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Our own Green Building Index

It has been said that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. But in what condition will this world be when we hand it over to future generations?

Towards the end of the last century, the energy and transport sectors were identified as the two main culprits responsible for the degradation of our environment. However, the role played by man-made structures should not be underestimated. After all, they account for 30% of the world’s total energy consumption and as buildings can last for decades, they leave a long-lasting impact on future energy consumption.

The focus on the level of greenhouse gas emissions in recent years has shifted to Asia. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Building and Climate Change report, Asia currently has more than half the world’s megacities and has doubled its share of the world’s energy consumption over the last 30 years.

In Malaysia, the urban population is expected to grow by 40% to 50% by 2030. Currently, 24% of urban home energy consumption comes from the use of cars to and from work, while 31% is from the use of cars after work. By 2015, Malaysia is expected to become a net importer of energy.

It was against this backdrop and heeding the increasing demands from end-users for green-rated buildings amid a growing environmentally conscious society, Malaysia’s very own green rating tool — the Green Building Index (GBI) — was launched by Works Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor on May 21.

The professional bodies that initiated the GBI are Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM), which came together in August 2008 to form a sustainability committee to undertake the task of setting up the GBI.

Comparative studies were conducted on better-known green-rating models, such as Building Research Establishment Environmental Assesment Method (BREEAM, Britain), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED, the US), Green Mark (Singapore) and Green Star (Australia), to establish a set of criteria for the GBI. Tapping into a network of global resources, the committee sought assistance from green organisations and authorities around the world. Chief among them were the Building Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore, which established the Green Mark, and the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), which established the Green Star.

GBI Malaysia was introduced on Jan 3, 2009. It holds the distinction of being the first and only non-governmental and profession-driven green-rating tool developed for the tropical climate.

At the launch of the GBI, Lee Chor Wah, PAM president and GBI Accreditation Panel chairman, paid tribute to the professionals who devoted their time and effort to making this rating tool a reality. “This historic moment is a testament to the power of volunteerism, international networking and people-to-people international cooperation,” he said.

The GBI’s ultimate goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of Malaysia’s urban cities. With this index in place, buildings in Malaysia can now be assessed and guided to reduce and minimise their impact on the environment.

The index rates green buildings on six criteria:
•    Energy efficiency (35%);
•    Indoor environmental quality (21%);
•    Sustainable site planning and management (16%);
•    Materials and resources (11%);
•    Water efficiency (10%); and
•    Innovation (7%).

Depending on the score, buildings will be rated accordingly and given the classification of Platinum, Gold, Silver or Certified.

The awarded GBI rating is only valid for three years and buildings will have to be reassessed to maintain their GBI rating. This requirement was put in place to combat the country’s notorious lack of maintenance culture, or as Chen Thiam Leong, past president of ACEM and member of the GBI Accreditation Panel, put it succinctly at his presentation of the GBI rating criteria, “First-grade installation, third-grade maintenance.” More than 700 people attended the launch.

Dr Tan Loke Mun, past president of PAM and a member of the GBI Accreditation Panel, is pleased that the level of buy-in from the developers thus far has been good and beyond expectations. “We have had solid support from the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) from day one. Besides, some of the higher profile developers in town, such as S P Setia, Sime Darby, Sunway, MRCB and Bandar Utama City Corp, have shown their support by contributing ideas. Rehda has even submitted its new headquarters for GBI certification.

“In addition, we are getting response from the government. It has included some of its new government buildings to incorporate green features. This will also cover some developments in Iskandar Malaysia. We currently have in hand 11 pilot projects up for GBI certification.”

Sime Darby Property has established a Sustainability Performance Index for its townships under its Sustainable Measurement Framework.

Tan: The government is the best advocate for green buildings and their technologies
Reaping the benefits of going green
Despite the positive response, some property developers are sceptical. Developers, ever conscious of their return on investment and bottom lines, are cautious in their approach. Among their main concerns are the high upfront cost of development and the longer investment payback period.

Serina Hijjas, a member of the GBI Accreditation Panel, acknowledged these issues in her presentation during the launch. “The big question among developers when we tried to sell the concept to them was, will going green pay off? Every one wants to see the bottom line,” she said.

Responding to the perceived high upfront cost, Tan explained, “Many green rating items do not cost more, such as proper orientation, the building site, fenestration design and landscaping. These are costs that have already been factored into the construction of a building. The difference in this case is that it needs to be done properly and according to the criteria listed in the GBI.”

This is supported by a study conducted by a US construction cost-planning and management company Davis Langdon Adamson, based on the LEED certification. It shows the upfront cost of LEED-certified projects often matches or barely surpasses the cost of a comparable building without green features. Serina substantiated this by presenting a study conducted by LEED, which indicated that the construction cost of going green for a small building will see an increase of about 3% and up to 15% for a platinum building.

