Two visitors enjoy their time at the serene Green Lighthouse in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. The environmentally friendly Sino-Danish project is a cylinder-shaped three-story building with an underground floor and allows sunlight to filter in from the top and sides, minimizing lighting and saving on electricity consumption.
One Saturday earlier this month, engineer Zhang Shuping, 29, visited a market for construction and interior decoration materials in Shanghai, and was utterly surprised to find several product labels marked "for green buildings".
Surprised because unbeknown to Zhang, green, or environmentally friendly, building materials have acquired dimensions of a legitimate mainstream market segment.
The global market for green construction materials is expected to grow from 1.6 billion in 2013 to 4 billion by 2020, according to a research note by Navigant Consultancy Ltd.
Signs of that were evident at the Shanghai market where Zhang was greeted by green window glass products, paints, coating materials, automated lighting solutions, and even pre-fabricated bathrooms that help recycle used water for repeated use in toilets.
"As an engineer, I know that many companies have been eyeing energy efficiency solutions in industrial manufacturing, but now I see awareness of green buildings is increasing among people," said Zhang.
Each label, he noted, contains details like energy saved by the product and how use of natural resources would be minimized by the product, compared to regular products.
Zhang noticed the green products were more expensive than others though. But the green labels claim the additional cost would be more than offset by the subsequent savings on utility bills.
Analysts said that in China, buildings using green materials and green technologies are becoming a trend.
And soon, they predict, green would become a "must" for sustainable development.
China aims to cap carbon emissions at the globally stipulated peak by 2030 or earlier, promising to cut carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP by 60 to 65 percent from the 2005 level, according to a document submitted to the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change last year.
According to a research note of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, energy consumption of buildings in China may reach 35 percent of the country's entire energy consumption in a couple of years.
"Carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 50 percent when a building is operated under the green building standards," said Frank Chen, head of CBRE China research.
Chen said that energy can be saved through both "passive" and "active" measures. Passive measures include efficient design and technologies like green lighting, shading, thermal insulation and air flow management. Active methods cover power management, automation and improved user behavior.
"We advise that from the very beginning, a building needs to be designed to be green," he said.
More measures are needed to ensure all buildings go green, he said. Policymakers, developers, residents and building users can play specific roles to make a building environmentally friendly, said Zhu Yingxin, a professor and deputy chief of the Institute of Architecture at Tsinghua University.
Educating the building occupants is a significant part of making a building green, said Zhu.
Industry insiders said it is necessary to spread awareness that green buildings are not costlier than conventional ones in the long run.
Javier Gimeno, CEO for the Asia-Pacific operations of Compagnie de Saint-Gobain SA, a French construction material supplier, said the company sees increasing demand for its green building materials in China. For, almost all the parties involved in building development and construction have realized the importance and benefits of going green.
"Lifespan of a building can be decades, and green materials save a lot of energy. If you do that calculation, you can figure out that using green building materials is actually saving money," said Gimeno.