Building professionals expound on Green at FuturArc Forum 2019



3rd Quarter 2019

Building professionals expound on Green at FuturArc Forum 2019

by Carissa Kwok

FuturArc Forum was created to expand the conversation on Green architecture and development beyond the printed FuturArc magazine, onto a more personal and interactive medium. Hence, in 2008, the series of conference and networking events was born, and it was held in all seven BCI Asia countries. Thereafter, subsequent Forums were successfully organised in Singapore and Hong Kong separately.

“We wanted to bring together advocates, partners, like-minded professionals and industry players to push the movement along, and carry on the dialogue face-to-face. The first FuturArc Forum kick-started in Malaysia back in 2008, so this is a homecoming of sorts.”

Candice Lim, managing editor of FuturArc, highlighted in her opening speech during the forum on 18 June 2019.

GBI impacts on Green economy

The day began with a keynote address on the state of Green in Malaysia by Ar Ezumi Harzani Ismail, the immediate past president of Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM). As Malaysia’s Green Building Index (GBI) reaches its 10th year milestone, it is a good time to take stock and assess the impact of sustainability efforts in the country. Ezumi shared that there are demands to measure GBI key performance index for a reality check, where expectations are as follows:

  • Better awareness and knowledge of Green building and energy efficiency
  • Industry knowledge to embrace new benchmarks
  • Leading the industry to the new paradigm

“When we approach the state governments who have not subscribed to GBI, they question ‘What are the real benefits?’ This is because they cannot see a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and that is why we have to translate the data into something tangible, such as power and water consumption, which accumulates to millions of dollars. That is how we get the buy-in from the government,” Ezumi elaborated.

“It’s beyond the Green assessment rating; it’s about how the building should respond to its occupants and the environment. In the design process, there should be increasing awareness and understanding levels that making a building Green is a cost savings in itself when it comes to energy, water and building management costs. These should be the cost benefits for developers and building owners, etc., to focus on by participating in Green building, where rental and building values will be increased, and not the direct incentives from the government.

“We hope that one day, Green building is not something that is preferred by the people, but something that is the norm—it’s not something that they wish they have, but it’s something that they must have.”

Ar Ezumi Harzani Ismail, the immediate past president of Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM)

Designing with nature

FuturArc editor-in-chief Dr Nirmal Kishnani spoke about eco-puncture—“pinpricks of transformative changes”—which refers to strategic designs and projects that trigger systemic health (not unlike acupuncture) and create a ripple of good in the surrounding community. With the global threats of climate change and ecological loss demanding urgent intervention, sustainability efforts, he said, should move from mitigation of harm to catalysing change that repairs and restores the environment.

“I would like to start by talking about the gap: this is a gap between what we do as advocates of sustainable design, and what is actually happening in the built environment. This is also a kind of reality check. I think that if we acknowledge the gap in an honest and open manner, then maybe we can find better ways of designing buildings and cities.

“Let’s discuss about a few things that we have forgotten in the discourse of sustainability, a few questions that have been left behind. The first one is how do we engage a living planet; how do we connect with nature. And by this I don’t just mean biophilic design, where trees are planted around our buildings. By this I mean how do we become, once again, a part of the natural system rather than something that is set apart from it.”

FuturArc editor-in-chief Dr Nirmal Kishnani

“Green design in Asia began in 2003. It may be an arbituary number, but I think it is significant. Because prior to this, there were very few Green building councils in Asia, other than the ones in India, Japan and Taiwan. But during the post-2003 period, we saw the formation of many such councils and Green assessment tools. By the year 2008, this was entrenched in our vocabulary; we knew how to break it down into actionable parts, what to do with the drawing board, how to measure outcomes, how to monetise it.

“The building that I think really marked a significant moment in the Green building movement in Asia is the CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in India, as it was the first LEED Platinum building outside of the US, in Asia. Here in this building is proof that we can have energy and water savings, etc., without fundamentally changing our economic model, the way in which we relate to natural systems, and the way we were building. This was crucial in Asia because it was in the upswing of economic growth, and everyone was looking for a way to be Green without curtailing the economic growth of Asian cities and economies. So without realising and talking about it, we began to subscribe to an idea: profitable sustainability,” Dr Kishnani observed.

Profitable sustainability

“Profitable sustainability is a very important point about environmental responsible design. It argues that you have to be sustainable not just because experts in the room say so, you have to be Green because it makes money: Green buildings save money by fetching higher rentals and a better resale value. The Green branding can be monetised because it shapes consumers’ sentiment. For people who are concerned about the planet or their own health, they will buy into the notion of being Green. But the problem with this argument is what it leaves out. The conversation around Green has narrowed to what we do within site and shell: how it benefits the occupants and the developers. What is problematic about this is that it gives governments a free pass. In fact, to this day, there are only very few countries where Green is mandated by law; in most places, it is still voluntary, because governments do not need to act since it’s profitable, and hence it does not need to be turned into a law.

“The problem of sustainability cannot be solved at the scale of the building; it needs to be solved at the scale of the city, since so much of what happens to the planet happens because of the way we run our cities, the pace of which urbanisation is taking place. There is a school of thought now that argues that we will never be sustainable until we can rethink the urban model of how cities are designed.”

FuturArc editor-in-chief Dr Nirmal Kishnani

“E.O. Wilson, the father of biophilia, recently wrote a book named Half-Earth, in which he argued that we should leave half the planet alone, and intensify the other half (the urbanised bits) with technology and recycling, and so on.”

