Encouraging sustainable buildings

MALAYSIA'S Green Building Index (GBI) will be turning four this May. Launched on May 21, 2009, GBI has made some headway since then and is

looking to extend its reach.

Since its introduction, over 420 projects have applied for GBI certification, of which 125 have been certified. These include 66 new non-

residential buildings and 48 new residential buildings as well as five existing buildings that will be green retrofitted.

"That's over 50 million sq ft of GBI-certified space, excluding those in 11 townships, and we have more tools to launch," says Chen Thiam

Leong, a member of the GBI accreditation panel.

GBI was developed by the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM). PAM and ACEM

incorporated Greenbuildingindex Sdn Bhd in February 2009 to administer GBI accreditation and train the facilitators and certifiers.

The idea for GBI was conceived in late 2008 and by January 2009, it was introduced at the Green Design Forum held at the Kuala Lumpur

Convention Centre. GBI is recognised by the World Green Building Council.

"I remember in 2008, clients started asking us for green buildings. But at the time in Malaysia, everyone was only talking about Grade A

buildings. We didn't have any green buildings and some of the multinational corporation said they will move their headquarters to Singapore

because Singapore has Green Mark buildings. That's when we decided there was a need for us to have our own green rating tool," says Dr Tan

Loke Mun, a member of GBI technical committee. Green Mark is a green rating tool developed by Singapore's Building and Construction


However, the green movement had started much earlier.

"Green buildings were already talked about by Malaysia Green Building Confederation (MGBC) in 2007. We formed MGBC in 2007 but it was not

officially registered until 2009. We decided there was no point in having this organisation without a green rating tool. We started looking

into this but we only did it halfway because there were no resources and funding. Then Tan came along with a proposal for GBI and that's how

PAM and MGBC came together to work on the tool," says Chen.

The proposed GBI was positively received by members of the industry and stakeholders, including the Real Estate and Housing Developers'

Association of Malaysia (REHDA), Master Builders Association Malaysia and The Institution of Engineers Malaysia.

The GBI team conducted comparative studies on better known green rating models such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

(LEED) in the US, Singapore's Green Mark, Australia's Green Star and the UK's BREEAM. The team even made study visits to Singapore and

Australia to hold discussions with the respective authorities and visit green buildings in the two countries.

"Everyone we met was very helpful. After all the meetings and discussions, we put our heads together and got the tool out in record time,"

recalls Tan.

To date, GBI has launched eight tools — non-residential new construction, residential new construction, non-residential existing buildings,

new and existing data centre, industrial new construction, industrial existing buildings and townships.

According to GBI accreditation panel chairman Boon Che Wee, GBI has received applications for certification from government and corporate

offices, hotels and serviced apartments, showrooms, art galleries, malls, factories, warehouses, mosques, markets, strata and landed

residential properties, and individual homes.

There are now six Platinum and 28 Gold GBI-certified buildings in Malaysia. Platinum and Gold are the two highest classifications of green

buildings under GBI.

GBI rates all applications in accordance with six criteria: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, sustainable site planning and

management, material and resources, water efficiency, and innovation.

Promoting its achievements

Despite all that GBI has achieved, there is still a lack of publicity nationally and internationally.

MGBC honorary secretary Thirukumaran Jallendran recalls his experience at the Green Cities conference in Sydney, Australia, in early March:

"People asked me if we have green buildings in Malaysia and when I told them the number we have certified, they nearly fell off their chairs.

Then they asked if we used LEED or one of the other more well-known tools. They just couldn't believe that we had our own green rating tool."

Chen cites the headquarters of Malaysia's Energy Commission, also known as the Diamond Building in Putrajaya, as an example. The building was

completed in 2009 and earned a Platinum rating under GBI and Green Mark. It was awarded the top prize in the Asean Energy Awards late last


"The Diamond Building has gained worldwide recognition but we hardly talk about it. Instead, other rating bodies use the building to gain

more publicity for themselves," says Chen.

Thirukumaran concurs, "Last year, during the International Green Building Conference in Singapore, the Diamond Building was included in the

list of Green Mark Platinum certified projects. Green Mark is basically saying the Diamond Building is one of the best-performing green

buildings. So why are we not shouting out our own achievements?"

Boon believes that for Green Mark, it is a business and a branding for Singapore, while in Malaysia it is more of a tool to promote green

buildings rather than a business. "We have our brand and we have been promoting our GBI projects. These projects are our champions. Instead

of adopting a wait-and-see attitude, these building owners went ahead and got themselves benchmarked. So every time we have a presentation,

we show these projects."

Tan feels that part of the problem is modesty, which can be considered a traditional Asian trait. "But we have to get things rolling. Most of

the world's construction and design work is in Asia now. European, UK and US firms in this field are coming here. In some ways, we are

shooting ourselves in the foot because we are actually world leaders in this field. It's the Gucci syndrome — the perception that those in

Europe, the UK and the US are better but interestingly, most of the Gucci products are made in Asia. They brand it and sell it well. But we

have made a lot of headway," says Tan.

