Special Focus: The International Green Building Conference (IGBC) 2016

Nov - Dec 2016

Special Focus: The International Green Building Conference (IGBC) 2016

by Anshuman Roy

November 6, 2016

The latest chapter of the International Green Building Conference (IGBC) was held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre from 7th to 9th September 2016. Themed Building Green: The Next Decade, the conference witnessed a footfall of more than 1,000 people over its three-day duration. Stalwarts of the Green building industry, students and the general public at large convened for a comprehensive exchange of ideas and aspirations, centred on making the right strides towards ushering in a more sustainable future for cities. A diaspora of ideas that ranged from innovative to radical left their mark on an inspired audience, and the cream of these will be summarised here.

Lawrence Wong, minister for National Development and second minister of Finance, Singapore, flagged off the proceedings on day one. Keynote speakers included Tai Lee Sang (vice president of the World Green Building Council, Singapore); Romily Madew (CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia); and Dr Johnny Wong (group director, Housing Development Board, Singapore), amongst others. Academics including Dr Chia Jon Ernest from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Prof Dr Arno Schlueter of ETH Zurich completed the panel of experts who conversed on an array of subjects.

The topics discussed on the day included speculative strategising to prepare for the next decade in building; an analysis on how to conduct a systemic, sustainable tapping of renewable natural resources; as well as an assessment of how information-centric, cloud-based systems can influence the evolution of smart cities.

The spectre of climate change held sway over the course of the conference, and a panel discussion titled Climate Change: Transforming Thoughts to Actions took on this issue in detail. The discussion focused on going beyond the building and construction sector to gain innovative perspectives, so as to propel the discourse on tackling climate change to the realms of a tangible reality.

Curt Garrigan (Cities and Building programme manager of the United Nations Environment Programme) spoke about how the construction sector can play a potentially significant role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ye Qing (chairman of the Shenzen Institute of Building and Research (IBR)) advocated an insight into the past of cities as an imperative to chartering its way to a Greener future. Traditional Chinese philosophy, she posited, has always exhorted a low-carbon way of life designed on the principles of natural ventilation, ample daylight and a diet low on meat consumption. If the wisdom of the past was implemented in conjunction with modern-day technology, instead of mindlessly aping Western lifestyle trends, it could indeed pave the way for a sustainable future. “The people of China have the right to be happy too, but if we live like Western societies with their high-carbon lifestyles, three earths will not be enough for China,” she said.

If the wisdom of the past was implemented in conjunction with modern-day technology, instead of mindlessly aping Western lifestyle trends, it could indeed pave the way for a sustainable future.

Day two of the conference welcomed a host of luminaries from the worlds of academia and practice. Prof Lam Khee Poh (incumbent dean of the Department of Architecture, NUS) enthralled a sizeable audience at the spotlight plenary. He spoke at length about circular economies—a system that is structured on renewing and revitalising resources. Circular economy essentially does away with the copious amount of waste inherent to prevalent systems of linear economy. It also spawns alternate avenues of revenue and employment generation, and thus, by its very definition, embodies the sustainability ethos.

Chia Yen Ling (director, Green Building Policy Department, Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Singapore) chaired a panel discussion titled Greening Inside Out that attracted enthusiastic audience participation. The focus was largely on the economics and policy making that goes into ‘Greening’ the urban fabric of our cities. Smart homes beget relatively larger investments for buyers, with returns that potentially mature only after four to six years. Enticing the homeowner to invest in the potential, in what

Bakker spoke at length about the importance of integrating smart technologies in buildings and why considering the people’s needs is paramount in the approach to sustainable architecture and design.

is essentially a return-centric industry, is a topic that invoked spirited discussion. Sustainable stock exchanges, Green leasing, the pre-allocation of a certain percentage of construction-budget to Green features, and whether sustainable reporting should be made mandatory, were other subjects that were debated with fervour.

Ron Bakker (founding partner, PLP Architecture, United Kingdom (UK)) discussed the aspirations and strategies that went into realising PLP’s recently completed Green magnum opus, The Edge. A smart office building located in Zuidas, the financial capital of Amsterdam, The Edge was awarded the highest rating (98.36) ever recorded by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a research centre based in the UK. Bakker spoke at length about the importance of integrating smart technologies in buildings, how The Edge is a successful model for Green offices around the world, and why considering the people’s needs is paramount in the approach to sustainable architecture and design.

The closing plenary, aptly titled Building Green: The Next Decade, sought to summarise the veritable exodus of ideas that ensued over the course of the two days at the IGBC. The plenary elicited applause and participation in equal measure, extolling well the oratorical skills of Karuna Gopal (president, Foundation for Futuristic Cities, India) who held a full-house audience captive with her passionate discourse. Her presentation, titled Smart cities are but Green Cities, touched upon a diverse range of topics that ranged from blue economies, centred on harnessing renewable energies from our oceans; to flat white economies, a radical school of thought that does away with physical offices and espouses virtual workplaces. This ‘work from home’ construct essentially reduces emissions associated with travelling, and is being implemented successfully in both the UK and the Netherlands.

Also discussed during the plenary was the ongoing research on underground farming, a practice which promises to increase crop yield a thousand times over, and studies that use certain bacteria to conjure usable fuel out of thin air—both are revolutionary concepts that resonated with an inspired audience. The plenary concluded with a talk about the need to educate the next generation and reach out to the multitude if meaningful change is truly to be brought about.

The concluding day of the IGBC 2016 threw its doors open to students and the general public. It featured a series of intensive technical workshops. The topics covered encompassed high performance façades for the tropics, smart buildings, as well as indoor air quality moderation. Presided over by industry specialists, these workshops focused on educating the layman about sustainable living strategies that can be incorporated by one and all at grassroots levels, and also on providing a hands-on experience with the latest ‘Green’ products that were being showcased at the venue.

Desmond Lee, Singapore’s senior minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, announced an initiative on the final day of the IGBC, which paved the way for the commencement of next year’s chapter. Titled the Back to School initiative, this programme directs the BCA to equip students with knowledge about Green buildings, who will in turn, be deployed to their secondary and primary schools to help their alma maters achieve the BCA’s Green Mark accreditation for environmentally friendly buildings. “I think that this kind of peer-to-peer, ground-up initiative is a second wave of support to lead a Green life,” Lee opined.

BCA’s chief executive Dr John Keung also averred that the key to a sustainable future lies in the efforts to educate the young. “We must educate our younger generations. We need to get our proactive youngsters to share their experiences,” he said. “The more of them that we can get on board, the better off we will be in the future.”

Indeed, the next year’s IGBC has the working theme of Build Green, Be the Change. Ang Kian Seng (group director of the Environmental Sustainability group, and second vice president of the BCA and the Singapore Green Building Council) said that the theme was inspired by the role that people can play in Green cities. “It’s based on the fact that we can be change agents and influence people outside of our network. This conference has given us a lot of optimism, and we want to involve even more people.”

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