Greening the Dragon

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

This past summer, the world’s eyes turned to Beijing to watch the Olympics. With that attention came more scrutiny to the many environmental issues resulting from China’s long economic boom.

Two facts demonstrate the mix of hope and challenge that China represents for our future. First, carbon dioxide emissions (the greatest contributor to climate change) are growing rapidly in China, to the point that some estimate China has already surpassed the U.S. as the world’s leading emitter. Yet China also is projected to have surpassed the rest of the world as the leading producer of clean, renewable energy – including wind, solar and hydropower (according to the Renewables 2007 report sponsored by Germany).

I had the privilege of visiting this remarkable country this past April, as part of an EPA delegation meeting the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) in Beijing. On this trip, I got to meet people who are working to make green building a reality in China, from the government, major universities (Tsinghua, Shanghai Research Institute of Building Sciences, Huazhong University of Science and Technology) and even a government-supported non-profit (Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21).

While there are vast differences between the situations of our two countries – chief among them the major environmental crises facing China and the disparity between our governmental systems – I was struck by a few of the similarities. There, as here, the status quo too often prevails against the wisdom of making our buildings more efficient in their use of energy, water and materials, and healthier to live in and around. There, as here, progress often hinges on the initiative of a few heroic individuals willing to stick their necks out to try something new and innovative.

I got to meet several such individuals on my trip, working on such projects as the Eco-House that will be showcased at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. They were eager to learn more about EPA programs like Brownfields and ENERGY STAR, and about the progress Americans have made in establishing green building as a major trend in the U.S.

In the Olympic spirit, I’d like to see the US engage in strenuous but healthy competition with China, to see which of our countries can move faster toward discovering and applying the greenest technologies – in our buildings, vehicles, factories and more. Call it the race for the Green Medal – and let the games begin!