However, the architect clarifies that there are no plans to turn GBI into a business. As Thirukumaran says, it goes against what the team

believes in and a good tool has to be relevant to the local context.

"The nature of an environmental tool is that it must be localised. Which was why we developed GBI in the first place," stresses Tan.

A sustainable tool

One of the things the team is most proud of is that GBI is a purely Malaysian tool. "It's developed locally not only for our climate, but

also based on the processes of the industry. We don't just put our name on a tool adopted from overseas," says Boon.

Tan uses rain harvesting as an example. "Green Mark doesn't give you points for rainwater harvesting because it is illegal to harvest rain in

Singapore. It's localised to Singapore but in other countries, rainwater harvesting is encouraged and in some cases, needed," says Tan.

A tool must not only be localised, but also sustainable, says Chen. "When you use a foreign tool, you have to consider who is going to

continue to make sure the building is still adhering to green building requirements. If it's localised, then there is a practical system in

place to make sure it continues to be green."

What GBI wants to do is share its experiences and market its achievements to encourage other countries to develop their own tools.

"We have to be respectful. Recently, a Vietnamese company came to us asking to certify its building but we asked it to use its own tool —

LOTUS. It's easy for us to push for GBI but we have to be respectful of the initiatives pursued by organisations and governments in other

countries. If they don't have a tool, we would love to help them with the goal of eventually having them develop their own tool," shares


LOTUS is a green rating tool system developed by the Vietnam Green Building Council specifically for the Vietnamese built environment. It is

endorsed by the country's Ministry of Construction and the World Green Building Council.

Platform for implementation

When Tan first started work on his award-winning residence, the GBI Platinum-rated S11 House in Petaling Jaya, he found it difficult to get

materials and information. It was a common complaint of developers in the early days.

"I had to call up suppliers to find out things like recycled content [in a material or product]. They didn't have the data, so sometimes it

took up to two months for them to get back to me. But now, every major supplier has data ready," he remarks.

Thirukumaran says not only has the number of suppliers increased, but also the range of products. He notes that the MGBC green pages, the

first green building products and services directory in Malaysia, has increased twofold since it was launched two years ago.

"GBI has also become a platform for the implementation of national guides and standards. One example is the MS1525:2007 code of practice on

energy efficiency and use of renewable energy for non-residential buildings, which hardly anyone was aware of a few years ago. But now,

everyone knows it," says Boon.

"The Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia (CIDB) has just launched its new planning guidelines for green construction. The

construction period, which is actually the longest in the development of a green building, did not go green until recently. CIDB will be

embarking on a roadshow to introduce and educate contractors on how to conduct green construction. It's a really good thing as the cycle will

then be complete," says Tan.

Incentives to go green

However, GBI still has some unfinished business — encouraging individuals to go green. This would require collection of statistics and

lobbying the government.

"We have tax rebates to encourage green adoption but you can't stop at that. It can only achieve so much. We have been telling the

authorities and utility providers that the incentives so far are all upfront, which means they benefit the developer first but what about the

end users that continue to maintain the green buildings?" asks Chen. One of the incentives GBI has proposed to the authorities is to reduce

assessment rates. Chen reasons that while assessment rates contribute to the income of the authorities, a green building reduces waste,

energy and water consumption.

"The rates are calculated on a standard scale, including the projected number of people utilising the building, water requirements and

sewerage capital cost. But if a building goes green, there will be rainwater harvesting and less energy consumption. So why should the

assessment contribution cost be the same? And it's proven savings. Take the Diamond Building — it showed water savings of about 60% from

water harvesting. We have approached the regulators but it will take time and we have to keep pushing," says Chen.

"The returns are very clear. People want to be associated with saving the environment but as far as the owners are concerned, they want to

see tangible gains, which means utility cost savings. But this can only gain more attention when we stop the subsidising [of utility usage].

When the cost is too low, you don't see [the need to save]."

New ratings

GBI expects to launch two green rating tools for shopping malls and version three of the residential tool this year. In the works are tools

for resorts, hotels and healthcare facilities.

"The shopping mall tool was ready by end-2012 but we wanted to test it out on the stakeholders first as we usually do with all our tools,"

says Chen, adding that six shopping malls across the country have offered to be its pilot projects.

GBI has always prided itself on making sure the tools are tested before the launch and are of international standards. However, Chen

acknowledges that not everyone is happy about the high standard and cost.

"We have developers asking us why is GBI so difficult to achieve? We want to maintain the quality and the standard. There are different

levels; you can just work on getting your building certified or push for Platinum rating. If a building can achieve GBI Platinum, it is

world-class standard. If you want something you have to earn it." Tan says GBI is still the cheapest green rating certification in the


On the recently launched GreenRE, a green building and carbon-rating tool developed by the REHDA, the gentlemen felt that it was too early to

comment on the tool without more details but expressed concern over who will be assessing and conducting the certification of its green


"The amount of work we have put into developing and managing GBI is a lot. You can't run it for free — you will need to hire experts. Then

only can we benchmark it against the others," says Tan.

For now, Boon says GBI will continue to guide Malaysia's building and construction industry in greening Malaysia, one building at a time.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Apr 01-07, 2013.

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