Together with some of the biggest names in the multi-billion dollar building and construction sector, the United Nations environmental agency today launched a new international effort to �green' the industry, from curbing global warming gas emissions to preventing the plundering of pristine beaches for sand.

“The construction and use of buildings generate substantial social and economic benefits to society, but may also have serious negative impacts on the environment,” the Director of the UN Environment Programme Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), Monique Barbut, said at the inauguration in Paris.

“One key area of concern is the large share of energy use, with associated greenhouse gas emissions, that the built environment accounts for. In some countries the built environment is responsible for up to 40 per cent of total energy use,” added Ms. Barbut, whose division hosts the secretariat of the Sustainable Building and Construction Initiative (SBCI).

Construction giants Lafarge, Skanska and Arcelor are among founding members of SBCI, which aims to promote environmental friendly practices across this vast industry, employing over 100 million people worldwide and contributing about 10 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It is hoped that the SBCI will help ensure buildings are routinely designed, constructed and maintained from an environmentally sustainable point of view over their entire life span. Other goals seek the increasing inclusion of sustainability considerations and requirements in legislation and building standards.

The industry seriously affects many of the world’s most pressing environmental issues like climate change, waste generation and depletion of natural resources. Whether it’s influencing multi-lateral environmental agreements, encouraging “green architecture” in high profile buildings or tackling topics like the illegal plundering of sand the challenges for the industry are immense.

“The overall objective of the SBCI is to achieve worldwide adoption of sustainable building and construction practices that can help deal with such problems,” Ms. Barbut said. “We will also produce reports on key issues like the impact of energy efficiency in the built environment on climate change, and a manual linked to re-construction of buildings in the wake of natural disasters like the Indian Ocean Tsunami.”

Participants in today’s inaugural meeting included a wide range of interested parties ranging from construction and engineering firms and air conditioning companies from China and the United States to government representatives, UN organizations, architects, research institutes and financiers.