City & Country: Cover Story: Sydney shows the green way

"WE NEED TO be bold and step up to the plate," says Shaun Mok, chairperson of Rehda Youth’s 2013 International Green Tour, during a fact-finding mission to Sydney in October to view some of the highest-rated green buildings in the world.

He points out that there is a need for Malaysian regulators and developers to work hand in hand to promote green energy and sustainability standards.

Not surprisingly, the members of the mission are a healthy mix of industry professionals, comprising CEOs, business development managers and City Hall representatives.

Mok, who is a director of Impetus Alliance Advisors Sdn Bhd, says the trip is intended to bring to light the feasibility and benefits of incorporating green solutions into Malaysian buildings.

“Rehda Youth consists of fledgling next-generation developers who are championing the green movement in Malaysia. We started off with regional tours in Bangkok and Singapore, but now we have made it all the way to Australia,” he says proudly.

Apart from learning more about the green features of current and upcoming projects, the tour also included knowledge-sharing sessions with some of Australia’s most prominent architects, investment managers and long-term tenants who espouse the values of sustainability in their respective properties.

While he admits that it is not possible to adopt the Australian model wholesale in Malaysia, Mok points out that many of the green initiatives there were implemented voluntarily by the developers.

“It is important to understand the impetus that drives the green cause. In Australia, the support and collaboration of the government, plus the industry at large, have fostered these successful projects,” he says.

The Green Tour
1 Bligh Street and 2 Darling Quarter

The tour kicks off with a visit to 1 Bligh Street, an ultra-modern skyscraper in the heart of Sydney’s central business district. The premium grade office tower boasts a six-star Green Star rating — the highest sustainability rating given out by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Designed by Germany’s Ingenhoven Architects, the first thing that strikes a visitor who enters the building is its spectacular atrium, which rises 30 storeys high. The clear glazed skylight at the top maximises the entry of natural light into each office level below, a feature that is predominantly seen in sustainable developments in Sydney.

Another prominent feature of the tower is a full double-skin façade with external louvre blades, which mechanically automates the flow of air depending on temperature and weather data. Down below, there is a basement sewage plant that recycles 90% of the wastewater generated by the building.

The maintenance cost of a technologically advanced green building — which is undoubtedly hefty — may have raised a few eyebrows, but it is worth noting that the property is owned by the Dexus Wholesale Property Fund as part of a multibillion-dollar global portfolio.

“On a longer time horizon, there is clearly value and further upside potential in these high-tech green properties. The energy costs saved as well as real estate appreciation will significantly enhance the return on investment for 1 Bligh Street if investors are in it for the long term,” comments a delegate.

The tour next takes us to Darling Quarter, a harbourside mixed-use development in the Darling Harbour precinct. Another six-star green property, the project has been widely cited as a success story and a benchmark for sustainable developments around the world.

The recreational area, which is filled with pedestrians from noon to midnight, offers a multitude of eateries and a vast children’s playground inside a public boulevard. This is in line with the project’s aim to improve public participation by bringing together commercial, retail and leisure activities in one area.

As part of the CBD, the site also houses the Commonwealth Bank Place, which occupies a large portion of the office space there. While taking pictures is forbidden for security purposes, the office complex is reminiscent of a hip Silicon Valley technology company rather than a no-nonsense bank — vibrant colours, open workspaces and very modern looking.

The passive and active design features of the buildings reportedly save 2,500 tonnes of carbon emissions per year and have reduced main water consumption by 92%. An on-site tri-generation plant generates electricity, heat and cooling to decrease carbon emissions while a motion sensor-activated lighting system ensures power expenditure is kept to a minimum.

According to Darling Quarter general manager Tony Byrne, the tenants were fully aware of the benefits provided by a modern office environment and the green features that were implemented.

“There may be a link between the green features and workers’ productivity, which has increased tremendously since they moved into Darling Quarter. Commonwealth Bank and its employees are very happy with the site,” he says.

In fact, there have been studies to highlight increasing worker productivity as a tangible benefit of building sustainable properties. In a survey conducted by the University of San Diego and real estate broker CB Richard Ellis Group, tenants reported fewer sick days in their current green offices versus their previous non-green ones.

More than half the respondents also reported improved working conditions and believed that productivity had improved as a result.

3 Barangaroo South
On the second day of the tour, the delegates visit Barangaroo South, the largest and most ambitious property project in Sydney at the moment. With a gross development value (GDV) of A$6 billion (RM18 billion), the 7.8ha site is expected to become the crown jewel of the green movement as the first large-scale carbon-neutral precinct in Australia.

The development is the brainchild of Lend Lease Ltd, the country’s largest property developer and a prominent multinational player. While this remarkable project is clearly targeted at high-end buyers — its residential properties carry a price tag of A$1 million per bedroom — pulling it off required an unwavering belief in its sustainability plans, which are front and centre in the development’s marketing brochure.

“Lend Lease has vast experience in developing highly successful green projects. Barangaroo South represents the world benchmark in sustainability standards,” says Anita Mitchell, the project’s general manager for sustainability.

