Jerry Yudelson is keeping score. In the category large-scale, energy efficient buildings, he says, the winners are in cities such as London, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. The results for residential construction also favor Europe.
In a press release touting his new book, Green Building Trends: Europe (Island Press), Yudelson, a longtime green-building consultant, says he spent a year in Europe researching the book. And while air travel is not necessary for sharing many kinds of technical information, Yudelson says visiting green buildings that are up, running, and performing well is nonetheless worth the trouble. North American architects, engineers, and contractors, he advises, should take time (several days, perhaps, not a year) to visit the U.K., Germany, Holland, and Switzerland to get an up-close look how those countries’ greenest commercial buildings work.
“The Europeans are now the leaders. It turns out they know a lot more about environmentally aware architecture and construction than we do,” he claims, and includes in his book details about exemplary structures such as the Lufthansa Aviation Center in Frankfurt; Norddeutsche Landesbank in Hannover, Germany; Renewable Energy Systems’ headquarters at Beaufort Court in the U.K.; a passive downdraft cooling system at University College London; and an all-glass house in Stuttgart, Germany, that uses no net energy for heating and hot water on an annual basis.
Putting innovation into wider practice
The superior performance of Europe’s greenest buildings is due mostly to issues of “design and emphasis” that building industry professionals in this country are more than capable of emulating, Yudelson adds, noting that many European green buildings routinely use 50% to 90% less energy than comparable certified green projects in the U.S.
He recommends, as a first priority, that the U.S. adopt “the European Union’s system of building energy labeling so that everyone can see the actual energy performance of each building. This practice will lead to a revolution in commercial and institutional building design and operations, almost like having to wear a Scarlet Letter with your energy crime out in plain sight.”
While some might argue that stricter code, not necessarily eco-shame wrought by labeling requirements, will further green building development more effectively, it is no secret that the European Union’s executive branch is pushing hard on aggressive energy-efficiency requirements for buildings, and in April voted to require that buildings constructed after 2018 produce their own energy.
As for residential construction, Yudelson favors adoption of what many green homebuilders here have already embraced: the Passivhaus system.
“This measure alone,” he suggests, “could lead to an enormous reduction in greenhouse gases if implemented over the next 25 years.”
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