Sustainable Building? or Green (Building) Washing?

It scares me every time when I came across the word sustainable, the word sustainable is most commonly quoted concept of “sustainable development” is that of the Brundtland Commission of the UN in the early 1987, which defines it as ” a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. If you just google. and simply you can see the top 3 issues juggling around the same area.

I think my exposure towards this sustainable thing was during my undergraduate education where somehow sustainable is being mentioned almost every day, with the most misconception that green building is sustainable by a very vague understanding within the students. And later on, I became even more curious where you see terms like ESD Education for Sustainable Development.. or Sustainable Education coming up.. even in my own university, USM, with the tagline of “to ensure the sustainability of higher education tomorrow” freaks me out sometimes too, and this somewhat leads students to the usage of the words for many projects without a solid understanding of what does it mean.

So What’s Wrong?

I don’t have any issue with sustainability and how the concept came about, but there’s a great issue on how the public perceives it and how the green marketing is turning this agenda that scares people off instead! It’s no surprise for me to see the mix reaction from the public, while some environmental activist pats their backs for the good news, some others don’t, and being pessimistic about it, I can assume that I am one of them. It’s just part of our responsibility to ensure that things are right and whether it could really bring benefits to the environment and built environment. Personally, I recognize professors who are doing various research on this new paradigm shifts, it could be sustainable development.. or GreenBuildingIndex. You can easily just google and read dozens of the thesis done on it.

Green Washing?

Being a person who is interested in environmental issues, I think there’s a lot to observe over this paradigm shift. In case you haven’t come across the word GREENWASHING. It simply means pushing PR and Marketing stating that your company is going for Green! that promotes the perception that the company is environmental friendly, whatever to increase support but the fact is not much has been done to help the environment. More at WIKI. It’s not hard to spot one anytime.

For example, as extracted from Wiki.

The term greenwashing was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt in a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry’s practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to “save the environment”. Westerveld noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward reducing energy waste was being made by these institutions—as evidenced by the lack of cost reduction this practice effected. Westerveld opined that the actual objective of this “green campaign” on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westerveld thus labeled this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing.

Greening the Built Environment

The reason why I took the time to elaborate on Green Washing is to illustrate that the same is happening in Green Buildings. As a Green Building Consultant, I recognize the fact that recently Malaysia is having a leap forward in the built environment when a group of professional Architects and Engineers came together to start a tool, Green Building Index to rate the efficiency of a building. Formation of the Malaysian Green Building Confederation started in May 2007, when a group consultants, academia and representatives from the building industry met to initiate a non-profit making organization to promote sustainable buildings in Malaysia.

I personally recognize that GBI is a neutral and fair pointing system and it’s always being improvised in comparison with other countries pointing system. There’s a lot of inputs and efforts in launching the effort to produce smarter, energy efficient building to house occupants more effectively and efficiently. As consultants, we strive our best to assist in designs, to help buildings to achieve GBI points in an ethical manner, in a green holistic manner, that is being emphasized strongly to anyone going along with this direction.

Then when Green Building Washing Starts?

Again like Marketing and PR agency, they will find easy ways with the cheapest cost to buy the impression of going green, the same goes to GreenBuildingIndex too when people can abuse the pointing system for just trying to achieve low hanging fruits with the minimal budget. Most of them will just go for “Certified” Level, which is the lowest certificate in GBI. The benefit of having a building going for GBI certificates is many, from PR to Sales increase Profit, to the full tax exemption on any Green Building Technology Cost in the project. Many Buildings worldwide will rather entertain a visible green technology than have an effective passive design that reduces the overall consumption of the buildings over its lifetime.

This often happens when clients wants the most out of the little budget and a tiny or non existent will in pursuing towards what green building really means, but rather look forward for the incentive of doing so.The terms like “Low Carbon” “Green” and “Sustainable” are used frequently within government reports, while policy documents deal in ecologically modern concepts.. but most often does the end product represent its intention as much as it should be? Sales Gallery will be decorated with landscape extensively, brochures will be boasted with all the green technology the building has, that is totally all right, but what makes matter worst is ultimately the occupants themselves, if they are responsive and understand how the building is designed in the first place. I think that’s one of the disturbing issue for any passionate individuals in built environment to take note of, to think about on the relations between this green building and their occupants.

While some can be skeptical of Green Building Rating system and argues that it’s a political tool that solely looking at the economic factors to grow GDP through investment in so-called “Green Technology” i think the problem over Green Building Washing has a much higher priority to stop now, instead of arguing on something that could at least bring mankind better buildings.