Expert Voices: Jane Henley, Chief Executive, World Green Building Council

Jane Henley reports on the C40 Workshop Sustainable Communities: Collaborating, Planning, Delivering, convened and hosted by the City of Melbourne, Australia...

Last week during the C40 Sustainable Communities Workshop, the architect and professor Jan Gehl, of Copenhagen described cities that work as “nodes of density centred along public transport and cycle ways like a string of pearls”. Jan’s vision was just one of many as representatives from seventeen of the world’s largest cities gathered this week in Melbourne, to share and learn from each other with the goal of advancing their own city’s sustainability vision.

Turning cities laid out like sprawling spider webs into strings of pearls may be the desire of some, while others are focused on issues such as how they overcome the barriers to decentralised energy. Still others were keen to explore how cities could partner more effectively with the local community to ensure cities are designed not just for transport and buildings, but rather as people-centric spaces.

In his video address to the gathering, C40 chair, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg delivered a strong message that while nations drag their feet, city leaders are going to act because they are the closest to the people and have a responsibility to focus on issues of climate change.

Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle hosted the C40 workshop, emphasising the power and value of collaboration and partnerships. This approach was embodied throughout the week, particularly in the inclusion of industry partners such as Lend Lease and NGOs such as the World Green Building Council.. By working together, we can share successes, identify gaps and focus on the actions that will add real value.

The green building council movement has gained much traction because it empowers building industry leaders while setting new benchmarks for best practice. As an industry initiative, experts within the building sector have defined these voluntary benchmarks for best practice to sit well above building code requirements. A number of the cities at the C40 Workshop in Melbourne last week highlighted the complementary relationship between minimum building code standards and voluntary best practice benchmarks, arguing that they are enabling sustainability to become much more widely accepted within the built environment community.

Green building councils have also played an important role in providing education and professional training, developing the capacity of building industry leaders to set and implement the highest standards of building energy efficiency in many countries. It is clear that when a city has the support of industry through groups such as green building councils, they are able to implement new and progressive policy that benefits the city on a macro economic scale, but also to create jobs and help businesses to save money. As an example, the California Energy Commission estimates that since building and appliance standards were implemented in the 1970s, these alone have saved residents and businesses US$56 billion through to 2003, and are projected to save an additional $23 billion by 2013.

The World Green Building Council network, with organisations in 90 countries and over 25,000 companies, brings a strong and supportive voice to the table for city officials and politicians. Our goal is to continually promote the highest common denominator and empower companies to make smart business decisions that deliver value to their shareholders, the community and benefit the planet we live on through more efficient use of energy and water resources.

The World Green Building Council’s motto has been ‘one building at a time’ – and this philosophy has provided a good foundation. During the past decade, we’ve proved the business case for green building, developed new products and processes, and built capacity and knowledge all over the world. Now it’s time to integrate the work done on the ground with good policy to ensure we get much better outcomes – for our buildings, for our cities and for the people who live and work in them.

We are excited to be exploring ways we can walk hand-in-hand with C40 Cities to support their work and build on the depth of expertise within our green building community.

In the coming months, C40 looks forward to working with the World Green Building Council to identify ways to support these collaborative efforts between local government practitioners and private sector building owners.