Building a Green China
Even if you've been here, your sooty mental image of urban
Yet, as Beijing's 3rd annual international green building expo rolls into town, some recent developments have lifted our optimism for green building in China. First, after declaring it would stick to its goal of reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent by 2010, the government passed a draft law during last week's National People's Congress supporting a "circular economy" that would wed the "three Rs" with
Interview with director Tad Fettig from his fantastic Design:e2, "China: From Red to Green."
The only question is when that energy will lead to something, well, a bit more concrete. And considering the cost of pollution and energy inefficiency--and of course the lucrative green market that's to come--it's a billion yuan question.
Though some pieces are already in place, including the country's ubiquitous solar water heaters and stunning green buildings like the Linked Hybrid and the Olympic "Water Cube,"
But no matter how strong regulations are, experts agree that government incentives are key to getting developers, builders and manufacturers on the green bandwagon. Also crucial are continued agreements between China and foreign governments over the trade of green technology. It's the sort of exchange in which European countries like Germany (with its building technologies) and Italy (with its academic partnerships) have been active, but one the United States has put on the back burner. Sure, the US Green Building Council is helping to develop China's standard, and the Dept. of Energy and others have cooperated with China's Ministry of Construction on a few projects. But investments and trade deals in green tech remain rare. For instance, unlike entries from other countries to Future House, China's green building showcase set to open for the Olympics, Prof. Tao's Future House USA was not sponsored by its home government. (It did however get an endorsement from Barack Obama.)
"Many [green] partnerships are not as smooth with China and the U.S. as they are with European countries," Tao tells Treehugger. "There is no coherent, focused group in Washington or elsewhere that really wants to do something about [China-U.S. green cooperation]."
In the dense and shifting concrete (and real) jungle of China's policies and realities, missteps, such as William McDonough's Huangbaiyu development, are inevitable. As green building guru Rob Watson told us recently, experimentation is important, both for western and Chinese designers:
That's what sustainability is all about. Daring to do things and fixing things that don't work. We always have to be careful not to think that we've solved the problem.
By forging better partnerships and agreements now, the U.S. (and any country) would not only get in on but help to kickstart one of the world's biggest green rushes. Strengthening ties with China on a front where more cooperation is crucial could help everyone's economy and environment.
And then there's the pressure of the country's growing consumer class, gliding towards the excesses of Western lifestyles, replete with cars and luxury apartments. But it makes sense that Chinese officials urged Tao and his team to design their green home after the American way--though it's got geothermal and green windows, it looks like a typical suburban McMansion. Says Tao:
Young people think, we want to live like that... But the message is...you can adopt American green technology too.
To be sure, the First World lifestyle, with its energy-guzzling buildings, could continue to ruin China. Or it could be the vehicle for a much greener place to live.
Check out a promo video for the Future House USA project, which was officially launched this week.
This article by China's vice-minister of construction Qiu Baoxing discusses green building possibilities for China. Other articles can be found here. Also, see the Future House USA FAQ; NRDC China's Clean Energy Project; The 3rd International Conference on Intelligent Green and Energy Efficient Building & New Technologies and Products Expo