As for the investment payback period, Tan cited statistics from other rating agencies such as Singapore’s Green Mark, indicating return periods of between two and six years for Gold-rated buildings and two to eight years for Platinum ones. Track records from LEEDS show returns of three to five years for its Silver-rated buildings and five to 10 years for the Gold rated. “However, for Malaysia, it would likely be a bit longer as we are starting from a lower based benchmark in terms of quality as well as standards,” Tan told City & Country.

In the long run, Green buildings can substantially cut operating costs by as much as 60% from reduced energy and water consumption. Hence, green buildings not only help the environment, they also make economical sense.

A book by the Asia Business Council titled Building Energy Efficiency: Why Green Buildings are Key to Asia’s Future cited the Far Eastern Group’s Taipei Metro complex in Taiwan as an example. The building, after incorporating a series of energy-efficient features, managed to achieve a savings of about US$600,000 (RM2.1 million) a year in energy bills. Trudy-Ann King, state manager of World Building Council and member of the GBCA’s Green Star, has this to offer, “Green buildings are just straight up good investment. In the seven years Green Star has been in the market, not one of the developers, which adopted Green Star early for their projects, have stopped using it. That has to say something; it must be good for their bottom line.”

Government’s initiatives
Another topic discussed at the GBI launch is the government’s role in driving the adoption of the GBI. Incentives in the form of tax rebates and exemptions offered by the government would go a long way in encouraging more developers to embrace green buildings. Tan notes, “The government is important as it can be the best advocate for green by adopting the right policies and promoting them accordingly, including providing grants and incentives where possible or even establishing laws and standards to take the nation forward.”

In this regard, one need not look further than Singapore. The government there has been generous with its incentive schemes, a move that has helped accelerate the adoption of green building technologies and building design practices.

To this end, the GBI team has started preliminary talks with the government at three levels — federal, state and local authorities. Among the proposals are tax incentives for GBI-rated developments based on the amount spent on green technology for a fixed period of three years; reductions on quit rent and assessment rates; and exempting building plan fees for refurbishment and conversion of existing buildings to green ones. Banks and financial institutions may also be roped in to offer lower interest rates to purchasers, developers and building owners of GBI-rated buildings and properties.

When asked about the government’s response to offering incentives for green developments at a press conference after the launch of GBI, Shaziman said, “We shouldn’t think that way. We should do this because it is better for us and for our nation and not because we will be rewarded.”

Making green ratings mandatory
In April 2008, Singapore made it mandatory for all new buildings or works on existing buildings exceeding 2,000 sq m in floor area to obtain a minimum Green Mark certified rating. Singapore is not alone; the Australian government is pushing for mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency levels for any commercial space with a net lettable area of 2,000 sq m or more to be implemented by 2010.

The two governments were instrumental in helping to propel the green movement forward. “Australia has set a good example. The government is showing the way by being the biggest proponent of green-rated buildings by applying a policy that ensures all premises are green-rated. As the largest tenant and property player in its cities, this alone has pushed property owners to go green. We believe that this will also be the direction in Malaysia,” says Tan.

While the GBI team is exploring similar initiatives for the future, it’s still a long way from making GBI mandatory.

Serina: The big question among developers when we tried to sell the concept to them was, will going green pay off?“The Singapore Green Mark has been running since 2005 and only last year did it become mandatory. We have to get the tool out, we have to get it started first and then, once the government sees the benefits, we can start looking at making it mandatory. Now, we are still at the stage of trying to get incentives from the government just to get developers to consider going green,” said Serina.

That said, the GBI team has taken the first few steps in that direction, starting with the inclusion of MS1525 standards into the Uniform Building By-Laws, making energy-efficient practices mandatory. MS1525 is a code of practice on energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy for non-residential buildings developed by PAM and ACEM. The code is likely to be implemented at the end of the year.

 The road ahead
In BCI Asia’s Green Building Market Report 2008, two of the main barriers listed were lack of awareness and education. The GBI team is set to tackle these challenges head on.

Says Tan: “We plan to undertake awareness promotions at several levels, from students, community groups and residents’ associations to government, industry and professionals. Green has always been strong with NGOs and community groups, so there already exists a level of knowledge and passion. What we need now is a structure to promote it properly. The formation of the Malaysian Green Building Confederation (MGBC) is to address this need to promote, educate and train.”

The team is also gearing up to start work on a new set of GBI tools for township and existing buildings. “It will be another exhausting but interesting journey for Malaysia. No other country really has a township tool because most of the developed countries don’t build new towns anymore. In Malaysia, we seem to be experts in that. We need more people to help us in the following months,” says Tan.

The green movement is not just about green buildings and their technologies; it’s also a lifestyle. Every effort counts, be it car pooling or doing something as simple as using recycled paper in your office. We have only one planet; it’s time we did our part.

More information on the MGBC can be found on www.mgbc.org.my and on the Green Building Index at www.greenbuildingindex.org.




This article appeared in City & Country Special Focus, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 760, June 22 - 28, 2009.

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