By Mirella Vitale
If you’re reading this piece in CleanTechnica, then you probably know already that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report last week on global climate change. And, you have probably lost sleep over its alarming verdict: if we don’t make a major course correction in the way we run the global economy in a dozen years, we’ll ensure much of the planet will be unfit for human civilization.
It’s worth noting that the bureaucratic nature of the report’s production process guaranteed it would understate the threat to human civilization posed by global climate disruption.
Meeting this threat will take bold steps on dozens of fronts including the buying patterns of individual consumers, the way societies produce their food, and the way we construct the structures in which we live and work. It will require an advancement in the way the environmental movement advocates for change.
Too few want to admit it, but the entire clean economy sector owes a significant debt to the modern environmental movement, which has done a lot of good for the planet and for public health. For nearly 50 years, every major improvement to air and water quality has been significantly driven by active, effective environmental campaigners. Their work created the demand by governments for less polluting economic practices that have enabled companies like mine to scale up so we can do our part to meet the global climate change threat.
For most of its history, environmentalism has been essentially about stopping things, or at least slowing them down. There are still plenty of outmoded practices that need to be stopped or slowed, including the enormous waste of energy – much of it still generated by fossil fuels. In fact, the United States wastes 40% of the electricity it produces. The state of West Virginia, where we are currently building a plant to make our eco-friendly insulation, ranked 49th on a recent list of the most energy efficient states.
Buildings currently account for 30% of the world’s energy demands, and 28% of the carbon pollution. And the world still needs more buildings. It is estimated that there are over half a million people who are homeless in the United States, which means we have a lot of building to do if we believe that everyone should have access to safe shelter. Unless we design these new buildings to be as efficient as possible, the amount of energy we waste – and the climate-disrupting carbon pollution that comes with it – will continue to grow. Cutting energy waste requires us to speed up the transformation of how we engineer, build and run the structures in which we live and work. It will entail building our way toward lower carbon pollution levels.
To limit the global temperature increase to “well-below 2 degrees,” the International Energy Agency estimates that the entire existing building stock must be renovated by 2050 to become low-energy buildings. We can’t just limit our sights to new buildings, either. Roughly 50% of existing buildings will still be in use by 2050, which means they will need to be retrofitted for maximum efficiency.
The good news is that energy efficient retrofits are among the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon pollution (Source: UN and IEA (2017), IEA (2017), and Copenhagen Economics (2017). A study from the Global Building Performance Network, an organization whose mission is to provide policy expertise on energy use in buildings, has identified energy renovation investments with a cost of approximately $45 trillion globally, and with the potential of delivering energy savings worth about $100 trillion. This means that every dollar invested earns more than two dollars return during the lifetime of the investment.
As we transform our buildings into energy-efficient structures, they become more economically efficient as well. Energy savings can make a significant contribution to reduce carbon pollution in our atmosphere, and they can make an impact on consumers’ wallets as well, as they end up spending less on gas and electricity services.
We are faced with the great opportunity – really, the duty – to build our way to less carbon pollution by designing new buildings and renovating old buildings with energy efficient technology. That includes the type of natural, stone wool insulation that we make. It can generate energy savings of up to 70%, with dramatic reductions of carbon pollution.
We can provide citizens with better and more convenient housing options. We can also clean the air, consume less water and stop wasting finite resources. We need a regulatory environment where innovation in clean technologies can take place without years of delay and uncertainty lobbied for by status-quo industries.
That will require a different type of environmental advocacy. Instead of primarily blocking harmful activity, environmentalists also need to help us push to cut overall energy waste by ramping up action to build an energy-efficient, low-carbon future.
Investing in more energy efficient buildings is a win-win decision – one of the rare areas where the multiple benefits far outweigh the investments. It’s also an essential part of the suite of solutions to meet the existential threat of global climate change. We just learned that threat has gotten much more dire. Our responses to that threat have to evolve to meet it head on.
About the Author: Mirella Vitale is Senior Vice President for Marketing, Communications, and Public Affairs and a member of Group Management at ROCKWOOL, where her portfolio also includes sustainability, pricing, and market intelligence. Prior to joining ROCKWOOL in 2016, Ms. Vitale was Vice President for Global Marketing at Vestas Wind Systems.
*This post is supported by Rockwool Group