Environmentalists: J'lem not doing enough for green building

Activists want the city to put more of an effort into making new structures environmentally friendly.

construction 88 (photo credit:)
construction 88
(photo credit: )
With new buildings going up across Jerusalem, environmental activists and professionals want the city to put more of an effort into making the new structures environmentally friendly. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which sits on the Jerusalem municipality's Committee for Environmental Quality, says that none of the city's building permits requires builders or architects to integrate green elements into their buildings or to ensure environmental protection and sustainability. "Jerusalem does not require green conditions in every building," said Pazit Schweid, SPNI's Jerusalem spokesperson. "The municipality has not yet adopted green building fully, so they are at the beginning of the road. The city needs to do more and can do more. It should activate all of its mechanisms for green building, especially when it gives new permits or does renovation." The municipality could not be reached for comment. According to Schweid, the city's first step must be preliminary research to understand how environmental issues relate to Jerusalem. After the city assigns experts to this research, Schweid said, the municipality must pass laws to enforce green measures that are, at this point, at the builder's discretion. "The municipality needs to understand the issue more deeply, and dedicate professionals to research it and find out why it's important," she said. "This needs to be one of the municipality's policies. They haven't given enough time to it." The government also does not require green measures in any of the country's buildings, but according to Carlos Drinberg, the head architect of the Housing and Construction Ministry, officials recognize the importance of environmental issues and are working to promote them both in the government and in society. "Sustainable development is at the top of the national agenda today because of the depletion of water sources and space conservation in the center of the country," said Drinberg. "The fact is that all government offices need to come up with sustainability plans." Meanwhile, SPNI is pushing a green agenda for the coming Jerusalem municipal elections that includes calls for environmental laws. Among SPNI's priorities are the reduction and reuse of energy, the reuse of water and the establishment of recycling centers. Should the municipality pursue such initiatives, Schweid believes that individuals will be more aware of the environmental implications of their building designs. "The municipality can be an example," she said. "They are ready to make lots of changes. They need to put this in their conversation. If they don't demand it, there won't be anyone to encourage the principles of green building." Architect Valentina Nelin, an independent green building consultant, agreed with Schweid's assessment but added that extensive research must exist before the municipality establishes green laws, as unfounded environmental policies might cause more harm than good. In the meantime, Nelin suggested that the municipality should reinstate a height limit on the city's buildings so as not to interfere with wind patterns and to protect Jerusalem's views. "There are no specialists in the municipality," said Nelin. "It would be hard to talk about green building without knowledge. I would go back to limiting the buildings' height." Nelin added that to affect significant environmental change, experts must pay attention not only to the construction of individual structures, but to the layout of entire city areas, which would affect all of the buildings in those areas. "The most important thing is to build on a southern slope and adjust the house to the angle of the sun. The city needs to change its plans so this is possible," Nelin said. But Drinberg feels that rather than change its laws, the government should encourage green building by letting the free market operate, as ideas about environmentalism and sustainability are becoming popular. "There's a suggestion to make people do this, but the whole idea is too fresh," he said. "This idea came into the market in a very sudden way, and there's a force in the market that will make this necessary. It's gaining momentum."