China’s Green Building Standard Can Help Coronavirus Prevention & Control

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Modern buildings along the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China. (Picture: Shutterstock)

By Michael Tobias

Amid the global fight against the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus that originated in China late last year, the China Green Building Council is publicizing its success in implementing a green building national standard for the country that will play a significant role in preventing and controlling lethal epidemics like this one.

In an article published on the World Green Building Council (GBC) website on March 23, they state that the criteria for China’s Assessment Standard for Green Building (ASGB), issued just a year ago, are “beneficial” to the prevention and control of the coronavirus, COVID-19 that resulted in the lockdown of Wuhan and nine other cities in China on January 23, 2020.

The article, titled The Contribution of green buildings in the fight against COVID-19, discusses this significant milestone in China and summarizes the positive effects of green buildings in relation to the prevention and control of COVID-19. In it, they emphasize the active role the ASGB plays in preventing and controlling COVID-19 and state that it is essential to pay better attention to the health performance of all (not just green) buildings in the future.

Clearly, this is a mission that every heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC), mechanical, plumbing, and electrical engineer should recognize and take up with future possible major public health emergencies in mind.

China Green Building Council

The China Green Building Council is one of more than 80 green or sustainable building councils set up in countries around the world, including the U.S.

A branch of the Chinese Society for Urban Studies, the declared role of the China GBC is to promote the development of green building and energy-efficiency in that country in the context of its socialist market economy. To do this, it has a strict policy of researching theories and policies that relate to green buildings and energy efficiency and uses the information gathered to find the best possible ways to build systems to scientifically plan strategies for planning and constructing green buildings.

It is also involved with training and education in an endeavor to promote a broad spectrum of green building knowledge and provide businesses and government departments with consulting services.

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A plethora of buildings reflected in the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze River in Shanghai, China. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Development of Green Building Standards in China

The concept of so-called green building was introduced to China in the 1990s, but green building standards have been slow in coming, and they have relied heavily on standards developed in other countries.

In the U.S., environmentalists were already promoting the concept of green building in the 1960s and 1970s. The dramatic increases in the oil price added momentum to this movement and encouraged the improvement of energy efficiency and spurred active research into renewable energy sources.

Some of the milestones in the U.S. before the turn of the 21st century include:

  • Formation of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Committee on the Environment in 1989
  • Various Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiatives including funding for an AIA environmental resource guide and the launch in 1992 of the now internationally recognized ENERGY STAR program, a collaboration between the EPA and Department of Energy.
  • Launch of the first green building program in Austin, Texas, also in 1992.
  • Formation of the U.S. Green Building Council in 1993
  • Launch of the U.S. GBC’s LEED program in 1998.

The process was slow and happened in three stages:

Stage 1

The first step was a green building evaluation system explained in China’s Eco-house technical evaluation handbook that was first published in 2001. There have been four editions in all, most incorporating the US LEED standard (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), that lays out a definitive framework for green buildings. It only covers residential buildings, which limits its usefulness.

Stage 2

When Beijing was named the host city for the 2008 Olympic Games in 2002, a research project to develop a green building assessment system for the Games was launched. Developed with close reference to the Japanese Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency (CASBEE), it resulted in the Green Building Assessment System for Beijing Olympics (GBASBO), China’s first evaluation and certification system for green construction.

The problem, though, was that it was specifically for venue construction for the Beijing Olympics. It didn’t help with other buildings or regions.

Stage 3

Finally, in March 2006, China’s first National Green Building Evaluation Standard (GB/T 50378-2006) was released. It was based on the U.S. LEED standard which is reliable and recognized globally. However, whilst the LEED standard has four levels (certified, silver, gold, and platinum), the Chinese three-star standard has only three, and so it is dubbed the “three-star standard.”

It covers all types of buildings from homes and offices to hotels and shopping malls, and takes the full lifecycle of buildings into account from the planning and construction stages, to demolition, and incorporates the period of occupation including maintenance and upgrades if done.

The aim of the launch version of this first standard was, broadly, to reduce resources in terms of energy and water and minimize land use for each building. It, therefore, focused on:

  1. Saving the outdoor environment and land
  2. Utilizing and saving energy
  3. Utilizing and saving water
  4. Utilizing and saving materials
  5. The indoor environment
  6. Operation and management of buildings

But ultimately, while it encouraged green technologies, there wasn’t sufficient incentive for developers to adopt them.

Nevertheless, by 2019, there were a total of 10 national green building assessment standards in China, seven for different types of new buildings including hotels, offices, and hospitals. Additionally, there were two for eco-district and green campuses and one for green retrofitting of existing buildings. It is vital in this context for professionals and those offering mechanical engineering services to be conversant with all those that deal with their own areas of expertise.

Assessment Standard for Green Building 2019

Since its inception in 2006, the Chinese green building criteria have been updated twice, in 2014 and 2019.

The 2019 edition, GB/T 50378-2019, instituted in August last year, has five categories:

  1. Safety & Durability focusing on the safety and durability of buildings.
  2. Health & Comfort which encompasses indoor air quality, the indoor thermal environment, sound and daylighting (in other words natural sunlight), and water quality.
  3. Occupancy Convenience which covers a broad range of issues: transit and accessibility, the intelligent operation of buildings, service facilities, and property management.
  4. Resources Saving and utilization of land, materials, energy, and water.
  5. Environmental Livability which incorporates the ecology of sites and the landscape as well as the physical outdoor environment.

The China GBC explains the significant focus on the health performance of green buildings in the new standard, which is how it can help to prevent and control any type of coronavirus, but more specifically, COVID-19.

  1. It provides the most basic functions that effectively prevent and control epidemics like COVID-19 including natural ventilation, cleaning and indoor disinfecting, waste management, and the monitoring of air and water quality. It also provides guidelines for the secure and reliable operation of buildings in response to an epidemic.
  2. It has strict requirements relating to facilities that will guarantee “orderly progress” to both prevent and control COVID-19. These enable everyone in specific buildings to gain access to medical equipment and facilities, to change room functions if needed, and for effective personnel control.
  3. It establishes basic functions and conditions that reduce the risk of infection and recommends that buildings isolate the virus to reduce infection risks. Guidelines for minimizing risk include ways to:
    1. Control air pollution
    2. Limit exhaust backflows from kitchens and bathrooms
    3. inclusion of effective water seals to prevent the possibility of the virus getting into drainage pipes
    4. Maximize the effectiveness of natural ventilation from outdoors
  4. It suggests ways to promote and protect building occupant health by regulating air and water quality and specifying materials that will limit bacterial infestation. Most importantly, strict control of certain pollutants is mandatory. Moisture control must be effective to avoid the growth of mold. Smoking is prohibited inside green buildings, and water safety is obligatory.
  5. It specifies ways to stabilize the work and living environments inside buildings to prevent and control epidemics. Essentially, this involves ensuring that the environment is secure, safe, and stable to keep occupants healthy.

Ultimately, as the China GBC states, “Community and building-based prevention and control measures have become one of the most important methods of fighting against the epidemic.”

Author Bio

Michael Tobias image

Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Nearby Engineers and New York Engineers, which is an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.