In his conclusion, Dr Kishnani remarked, “Buildings should be measured by their generosity—not just what they do for themselves or their occupants, but also what they do for their cities. The problem of sustainability requires a way of thinking about the right scale of action, and if you start with the question of what should a city be, then everything follows from that; generosity becomes a requirement. Then the question of what a building does is that it must provide space for food, community space, other species, etc. These are the obligations of a building to the city and the ecosystem. As such, rating tools become different as well, where they become ways of negotiating the relationship between cities and the world that we inhabit. How we evaluate buildings changes too.”

“I think that a Greener building is one that makes a good city.”

FuturArc editor-in-chief Dr Nirmal Kishnani

Incentives and business opportunities

Gregers Reimann, managing director of IEN Consultants Sdn Bhd, pushed the case for biophilic tropical buildings with case studies from Malaysia, while C.K. Tang, honorary treasurer of Malaysia Green Building Council (MalaysiaGBC), made a business case for net-zero energy buildings and Green innovation in Malaysia, where he spoke about how sustainability is a business opportunity.

Reimann said, “We have to start levelling the playing field by paying the right price for energy and water. Taxation and incentives are great ways to get the right development. In German, the word for taxes means ‘to steer’. I feel that this is actually the right way to look at taxes, to steer developments and society in the direction that we want to go. Of course, the knee-jerk reaction is that the poor will suffer. But taxes should be implemented such that the less well-to-do citizens can still maintain their lifestyle quality and the rich can pay their fair share.”

Tang commented, “Personally, I feel that Green rating systems are actually quite complicated, especially for professionals who are not trained in it, and will find it challenging to implement these tools. Hence, I think we need to simplify them further, where everyone can apply them with ease and acknowledge them as the solution. We have reached the stage where we know that these technologies are proven to work. The question is how can we scale it up to every other project, every other new building.

“At the core of it, from a developer’s point of view, is the question of whether there is value for one to carry it out: I can spend $X million on a project, but a neighbouring property that does not do anything of the same kind can also be sold at the same price.”

C.K. Tang, honorary treasurer of Malaysia Green Building Council (MalaysiaGBC)

“That would be the biggest question mark; how can we do this and influence everyone to do it? Profitability is one, how can we scale it up, where you request for $X amount, and people are willing to pay more for it. That will encourage the developers easily. Or do we push for government policies and for more developers to follow suit, so that everyone is paying the same price? There are a lot of questions that we need to debate, engage and discuss, between government, private sectors, developers and professionals, to find a win-win formula moving forward, so that everyone can benefit from this.

Tang elaborated, “Even if you increase the electricity tomorrow from 50 cents to 1 dollar, for most companies, paying 50 cents per kilowatt hour is only 1 per cent of their turnover, for example. If the increase is doubled tomorrow, it’s still only 2 per cent, which is insignificant compared to the salaries, rental etc. Energy, water and waste disposal will be cheap, even if the cost is doubled. So to think that human behaviour will change because of an increase in cost, I believe it’s a fallacy; we are not going to switch off the air conditioner now just because electricity cost will be raised from MYR200 to MYR400 tomorrow. I think we need a lot more work than tarrifs.”

Green assessment tools

Samantha Allen, International WELL Building Institute Asia’s director of Business Development, spoke on the WELL Building Standard, while Dr Mohd Haji Kahirolden Ghani, manager of Construction Research Institute of Malaysia (CREAM), shed light on the Malaysian Carbon Reduction & Environmental Sustainability Tool (MyCREST).

Allen presented on topics such as:

  • Materials: “There is a lot of talk about biophilia and greening of the indoors, which is great, but if we are using harmful chemicals like pesticides, then that’s doing more damage than we are getting good from it.”
  • Thermal comfort: “We can maximise productivity through improved HVAC system designs to make the indoor environment more adaptive, to allow people a range of thermal environments that they feel the most comfortable in, so that they can work to their best capacity.”

Green buildings alone are not enough to create a sustainable future, as there needs to be whole ecosystems solutions that are scaled up to have a greater impact on mending the planet; occupants need to change their behaviour and mindset for change to be effective; building better will see greater returns in the social and economic sense because the cost of not doing so will be higher than any monetary or opportunity cost.

Candice moderated the panel discussions with the speakers. These were the takeaway messages.

On the challenges of working together with local rating tools for more accurate measurements, Allen shared, “One of the things that the WELL Building Standard does quite well, maybe not at first, is the idea to be a global standard. For LEED and BREEAM, they are incubated in the US and UK respectively before they went out into the world and found that you can’t always fit a particular model into different moulds, cultural adaptations and building codes. One of the things that WELL has is that we made it much more flexible in order to work with local codes, customs, practices and economies of scale. It’s still a learning curve, where the idea behind the WELL Building Standard is that there will always be adaptations and changes. Hopefully, we are working towards having a better relationship with the governments as Dr Kishnani mentioned earlier, where there are different silos in funding. Sometimes, the interests of the private sector are very different from the government sector. So those two sectors together can really help push forward and make it available to everyone, not just architects, engineers and people within the real estate industry, and spread the knowledge to the people no matter what they are doing.”

The Forum was well received by the attendees who gave high marks for the speakers (94.88 per cent) and the overall event experience (97.43 per cent). Out of the 143 attendees, 89 per cent were architects, and 9 per cent were developers and consultants. FuturArc Forum 2019 Malaysia was presented by the following partners: Hume Cemboard Industries Sdn Bhd, San Miguel Yamamura Woven Products Sdn Bhd and UBE Corporate Solutions Sdn Bhd, and was supported by CIDB Malaysia, Malaysia Green Building Council and the International WELL Building Institute.

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