A new World Economic Forum report outlines a roadmap for transforming the global building sector to combat climate change and protect biodiversity.

Amid rapid urbanisation worldwide, primarily driven by emerging economies, the report presents a timely case for the decarbonisation of the sector, showing how it could generate significant economic gains for early adopters and a positive environmental impact for all.

“Towards Green Building Value Chains: China and Beyond”, published in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), identifies 11 strategic transition levers across the entire value chain of buildings. These levers, when combined, could unlock over 80% of the sector’s abatement potential and open a $1,8-trillion market opportunity, as per the new research.

“The new frontier of growth and competitiveness for players in the building sector will be to develop materials, design construction methods and achieve operational outcomes that are net-zero carbon, nature positive and resilient to extreme weather shocks while promoting community well-being and people-to-people connections,” says Gim Huay Neo, MD of the World Economic Forum.

Buildings are responsible for 37% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and 34% of the Earth’s species are enduring habitat loss as a result of urban development.

With rapid urbanisation, especially in emerging economies, expected to continue over the next decades, the report calls for a comprehensive and holistic approach to the green transition throughout the global value chain of the construction sector and the entire lifecycle of buildings, including construction, use and end of life.

The report identifies four characteristics of a holistic vision for green buildings:

* Net zero – minimizing whole-life emissions through innovative materials and technologies.

* Nature positive – enhancing buildings’ environmental performance by integrating natural elements.

* Resilient – maximizing buildings’ ability to withstand extreme weather and climate volatility.

* Well-being oriented – boosting the physical and mental well-being of their occupants, enhancing community development and ensuring access for all.

“The sheer complexity of the building value chain requires upstream and downstream players to work together on enabling actions such as standard alignment and technology breakthrough,” says Yvonne Zhou, MD and senior partner at BCG. “Only through this collaboration will the 11 levers be fully unlocked.”

To realise this vision, several critical enabling factors need to be addressed. These include further policy on regulation and industry standards, data and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, biomaterials, and financing and upskilling support.

As the largest building market in the world, and with more than half of the global production capacity for many building materials, China has an important role in decarbonizing the building industry, as per the report. The green transition of China’s building value chain will not only create value and new business opportunities for industry players in China, but could also help catalyse the development and adoption of green building products and services globally.

“China is the world’s largest market for building material production and consumption,” says Wu Yong, president of the China Association of Building Energy Efficiency. “We must act quickly so that we can leverage China’s sizeable contribution to greening the global building value chain.”

The report highlights case studies from businesses at different stages of the value chain such as real estate developers, design firms, energy management system providers and cement manufacturers. It also showcases best practices from China and other emerging economies, such as the United Arab Emirates and Brazil, in areas of material production, construction and operations, as well as policy tools that can be adopted or adapted by others.

The report builds on the Net-zero Opportunities of Value-chain Actions (NOVA) project in China, which was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos. The project promotes cooperation among upstream and downstream players across the entire value chain of key industries to pursue a coordinated net-zero transition in China. In its first phase, it has focused on two sectors, buildings and renewable energy.