How to build a sustainable future

Energy efficiency can reduce the environmental footprint of a growing population

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Increasing demand for energy

Buildings globally have a major impact on the environment. Today, they consume around one-third of the energy we use and produce one-fifth of our global CO2 emissions. Based on current trends, this impact is set to intensify in the future as the world’s growing population becomes rapidly more urbanised.

By 2050, there are likely to be 9.7 billion people living on the planet. With around 1.5 million of them moving to urban environments every week, people are more and more likely to live in cities, where they typically spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors. Because everyone wants a comfortable indoor environment, this creates more demand for energy for air conditioning and heating systems. For households, this can be expensive. Heating, cooling, and ventilating our homes is our largest energy expenditure, accounting for up to 16 percent of an average household’s total spending!.

Buildings are responsible for one-third of global energy use

How to overcome the challanges

It’s been estimated that this combination of population growth and urbanisation could double or even triple the building sector’s energy consumption and emissions by 2050. At a time when the world needs to urgently cut CO2 and improve energy efficiency, this presents a seemingly impossible challenge. How can a growing, urbanising population live sustainably?

The solution is right in front of us, in our homes and workplaces. At the moment, many of them waste energy, either allowing valuable heat to escape in cooler climates or using too much power to keep occupants cool in warmer locations. Today’s energy efficiency technology can already make a huge difference: proper insulation alone would help save up to 70 percent of our heating needs in buildings. By renovating existing buildings and ensuring that new ones meet high performance standards, we can dramatically reduce energy demands and CO2 emissions, even as urban populations grow.

When environmental goals are more important than ever, improving energy efficiency in buildings presents an immediate opportunity to make our towns and cities healthier, safer and more sustainable.

1Heating and cooling info graphic

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Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic

Banespa skyscraper located in centre of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Energy efficiency defined

The term ‘energy efficiency’ typically means the ability to deliver the same service (e.g. heating, cooling, mobility) with less energy. However, for buildings this simple definition largely underestimates the many additional benefits of energy efficiency, which range from more healthy and comfortable homes to job creation, energy security, social development, improved air quality and economic growth.

Energy use
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of global energy use comes from buildings

Urban dwellers spend up to
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of their time indoors

People cost
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of operating costs linked to people

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