The green practices to be implemented are mind-boggling in scale and ambition. The development includes about 6,000 sq m of solar panels, enough to offset the on-site water treatment plant and public domain energy use. Moreover, Barangaroo South is targeting zero net waste to landfill by 2020, which means all waste byproducts will be recycled for the development’s own energy use.

According to Mitchell, the green philosophy extends all the way to the construction phase. The construction site is replete with wastewater treatment plants, which channel clean water back into the sea. Overall, Land Lease’s target is to divert up to 97% of construction waste away from the landfill.

“We have one of the cleanest, safest and most sustainable construction sites that you will find anywhere in the world,” she says.

In fact, Barangaroo South is part of an urban transformation of the western edge of Sydney’s CBD. Another 14.2ha neighbouring the development have been earmarked for a public park and a potential gaming resort by casino magnate James Packer. In all, over 50% of the Barangaroo district will be dedicated public space.

As the tour ends, many of the delegates agree that it has broadened their horizon on the benefits of green buildings in both financial and environmental terms. The big question is, when will we see the same level of commitment to sustainability in our own backyard?

Malaysia’s green outlook

Mok is sanguine about the challenges that face the development of green properties in Malaysia, although he admits that a change in mentality entails a lengthy and difficult process. For example, the majority of developers are still mainly concerned about the project’s profitability over the less tangible benefits of implementing green features in a development, which also requires substantial expenditure.

“Malaysians need to generate a new level of public consciousness or order to emulate what has been done in Australia. Our Green Building Index was introduced with great gusto, so it is a good starting point.”

Mok points out that a building should not be looked upon purely as an asset. Citing Darling Quarter as a classic example, he says the project was designed to promote interaction with the people around it, which in turn adds value to the asset. This virtuous cycle is beneficial to both the developer and the environment in the long run, he explains.

“The green movement is more than just about the building itself. It is also about adding to the quality of life,” he observes.

The success of green initiatives in Australia is thanks to the people’s willingness to adopt new green standards and understand their long-term implications, which bring a net positive for society.

“The GBC and the Sydney city council are not regulatory bodies. They are wholly independent. If not for the synergy between them and the developers, the Australian green movement would not have happened. Making things compulsory does not ensure you will end up with a good product,” Mok says.

If the positive reaction of the tour’s delegates is any indication, it seems Rehda Youth has already made a difference in showing us the possibilities that lie ahead for sustainable practices in Malaysia.

Our own green effort

BACK in 2009, the local sustainability movement was boosted by the launch of the Green Building Index (GBI) — our own version of Australia’s acclaimed Green Star rating system for energy-efficient buildings.

The index, which was jointly founded by the Malaysian Architects Association (PAM) and the Association of Consulting Engineers (ACEM), is the first comprehensive rating system for evaluating the environmental design of Malaysian buildings based on six main criteria — energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, sustainable site planning and management, materials and resources, water efficiency and innovation.

At the launch of the GBI’s latest iteration in July, Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA) Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili remarked that the local green index had come a long way, turning into an established benchmark for sustainability practices that are voluntarily implemented by  developers. To date, the GBI has certified over 60 million sq ft of buildings in this country.
From left: Rehda CEO Rusnani Abd Rahman, Mok, Dexus Property Group investment manager Andrew Prociuk with some Rehda Youth delegates

“This achievement has led to the GBI being recognised by the global green building fraternity as one of the fastest-growing rating tools in the world,” he said.

The index itself was created with four key elements in mind under  KeTTHA’s own Low Carbon Cities Framework. The four elements are building, urban transport, urban infrastructure and urban environment.

“The rating tool is much admired in this region as it was developed by Malaysia’s own expertise, consisting of local architects, engineers, academics and stakeholders of the industry, and is recognised by the World Green Building Council,” Ongkili pointed out.

In the four years since GBI’s inception, local developers have gradually incorporated energy-efficient solutions into their buildings and added sustainability features to their upcoming projects. As an added incentive, the government is offering tax and stamp duty exemption for buildings with GBI certification up until Dec 31, 2014.

There are noteworthy parallels in the green rating systems of Malaysia and Australia — the synergy between the government and NGOs as well as making it voluntary instead of being enforceable by law.

“In countries where these rating tools were implemented, we have seen them accelerate the transformation of a built environment into one that is healthy, liveable, productive and sustainable,” says Daniel Hartin, advocacy manager for the Green Building Council of Australia (GBC).

Despite its name, GBC is actually an NGO that cooperates with the state and federal governments with three key principles in mind — to rate, educate and advocate.

Having recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Green Star rating system in the country, Hartin said that at present, 11% of office properties in Sydney have obtained certification. Moreover, one out of five buildings in the city’s central business district are Green Star-rated.

“These initiatives have proved to add a substantial premium to a property’s rental and asset value and reduced outgoings and vacancies,” he added.

With more developers adopting GBI ‘s standards in Malaysia, it would seem that the local green movement is steadily gaining in prominence each year in the hope of emulating Australia’s success story.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 4, 2013.

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