Scaling up Green building practices for a 1.5-degree world

Scaling up Green building practices for a 1.5-degree world

FRIDAY, 10 MAY 2024 – Countries around the globe continue to experience unprecedented heat, with last month ranking as the hottest April on record.1 This marks 11 consecutive months of exceptionally high global temperatures, leading some experts to caution that 2024 could surpass 2023 as the warmest year in recorded history.

In line with Earth Day, on 23 April 2024 the Hong Kong Green Building Council Limited (HKGBC) and Business Environment Council (BEC) co-organised an Expert Talk with David Gottfried with the theme of Catalysing Green Building Movements at Scale, held at HKPC Building. Gottfried founded the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), initiating a global sustainable building movement that has now reached over 70 countries with hundreds of thousands of projects in 180 countries.

“USGBC is the fastest growing nonprofit in the world,” Gottfried shared in his presentation, noting how other associations are attempting to replicate the council’s growth. Among the key driver was the sense of urgency to reduce carbon emissions in order to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which still needs to be escalated: “We need results … we need to take more risks at scale, urgently, the way this country dealt with COVID.”

In Hong Kong, Gottfried recognised that the density of buildings has given architects and Green building practitioners a promising foothold: “When you look at the density of high rises and the carbon footprint per occupant, it’s quite good because you use less energy, with less carbon emissions. [Hong Kong is] the model for urbanising and going up … it’s a sophisticated Green building market here.”

However, he also cautioned that with higher density, spaces risk a lack of daylight penetration, which could disrupt circadian rhythms. There is also the challenge of ageing structures to be reckoned with, which are housing increasingly ageing populations in the city.

Finding common priorities

The presentation was followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience. The topic of retrofitting is of high relevance for Hong Kong, as asked by Dr Tony Ip, founder of Tony Ip Green Architects and a Director of HKGBC: “How do we tap in the embodied carbon that is in the sector to insert it into the formula and drive the market forward?”

“The third wave of Green building is embodied carbon,” opined Gottfried. “The first step is to calculate embodied carbon; scenario planning on adaptive reuse.” A robust database of existing buildings is important, starting with mapping the footprint, coding them according to the possibility of improvement or the potential of reuse potential. “There should be a mechanism to purchase a building and deconstruct parts of it. Get students and construction management to work on them; fund them.”

Ada Fung, who is the former Deputy Director of Housing at the Hong Kong Housing Authority asked: “People are motivated by incentives and they perform according to regulators. Currently, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) is bringing people together. What do you think will be the next accelerator?”

“I am a believer in carrots and sticks … I would love to see a carbon tax for every country,” Gottfried answered, citing Singapore’s carbon tax as an example. He also emphasised the importance of pushing for waste reduction in building codes, for example by implementing rainwater and grey water recycling. “The cost of energy and water is presently too ‘cheap’ as it does not represent externalities, such as depleted aquifers.”

M. K. Leung, Director of Sustainable Design at Ronald Lu & Partners (RLP) Asia asked: “We all come from different disciplines with different visions—some align; some don’t. In a nonprofit environment, how do we align visions for different stakeholders so that we all can move forward to have an effective blueprint?”

Gottfried advised to find common metrics. “Carbon and waste are common metrics, [since] they are absolutes. Find the common goals, create common priorities and steer it that way, and make compromises. Today the common priority is about carbon minimisation, but you also can’t compromise air quality or daylighting or thermal comfort, and you can’t waste [resources]. There’s a new way of looking at a budget. Instead of thinking about a return on investment, think about a return on the quality of life—how about that?”

Siu Lam Integrated Rehabilitation Services Complex

Public Housing Developments at Queen’s Hill, Fanling

FuturArc Prize 2024 Juror Highlight: Dr Tony Ip