Friday, March 26, 2010

Green means money, builders are told

STOCKHOLM. As cities around the world plan their sustainable development for the future, energy efficiency in buildings and retrofitting old houses are added to common themes like densification and public transit.
Builders and developers face tougher demands as new city districts are planned, and are sometimes seen to take their own initiatives to earn attractive green labels for their buildings. Owners of the older housing stock are being convinced that retrofitting for higher energy efficiency makes sense –and money in the long run.
To get a taste of the “green vibes” of the construction industry in Northern Europe, I spent a day at the Nordbygg (North Build) fair in Stockholm. The fair, which ends today, is described as the most important meeting in the Nordic countries for the construction industry. Some 850 exhibitors, a new record, from 18 countries took part this year.
This is not my home turf, I must admit, and as a layman I’m sure I missed a lot of interesting news on show.
But at a time when there is so much talk of green buildings and sustainable development, I was a bit surprised that relatively few of the exhibitors were marketing themselves with a green profile.
Then again, this is perhaps not the place where they need to do that.
But there were a number of seminars on energy efficiency, and the organizers had made it an important theme at the fair by setting up a special section on building automation. Energy efficiency in both new and existing buildings has become one of the most important issues for the construction and property sector, organizers said.
Siemens, a leader in building automation, was one of the companies with a significant presence in this section.
I sat down to listen as Jon Leo Rikhardsson, a representative of Siemens, held a presentation aimed at owners of older properties looking at ways to cut high energy costs.
“We have always said that it costs money to be environmentally friendly. But now it makes sense to invest in energy renovation. Energy costs are rising, and the value of your properties will rise if you can cut those costs”, says Rikhardsson.
Instead of fixing small problems as they arise, he recommends property owners to look at the big picture. Do the whole thing – isolation, ventilation, water – and save a lot of money in the long run, up to 30 percent of energy costs according to Rikhardsson.
Sweden, as well as other countries, has a lot of older buildings from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that are now energy hogs and responsible for a sizeable part of CO2-emissions. Municipalities around the country are getting ready to start big programs for retrofitting public housing.
“We are looking at a boom in this field. Municipalities want to be energy efficient, and they are all getting in to this now”, says Rikhardsson when I talk to him after his presentation.
New technology open the way for smarter solutions. With economic incentives and political pressure, energy efficiency is set to be a main theme in sustainable urban development in the decade to come.
The speciality magazines presented at the fair write a lot about low-energy buildings and passive houses. New EU-regulations are set to give energy smart buildings a boost.
In the next generation of high-profile urban developments, like Stockholm Royal Seaport, energy efficient buildings will be a must. As I walk around the fair, I see a couple of exhibitors marketing solutions for passive houses.
Sweden aims to be a world leader in sustainable urban development. Stockholm and Malmö get a lot of international visitors looking at leading examples of new city districts from the past decade.
But when it comes to energy solutions for buildings, like solar power or green roofs, other countries have taken the lead.
My day at the fair gives me no clear indication if Swedish companies are catching up.