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Green: The color of money (saved) and the environment
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So far China has many shades of green, mostly pale. But going really, truly, deeply green takes more than some solar panels - it takes a triangle of government, developers and consumers, reports Nancy Zhang.

As temperatures plummet this winter, 60-year-old Li Yueming can be found in her apartment, fully dressed in anorak, hat and scarf while watching TV. When the sun sets, it is actually colder inside the apartment than outside.

This is typical in old apartments across Shanghai where poor insulation means heat quickly escapes. Built in 1996, Li's apartment where she lives with her son and husband is an example of fast construction with little regard for "green" features such as energy-efficient insulation.

Coming from a thrifty generation, Li chooses to wrap up rather than turn on the heater and pay high energy bills.

But discomfort for residents is only one visible cost of not building green -- the costs to the environment are much higher.

The construction industry consumes enormous resources.

Globally, buildings account for 50 percent of energy and 42 percent of water usage; building-related activities causes 50 percent of air and water pollution that includes ozone-depleting substances.

As mass urbanization continues, roughly half the world's new building construction will take place in China between now and 2015, according to the World Bank.

Building green in China has huge ramifications across the globe, and for China's national resources and public welfare.

Fortunately, the government has given increased priority to the environment in recent years.

New home buyers are unlikely to find buildings as badly insulated as Li's, as regulations in 2004 stipulated 50 percent reduction in energy use in all buildings by 2010, and 65 percent by 2020.

The year 2004 also marked official acceptance of international standards on green building.

Pioneering works at the time include Beijing's ACCORD21 building, a government-led, demonstration project advised by the New York-based NGO Natural Resources Defense Council.

ACCORD21 offered 70 percent energy and 40 percent water savings compared with a similar-size non-green building.

It earned gold in the coveted US Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a standard that measures "greenness" of a building based on energy efficiency, water savings, and site sustainability among other criteria.

Today many more LEED projects are progress, and government-led projects include 140 model buildings and 11 green eco-cities, including Dongtan Wetland on Shanghai's Chongming Island.

To have widespread impact, environmental practices must be commercially viable.

Since 2005 China has developed its own green building certification system, and has just launched the China Green Council. Together they provide guidelines for a growing environmentally aware market.

EMSI, a Washington-based green building consultancy, entered China in 2001.

From slow beginnings, business took off in 2007, and during the past year it has been happily swamped with work.

The company is now the largest private, green consultancy in China.

Qian Yingchu, general manager of EMSI's south China division, remembers that at first they needed to educate clients on the commercial benefits of green buildings.

"It was tiring," says Qian. "We had to explain the benefits every time - things like how it reduces energy costs, improves staff performance and contributes to marketing. But in recent years clients come to us, asking for green features - there's a lot more awareness."

The Shanghai branch is the most profitable, he says, but most clients are in the commercial office and retail sector.

Chinese developers looking to go green are still outnumbered by foreign multinationals.

Resistance is partly due to the perception that green buildings cost more.

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