Worldwatch Institute rallies for responsible public energy policy

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Buildings are a major consumer of energy and responsible for 30 to 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and 12 percent of all fresh water used.

Public policy, when effectively introduced and enforced, can be the cheapest and most efficient method for reducing energy use, carbon emissions and water waste, reducing buildings' environmental footprint, according to Worldwatch Institute.

"Policies can control (via restrictive regulations), motivate (via incentives), or call for attention (via awareness-raising), and successful policy packages may combine all three characteristics," said Kaarin Taipale, a Finnish urban researcher for Worldwatch Institute. "In the rush to market everything as 'green,' builders superficially label their buildings as such. But although a solar panel on the roof may look good in a photo, it is certainly no proof of the sustainability of a building."

According to Taipale, because what matters most is how well the entire building performs and not how its individual parts might adhere to requirements, setting minimum energy performance standards is more sensible than specifying how thick the thermal insulation should be, for example. The better set of criteria considers greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water use, and waste production, among others.

Taipale contends that higher energy performance requirements for new construction are needed because inefficient buildings waste valuable renewable energy.

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