, voluntary green building certifications such as LEED, BREEAM, GRIHA, DGNB and others are helping to normalize and encourage new technologies designed to help meet these new green standards.

But it’s interesting to note that the transformation is unfolding differently across the world. In Europe, where 50-60% of houses in use today were built before 1970, efforts are focused on improving the energy consumption of existing buildings. Retrofitting to upgrade and improve resource efficiency is often coupled with the need to preserve the historic appearance of the building – adding another layer of complexity to these projects.

That’s not necessarily the case in the developing world, where the green building transformation faces its own unique challenges. It is estimated that by 2030, 50% of the world’s new construction will be in China. That means the implementation of high building standards will be crucial to China’s ability to meet its own carbon and energy reduction targets. But China, like many other emerging economies, also faces an urgent need to develop low cost, decent housing. Their challenge will be providing it in a way that also meets their new building standards.

This challenge is driving the adoption of new and highly efficient techniques, like modular homes prefabricated in factories and assembled on site. As developers all over the world grapple with the shift towards these kinds of disruptive building processes, they are increasingly looking to their suppliers for innovative solutions.

At AkzoNobel, we’re already responding with sustainable product innovations. For darker, colder parts of the world, where buildings are now designed to maximize natural light, we have created a paint called Light & Space. This paint, like the name suggests, reflects light and makes interior spaces appear brighter and more spacious. This reduces the need for artificial lighting, and could mean an energy savings of up to 22%.

We’ve also been working on solar reflective coatings for use in warmer climates. Exterior paints that reflect infrared rays help keep the interiors cooler and reduce air conditioning costs. Solutions like these innovative paints are good examples of our commitment to developing new technologies that bring sustainable benefits to our customers. It’s all part of our Planet Possible approach to sustainability – doing more with less.

The trends will take us to even more exciting frontiers. We have seen an increased interest in indoor air quality. While paint manufacturers are currently focused on reducing VOCs in their products, perhaps we might see a future where paint that actively extracts impurities from the air is commonplace. Eventually, we may even be able to produce exterior coatings that help remove pollutants. Buildings themselves could actually be helping to clean the environment.

We’re also noticing that people are interacting with their homes in ways that could impact how buildings will be designed in the future. People are starting to control aspects of the functionality of their homes (such as heating) through their smartphones. Perhaps one day our walls could be made “smart” and responsive to our movements, allowing us to control what is happening in our homes with just the wave of our hand.

It’s clear that that major changes are happening within the building sector around the world.  We all need to be ready for advancements that will change how we think about green building. So whether you are a cement provider, a renewable energy supplier, a glazing company or a paint and coatings company like AkzoNobel, there will be great opportunities to lead and participate in this transformation.

Kerstin Stranimaier