Climate Efforts To Impact Built Environment

By Jared O. Blum
President, Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association

Greenbuild climate masonry

Much attention has been given, and rightly so, to the recently completed negotiations in Paris that resulted in the unprecedented Paris agreement to combat climate change. This agreement, coupled with the Clean Power Plan recently proposed by the EPA will move building designers and scientists to elevate new and existing building performance in two distinct ways. Not only will governments and the private sector seek construction of buildings capable of mitigating the emission of climate-related gases, but also to construct buildings that have the resilience to perform under adverse climactic conditions.

Certainly masonry construction will be an integral part of both sides of this essential coin.

The Paris Agreement

In the early years of the climate negotiations, three types of business people attended the annual negotiations. There were representatives of industries that were positioned to sell products and services to the countries that agreed to reduce CO2 emissions, and who generally were very supportive of the process. The second group ranged from fossil fuel producers to an amalgam of industry groups that did not want a climate deal to be reached. The third group was, of course, consultants who were attempting to sell their services to interests on both sides of the issue.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the recent Paris COP 21 Conference. Corporate CEOs roamed the grounds of the Le Bourget airport site where the conference was held, and there were a plethora of workshops where business representatives described the initiatives their companies are taking to reduce energy use and corresponding climate-related gases. These workshops were not as they have been in the past, which were presented by companies that actually sell the climate-related technology, but rather companies that use that very same technology to help corporations reach their climate goals.

Whether it is North Face, Unilever, Hewlett Packard, Starbucks or Alcoa, the common denominator for these companies is the support for a comprehensive climate action plan. Indeed, the European Chemical Industry Council, in a public statement to COP negotiators, backed a “strong climate change agreement.”

Greenbuild climate masonryIn the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries acknowledged that they will attempt to reduce the rise in global temperatures to 2°C or below. This is the first time that both developed and developing countries have made such a commitment. Virtually all attendees recognized the role of the building sector in contributing to the achievement of these goals. In fact, a full day of the conference was designated “Buildings Day,” focusing on the technologies and practices available to the construction sector. Brought about by the Global Alliance on Buildings and Construction, which consists of 20 countries, the Alliance will provide coordination of global regional efforts. In the United States, that will be critical. According to the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, there are approximately 6 million commercial buildings in the United States, comprising 87.4 billion square feet. The EPA estimates that the average commercial building wastes 30 percent of its energy consumption at a cost of more than $1 trillion dollars of wasted energy. Moreover, these buildings contribute more than 30 percent of CO2 emissions nationally.

Greenbuild Greenbuild climate masonry Paris AgreementThe EPA’s Clean Power Plan

In August 2015, President Obama announced the EPA’s Clean Power Plan that establishes this country’s first carbon pollution standards on existing power plants. The plan requires a national 32-percent reduction in carbon pollution below 2005 levels by 2030. States are required to submit a compliance plan by September 2016. While the EPA expects that utilities will reduce their overall CO2 emissions through utilization of natural gas in lieu of coal and oil, or encouraging the use of renewable energy generation, a large percentage of the reduction of CO2 omissions will be achieved through increasing energy efficiency in buildings.

What will these national and international efforts mean for building construction in the United States?

Technically the Paris Agreement will not be considered a “treaty” and therefore will not need to be approved by the United States Senate. But the existence of this unprecedented international decision creates a positive backdrop to implementation of the EPA’s proposed utility CO2 regulations here in the United States. In the past, opposition to comprehensive climate change action had been opposed here because countries such as China, Brazil, and India were not participating in CO2 reduction goals. Now they are signatories to this new agreement so that argument can no longer be used to sidetrack domestic efforts; most observers believe the Clean Power Plan will be implemented by most states irrespective of the 2016 presidential election.

Businesses that operate internationally, architects and the design community that work in numerous countries, and manufacturers of building products used around the world now will realize that climate will play a role in the choice of their products in the built environment.

Greenbuild climate masonryMasonry, insulation, roofing materials, fenestration, according to a recent report of the UN, all will all play a role: “Climate change will introduce conditions that are outside the prescribed operating materials for many materials,” reads IPCC Report Chapter 10.

Whether it is use of thermal mass and more insulation in lieu of glass, lighter boilers that can be protected on rooftops instead of in possibly flooded basements, or any way to reduce power usage to permit backup power to last longer, all now are real architectural, contractor, and owner concerns.

Perhaps it just might be that the “city of lights” has provided the world with the impetus to design and construct our buildings to ensure our lights never go out.

About the author:

Jared O. Blum is the president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), the Washington-based North American trade association representing manufacturers of polyiso foam insulation. PIMA’s members, who first came together in 1987, include a synergistic partnership of polyiso manufacturers and industry suppliers. Polyiso is the most energy-efficient insulation on the market today and one of the Nation’s most widely used and cost-effective insulation products available. To learn more about polyiso and PIMA, visit their website at