How ‘green’ is construction in China? How does it compare to Europe & North America? How quickly is the industry developing? These were some of the questions in my mind as I ventured on my first trip to the country. And whilst I don’t profess to now have all the answers, I learned a lot about a country that is now a global leader in many fields and at the same time has huge challenges and opportunities in respect to sustainable development.
So first some scene setting… In just over a week, I visited five cities in Eastern China – Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Ningbo and Suzhou. These are all cities with populations of many millions and whilst I knew China was big, I think the size of all these cities and the sheer number of high-rise apartment blocks was the greatest eye-opener. In regards to construction, the scale of some sites is incredible, often with 20 or more tower blocks being built at the same time. Seeing this rate of urbanisation first-hand, it’s easier to see why there are now more than 100 cities in China with populations over one million. For comparison, the USA has 10.
The purpose of the trip was to grow awareness of BREEAM in China, through collaboration with our colleagues in the BRE China office. The meetings and events we held in each of the cities had varying audiences including developers, consultants and government organisations. The primary objective of our discussions was to explain the benefits BREEAM has to offer, focussing on BREEAM New Construction but touching on our whole family of schemes. We were supported at several of the events by speakers from other companies; the advocacy of the likes of AECOM, IKEA and SRIBS (the highly-regarded Shanghai Research Institute of Building Sciences) in sharing their experiences of BREEAM was very powerful. At the same time, we were on a steep learning curve as a team in understanding the challenges of growing BREEAM in the Chinese market and in particular how we demonstrate to property developers BREEAM’s unique value proposition.
BREEAM has been used in China since 2013, with 76 certifications to date. These certifications have largely been for assessments of buildings whose developers recognise BREEAM’s international standing as the leading certification scheme for sustainable buildings; with BRE having undertaken little direct promotion of our schemes, it is factors such as their scientific rigour and local adaptability that has driven this initial uptake. But to take the next step in growing BREEAM in China and maximising the opportunity to steer sustainable development utilising the world-leading expertise which underpins our schemes, we need to focus on the specific market needs and start to share the best-practice lessons of those at the forefront of the Chinese construction industry.
Our existing customers in China have shown great enthusiasm towards BREEAM. Two such examples are the large developers Vanke and Jinmao. Both are keen to celebrate and promote their experience of using BREEAM as an international mark of quality for their residential projects. Several of our licenced BREEAM Assessors in China have also provided very positive feedback on how BREEAM has driven sustainability on their projects, and moreover identified several areas for scheme improvements, including accelerating aspects of the assessment process to meet the expected pace of the market and the development of Mandarin versions of our technical standards to enable wider industry understanding. We are committed to these and other key actions to support our industry partners and achieve our common objectives.
In summary, the scale of opportunity for BREEAM to drive the sustainability agenda in conjunction with our Chinese partners is substantial. And the environmental impacts we could mitigate by successful implementation of our schemes are perhaps even greater – whilst expertise in some aspects of design and construction practices have now caught up with those in Europe and North America, others are still distinctly lacking. Maintaining and improving the ecological value of development sites, for example, is a challenging concept for Chinese developers, with the current focus primarily on aesthetic value. So BREEAM can potentially play a very important role in changing the thinking and enabling more sustainable outcomes, thereby putting into practice BRE’s mission of ‘building a better world together’.