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UNEP-SBCI: Advancing Sustainability in the Building Sector


By: Curt Garrigan, UNEP-DTIE SBCI Initiative and Sonia Uribe, UNEP-DTIE

It is well recognized that the building sector has great opportunities to both lead a transformation to a green economy and to contribute substantially to GHG emission reductions worldwide. Launched in 2006, UNEP’s Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI) seeks to capitalize on these opportunities through a unique partnership with public and private sector stakeholders in the building sector.

A partnership between UNEP and multinational corporations, local and national governments, non-government organizations and building sector representatives from around the world, UNEP-SBCI has made considerable progress in positioning the sector to advance climate action and achieve broad sustainability objectives.

Building on the practical experience and perspectives of its partners, UNEP-SBCI has developed a number of tools and reports to facilitate and inform international policy-making. A key example is the Common Carbon Metric (CCM), a globally applicable tool to measure and report energy intensity and carbon intensity from building operations.

Launched during the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, the CCM, which measures energy use and intensity and greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent), was piloted through the partnership’s members in 2010 and again in 2011. The valuable efforts of the partnership aimed to both assist in the development of a practical tool for use in defining the climate impact of buildings and then to self-pilot the tool and provide the momentum needed to elevate the profile of the CCM on the international stage.

Based on the work of UNEP-SBCI and its partners, in 2011 the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) adopted a ‘New Work Item Proposal’ using the CCM as the basis for a new international standard. UNEP is also testing the CCM in application in pilot projects to establish baselines and measure progress in energy efficiency projects around the world, including two which target sustainable building policies in developing countries and sustainable building practices in social housing projects.

In its relatively short existence, the UNEP-SBCI partnership has been active in focusing its work on removing obstacles and barriers to improving the energy and resource-efficiency of buildings. The partners in UNEP-SBCI have developed a considerable body of research and reports, including “State of Play” reports on sustainable buildings in India, France, several countries in Southeast Asia and more data-intensive “Baseline Emission and Reduction Potential” reports for South Africa and Mexico, with more reports in progress for the United States and Colombia. These reports inform and contribute to policy support for country-specific activities and further guidance documents.

More broadly, UNEP-SBCI is continuing in its objective to develop a common language and consistent framework to understand, measure, report and verify the influence of the performance of building stocks on core sustainability issues. This “Sustainable Buildings Index,” the latest effort to expand the partnership’s ‘toolbox’, continues to build on the successful collaboration between UNEP and its partners. UNEP-SBCI, and its growing partnership, hopes that the SB Index will provide a common language for sustainability, continuing to inform policies, regulations, building codes, and other tools necessary to advance sustainable buildings.

UNEP-SBCI work is already being put into application through a number of initiatives to promote sustainable building. UNEP’s Sustainable Social Housing Initiative (SUSHI), supported by the government of Norway, was pilot tested in Bangkok and Sao Paulo, embedding sustainable building principles in social housing projects in those cities. Based on this success, SUSHI II has been launched in 2012 to achieve similar results in India and Bangladesh, and there is interest from numerous regions throughout the world to expand SUSHI- a clear recognition of the benefits of sustainability in the buildings.

Through a number of projects seeking to promote energy efficiency, and through efforts with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) UNEP is seeking to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Common Carbon Metric as a methodology that will meet the “Measurable, Reportable and Verifiable” (MRV) requirement that will facilitate broad climate finance for the building sector, unlocking the potential for greater energy savings and GHG emission reductions.

One of the great successes of UNEP-SBCI has been the mobilization of its partners. With representation from multi-national corporations, cities, NGOs, government agencies and research institutions all working together to promote sustainable building policies and practices, the partnership is not only providing a collective voice calling for action; they are developing the tools, reports, and mechanisms needed to facilitate that action.

For more information please visit: the SBCI website or contact the Sustainable Buildings & Climate Initiative Secretariat.