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The Shanghai Tower is another in a long list of ambitious skyscrapers competing fiercely for sustainability credentials as well as height. But how green are these buildings and is environmentalism really the motivation?
Twisting high above Shanghais financial district, Chinas tallest tower and the second tallest in the world is preparing to officially open its substantial doors to the public next month. The Shanghai Tower, reaching 632 metres, is the third supertall tower on the citys iconic skyline. Looking out from the 119th floor, the city lies below like a toy model, a densely packed mass of streets and high-rise buildings.
China loves a world record, and its new building boasts plenty, including the worlds fastest elevators, highest hotel and restaurant, and tallest viewing platform. Reassuringly, it also required the largest ever cement pouring for the foundations. But most importantly, the 128-storey tower also claims to be the worlds greenest skyscraper. Awarded the top green rating, LEED Platinum, the government is hailing the tower as a sign of Chinas growing green credentials.
Chinas sustainability record in the past has been abysmal. The country burns 47% of the worlds coal, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and is facing the impact of decades of rapid deforestation and water pollution. With some of the most polluted air on the planet, killing as many as 4,000 people a day, an increasingly restive population is demanding more government action.
Nervous of the impact that smog-filled days and clogged roads could have on social stability, the government has begun tree planting programmes, ordered thousands of cars off the roads in cities such as Beijing, and is investing in green technology in a big way. China is now the biggest renewables market in the world, more than double than in the US, and home to almost one of every three wind turbines globally.
Green buildings, however, make up a woefully small part of the green industry, with most work focused on quick construction and quicker sales. Estimates put the number of green buildings on the mainland at less than 1%, though a 2014 target by the State Council wants 30% of new construction projects to be green by 2020.