The world is currently on a downward spiral, risking reaching a point of no return where global warming can no longer be reversed – not in due time at least. We’re already 50ppm of CO2 (parts per million) over the 350ppm average atmospheric CO2 concentration, considered by leading experts the carbon stabilizing threshold. It’s increasingly clear that steps are needed to decarbonize the planet, but while most people would answer ‘stop burning coal, and start building wind farms’, some voices raise the point that there’s a more readily available solution: energy efficiency. A new report released by the International Energy Agency gives further credence as “the uptake of economically viable energy efficiency investments has the potential to boost cumulative economic output through 2035 by USD 18 trillion,” the authors write. More than anything though, the reports topples conventional thinking and notes that more than 75% of the overall benefits come as a result of improved health and environment and only 25% is comprised of energy savings!
The report “challenges the assumption that the broader benefits of energy efficiency cannot be quantified.” The authors factored the productivity and operational benefits of industrial efficiency measures and found that green building design leads to health benefits and increased work productivity. The costs cut from medical expenses and the money gained form increased worker productivity greatly outperform the economic befits from energy savings alone (up to 2.5x), contrary to what intuition might dictate. In the EU, addressing indoor air quality through energy efficiency measures could, in a high energy efficiency scenario, save the European Union’s economy as much as $259 billion annually.
Energy efficiency retrofits in buildings (e.g. insulation retrofits and weatherisation programmes) create conditions that support improved occupant health and well-being, particularly among vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses. The potential benefits include improved physical health such as reduced symptoms of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, rheumatism, arthritis and allergies, as well as fewer injuries. Several studies that quantified total outcomes found benefit-cost ratios as high as 4:1 when health and well-being impacts were included, with health benefits representing up to 75% of overall benefits. Improved mental health (reduced chronic stress and depression) has, in some cases, been seen to represent as much as half of total health benefits.