Speaker offers mixed review of China’s green buildings

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Dr. Yu Zhou offered a mixed assesment of the prospects of China’s state-driven green building developments. It remains to be seen whether green buildings can keep up with China’s breakneck pace of urbanization that will require more than 40 billion square meters of building floor space to accomodate the increased population. (Andrew Cassarino | Concordiensis)

The Environmental Science, Policy, Engineering Winter Seminar Series continued with a talk by Vassar College Professor of Economic Geography Dr. Yu Zhou on Thursday, Feb. 4. Her talk was entitled, “Green Buildings in China.”

Her current research is on globalization, innovation and green buildings in China.

As a top American specialist, she branched outside of academia to engage with the Chinese public and policymakers as a Public Intellectual Fellow for the National Committee on US-China Relations.

Her work has been recognized by the Washington Post, The New York Times and many other media outlets.

In her talk, Zhou described the size and scale of China’s massive green building development program.

Despite the remarkable growth of green buildings in China, Zhou highlighted many challenges that put at risk the continued viability of green building development in the long-run.

One of the many barriers in implementing green building practices is overcoming public perception.

Tenants and landowners assume that implementing energy-efficient solutions are expensive, and will result in premium charges to their property bills and contribute to the perception that green buildings are equated to luxury.

This luxury bias of green buildings discourages the adoption of green buildings amongst the middle class and the less wealthy regions.

She also questioned the state-centered approach to green building development and its ability to overcome the often contradictory intentions in the provincial and municipal levels of government, as well as their disconnect to stakeholder concerns.

Zhou noted that the aggressiveness and scale of this state-driven construction are commendable.

Yet, she cautioned that the government’s geographical bias towards concentrating more than 50 percent of green buildings in just a few urban centers home to just seven percent of the population, as well as its preferences for building in new districts, does not bode well for the widespread adoption of green buildings from a national perspective.

Finally, she cited the lack of engagement with building professionals and the public as reason for the public’s lack of understanding of green building practices and the subsequent failure of green buildings to permeate the market.

Existing green building labels are not compatible with customer preferences, and the lack of public input and outreach propagates this problem.

Her research was based on extensive interviews with planners, architects, real estate developers and property managers across China.

Zhou gave an in-depth evaluation of the role of the state in green building development by delving at the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach.

Her unique perspective on this obscure topic generated much intrigue amongst the audience, leaving them interested in understanding more about the economics of green building development and its future in China.

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