New evidence on the impacts of quality buildings

03 October 2016

The built environment has a huge impact on how we live. We spend 80% – some say as much as 90% – of our lives in buildings. The quality of these buildings influences our physical and mental health, our productivity and also has a large effect on the costs of our energy bills.

Across the world there is a real, growing interest in ensuring buildings are more resilient and less resource-hungry, and better for people too. I’ve seen what a difference green building makes while I worked in the UK in the housing and construction sectors, and I believe it should be part of every country’s vision.

A new Canadian report shows that improving buildings will boost the Canadian economy by $32.5 billion while cutting 19.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Investing in the building sector involves improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions in existing buildings, as well as embracing innovation in the move towards net zero carbon buildings.

Lenders are taking notice of the impressive gains on offer. A group of major European banks, mortgage lenders, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and others recently announced the ground-breaking European Energy Efficiency Mortgages initiative.

This is the first time a group of major banks and mortgage lenders have come together to develop "energy-efficient mortgages". The group aims to create a standardised energy-efficient mortgage, so homebuyers across the EU could enjoy better interest rates for energy-efficient homes and/or funds for retrofitting homes.

There’s a clear case for encouraging residential energy efficiency on a larger scale, too. Research released in June this year by UK consultancy Sustainable Homes surveyed social-housing landlords who manage more than 500,000 homes in England and Wales. The study found that making homes more energy efficient led to fewer tenants defaulting on their rent, lower operating costs and shorter periods of time where houses were left vacant.

That’s good for landlords, but what it also means is that the homes are better for tenants, too. The people living in those homes had lower power bills, which is especially vital for the health and wellbeing of already vulnerable tenants. They moved less often, and that stability creates better outcomes for children, as well as more cohesive communities.

It’s exciting that New Zealand's uptake of rating tools Green Star, Homestar and NABERSNZ is growing. I’m proud to return home to take the reins at the NZGBC, and continue the drive towards healthier, more efficient offices, schools, communities and homes. It will help us meet our international obligations, it will reduce your energy bills, but mainly it will lead to a better future for us all.

I look forward to working with you and others to improve the quality of New Zealand's built environment. Want to get involved? Join the NZGBC.

Photos by Alexander Goh