Tackling air pollution one building at a time: World Green Building Council joins the Coalition

by Catriona Brady - 13 February, 2019
In January 2019, the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) became a CCAC Partner. Catriona Brady, Head of WorldGBC’s Better Places for People global project, outlines the role buildings play in solving the global air pollution crisis.

The built environment is responsible for approximately 40% of global carbon emissions. Not only is this a startling statistic but given the effects of this include worsened air pollution and an uplift in human health risks, we know we must act swiftly to slash the carbon footprint of our buildings down to zero. Even the quality of our buildings can impact our health: be it homes, schools, offices or hospitals, poor quality buildings can also trigger serious health hazards. So how do we address this problem? First, we must start by raising public awareness of air quality in the built environment, and the role that buildings can plan in improving both outdoor and indoor quality; this is what WorldGBC's new partnership with Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) sets out to achieve.

WorldGBC represents a global network of national Green Building Councils and their members in around 70 countries and comprises a community of approximately 40,000 NGOs, companies and citizens dedicated to pursuing a more sustainable built environment. WorldGBC’s global project Better Places for People focuses particularly on human health and wellbeing in the built environment and champions the belief that a sustainable built environment must be beneficial for both people and planet. In 2019, alongside the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the Better Places for People project will begin the first phase of its ‘air quality in built environment’ campaign, which will bring our expertise and focus on buildings to the international BreatheLife2030 campaign, run alongside the World Health Organisation and United Nations.

At WorldGBC, we strongly believe that the sources and solutions of air pollution in and from buildings are still little-known worldwide, nor is the importance of a sustainable built environment in mitigating cause and effect widely understood. We spend a staggering 90% of our time indoors, therefore ensuring that clean, fresh air circulates through our buildings is vital for improving human health. However, for 92% of us, the air outside our homes is not safe to breathe. In turn, this polluted outdoor air harms our health and our planet, and infiltrates into buildings. Air quality can also be impacted by pollutants within buildings, which can be just as toxic as pollution generated outdoors from emissions or transport.

Many of these pollutants generated by or inside our buildings also damage the natural environment. Short Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs) such as methane, or black carbon/soot are dangerous air polluters that come from fossil fuel combustion, vehicles and agriculture. Such pollutants are powerful climate forcers in warming our planet, with estimates suggesting approximately 45% of global warming can be attributed to these SLCPs.

What’s more, these damages to human and planetary health are also costing the global economy. An estimated 5.5 million lives were lost in 2013 to diseases associated with outdoor and household air pollution. These tragic deaths cost the global economy an estimated US$225 billion in lost workforce productivity and over US$5 trillion in welfare losses. Alarmingly, these numbers are continuing to rise – air pollution was responsible for 7 million premature deaths in 2016, with further increasing social and economic consequences.

WorldGBC believes a sustainable built environment plays a leading role in addressing the social, environmental and economic impacts of the global air pollution crisis we face today. In April 2019, we’ll unveil the first phase of our ‘Air Quality in Buildings’ social media awareness campaign with our partners in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Together, we are committed to protecting our climate and improving air quality through actions to reduce short-lived climate pollutants – our lives depend on it.

For more information about theWorldGBC’s Better Places for People global project visit https://www.worldgbc.org/better-places-people.