Hidden building pollution exposed: new report
14 May 2018
Much more must be done to
tackle the amount of climate change pollution produced by New Zealand’s
buildings, suggests a new report released today by a team of international
independent sustainability consultants.
The new report by thinkstep,
who work with some of the world’s leading companies, shows that New Zealand’s built
environment is culpable for belching out approximately 20 per cent of the
climate change pollution emitted by New Zealand citizens.
Previous estimates, including
last month’s report by the Productivity Commission, suggested that our
buildings were responsible for roughly five per cent of emissions – and maybe
even as low as two per cent.
But the new report shows that
buildings could amount to 20 per cent of New Zealand’s carbon footprint when
considering their lifetime ‘embodied’ emissions, and the products and services
that New Zealanders consume – rather than those that are destined for offshore
The new findings are hugely
significant, says the New Zealand Green Building Council, who are backing the study,
because it means that the Government should increase resources and efforts to
reduce emissions from our buildings.
Buildings produce carbon
pollution when using energy for things like heating and lighting, and also
during their construction, when pollution is emitted through the extraction of
raw materials and the manufacture of building products.
The thinkstep report arrives at the larger
figure for the climate emissions of buildings than previous studies because it
uses a different methodology, which is widely applied internationally and has
been utilised by organisations such as the European Commission, Danish
Government, the National Bureau of Economic Research in the USA, and Motu
Economic and Public Policy Research here in New Zealand.
This approach differs as it allocates emissions
to a sector at the point of consumption, rather than production, and because it
considers the entire life cycle of buildings, including the extraction of raw
materials, material production, the electricity and energy use of the building,
and the treatment of construction waste.
Jeff Vickers, Technical Director of thinkstep
in Australasia and lead author of the report, said: “Buildings and
infrastructure are some of the longest-lived parts of our society, so it is
crucial that we act now to reduce their contribution to climate change
pollution – both through reducing emissions from energy used during the
building’s life and through reducing the emissions embodied in the building
products that we choose. Embodied emissions are increasingly being provided by building
product manufacturers through Environmental Product Declarations.”
Sam Archer, technical director of the New
Zealand Green Building Council said: “The Government is taking some very
welcome steps to cut our levels of climate change pollution.
“But they really do need to do more to tackle
the emissions of our buildings, which make up a significant portion of our
“If they do, they’ll ensure
that our families will live in a cleaner, less polluted Aotearoa, and will also
ensure that we’ll achieve our important international obligations to tackle
The full report is available here.