Our planet is getting more and more crowded, and the strain on our Earth’s precious resources is becoming difficult to ignore. If current population growth trends continue then by 2050, the world’s population will have grown to more than 10 billion, with 70% of us living in cities. Maintaining our current standard of living with such a dense population will be difficult.
Currently, old, inefficiently designed buildings consume around 40% of the world’s energy and result in more carbon emissions than the industrial and transportation sectors. This is simply not sustainable. We need to start making improvements to our architecture and infrastructure to protect our modern way of life.
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The Time for Improvement is Now
The technology already exists to reduce the energy consumption of a typical residential property by as much as 80%. Architects are embracing the idea of “zero carbon” homes, new appliances are more energy-efficient than older ones, and utility companies are making gradual moves towards more sustainable energy supplies, but the improvements are not coming quickly enough.
Currently, the financial incentives to push people (both developers and property owners) towards energy efficiency are not strong enough. The long-term savings are there, but the up-front expense is off-putting, meaning that only a handful of companies, such as Ikea, are choosing to invest in sustainable power so that they can stop relying on the National Grid for all of their energy needs.
The push for low-cost housing is also hindering progress towards energy-efficient housing. Many of the cheaper “pre-fab” homes have thin walls and are poorly designed from an energy-saving point of view. There are some companies making eco-friendly, low-cost timber-framed homes but these have not yet reached the mainstream.
In the USA, President Obama announced the “Better Buildings Initiative”. The idea behind this initiative is to make sure that commercial buildings become more energy-efficient and embrace sustainable developments. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has responded highly positively to Obama’s proposals. However, while many countries, such as the US, UK, Canada, and Australia have started to plan for the future, there are many other countries that are not thinking very far ahead.
Energy Developing Countries
In 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme launched the Sustainable Buildings Policies in Developing Countries policy (SPOD). This is part of the Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative, and its purpose is to encourage developing countries to think about the future. The initiative was trialled in two cities, Nairobi and Ouagadougou, and was quite successful, but there are still many other cities that are growing rapidly using cheap, but inefficient buildings and infrastructure.
It will take decades for policies and attitudes to change, and while we continue to use resources at an alarming rate, the threat of peak oil and general energy shortages is looming over us. Developed countries can delay the impact of these issues with economic tactics, but one day we will have to face up to the idea that there is not enough energy to go around at our current rate of consumption. Big businesses, and the government, should be leading by example today and making their offices and public buildings more energy-efficient.