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All aboard for green building
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More and more construction in China is using environmentally sustainable materials, techniques and design, but green building still has a long way to go, Lara Farrar reports.

Urban Hotel Shanghai, China's first carbon-neutral hotel, uses recycled and locally sourced materials and incorporates environmentally friendly concepts. [Shanghai Daily]

Urban Hotel Shanghai, China's first carbon-neutral hotel, uses recycled and locally sourced materials and incorporates environmentally friendly concepts. [Shanghai Daily]

On weekends, late at night or whenever he has a spare moment, Shanghai architect Deng Yang pores through books about wastewater management, environmentally friendly construction and energy-efficient design.

He's prepping for the examination of the United States Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, in hopes of becoming a certified expert in sustainable construction for China.

"For my career development, I think it is important," says Deng, who works for CH2M Hill, an engineering, consulting, construction and operations company.

"In the future, I think more and more companies in China will want to apply for LEED certification so I think it will offer more opportunity for me."

Deng isn't the only one who feels this way. An increasing number of architects and designers in Shanghai and around China are taking tests to become accredited sustainable construction experts, indicating growing momentum behind a green building movement in the country.

"We are probably going to see something of a tipping point in 2010," says Rob Watson, founder of green building services firm EcoTech International, which has an office in Shanghai.

Watson is also known as the "father of LEED," the fastest-growing standard by which green building is measured worldwide.

"This year there has been a very strong awareness uptake, and I think then what we will see is an implementation uptake," says Watson.

Over the past decade, approximately 4 million square meters of green building construction have gone up in China, compared with roughly 13 million square meters over the past three decades in the US, according to sustainable construction consulting firm Environmental Market Solutions Inc.

More than 20 projects across the country have achieved LEED certification, while around 100 others are waiting for approval, reports the USGBC.

Much of this construction has taken place in Shanghai, followed by Beijing, and has largely been initiated by multinational corporations, not domestic enterprises. While the exact number of green projects in Shanghai is hard to come by, Qian Yingchu, head of EMSI's local office, estimates at least 80 have been completed or are underway in the city.

Qian's office has been involved in at least 20 of them, including the showroom of the carpet manufacturer Interface, the first commercial interior space in China to achieve LEED gold certification, and the Coca-Cola Co's new US$80 million campus, which is expected to be awarded LEED certification within months.

"It's crazy," says Qian. "We have lots of projects, and we have the space to choose projects."

Other properties around the city incorporating environmentally friendly concepts include the URBN Hotel Shanghai, China's first carbon-neutral hotel; it uses recycled and locally sourced materials. Many of the new building projects for the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai will also feature sustainable principles.

However, despite the growing number of green building projects in Shanghai and around China, some fear eco-building isn't catching on fast enough to keep up with China's frenzied pace of construction. Eco-friendly buildings often take longer to design and build than conventional structures.

By 2025, McKinsey estimates nearly 200 new mass transit systems and up to 50,000 new skyscrapers - the equivalent of 10 New York Cities - could be built in China as the country experiences the largest urban migration.

Already buildings account for a quarter of total energy use across the country, a figure that is likely to increase by 10 percent over the next decade if environmental building strategies are not widely adopted, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

"The problem is they are building so quickly," says Peggy Liu, founder of JUCCCE (Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy), a non-profit working to accelerate the use of clean and efficient energy in China. "They are trying to cram into five years what the West did in the past 30 (years)."

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