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Malaysia’s Current State of Building and Construction Industry Practices towards Green Building Industry

It’s been quite some time since I penned down my thoughts on my personal journey to discover my true passion. Reminiscing more than a year ago, I decided to jump from the Architecture Firm into the Green Building Consultancy Firm which I am today. Well, i choose the latter because I want to know if it is the right opportunity for me to harvest my passion towards the environmental sustainability, I didn’t choose the earlier one, not because of the long tiring hours of drafting and designing (they are quite enjoyable at times), but I doubt my passion can be planted in such design bureaucratic environment.

THE ROUGH RIDE

So here I am today, as expected, first year of working experience is an eye-opening one (& I am glad that I didn’t stay in university for longer than 3 years) and I would write in a separate post as a follow-up on what I wrote about the 10 Things I learn in University. But as eye-opening as it is, I learned many things on the green building industry that it takes to be a practical optimist to be a good negotiator for the better of the Green Building Industry. Honestly speaking, a lot of times I feel like giving up, not because of the job ( i really enjoy the job), but to face the reality of the hardship of pitching your green consultancy across and countered by various factors to prove that it’s so hard to see green buildings really perform as we would prefer it to be. There are many times I opted to give up and thinking of starting other initiatives or there are better ways to convey my passion more effectively, and I know it is very easy for me to do so because of the network available to give me ample of opportunities.

TO BE GOOD IS TO PERSEVERE

But I told myself to face the reality, that the art of smart negotiation is the sharpest tool any consultants should have. What made me enjoy so much about this industry in the years to come is the amount of things to learn. As Architecture Students, we always say Architects are the leader of the project team as they must know everything from the master plan to the details of the tiles they use. And as a Green Building Consultant, one should be the best in the team in anything to do with Sustainable development, green technology or built environment sustainability for the entire scale as well! It’s a field that is so big so huge and I am not sure how long does it take for me to understand every aspect, from rating tools, to costing, to technology, to anything software or hardware. The last thing I thought of being an architecture fresh grad, is to learn about engineering aspect. (and that’s where I learned how flawed sometimes our architecture education is as well!)

GreeningMalaysia

IT’S STILL A NEW INDUSTRY

The Green Building Industry, despite taking off since 2009 with the formation of MGBC Malaysia Green Building Council. It is still a fresh idea to many in the building industry I would say. Kindly understand what I meant by “fresh” by understanding the current perceptions by developers today. Nevertheless, I would say that MGBC is highly admirable for the milestones undertaken within such short amount of time, with close to 10 GreenBuildingIndex rating tools and few updated revisions to enhance the relevance of the tools and more than 50 million square feet now GBI certified. The evidence of sustainable development in Malaysia is abundant, it is self-evident in various stakeholders and level of governments. Just in a glance, KETTHA’s MyHijau Program and Low Carbon City Framework, SEDA FiT scheme, the GreenTech financing scheme under 10th Malaysia Plan, Penang & Malacca State Governments are equipping up with their own framework for their own green plans, MBPJ and DBKL making new developments be GBI mandatory.. just to name a few. BUT, it’s still, a new industry.

The spark of Green Building Industry in Malaysia is indeed an example with the strong presence of government’s involvement in terms of financing and implementation, it is also bottom-up approach, having PAM and ACEM collaborated together. While I do not know the details of such, I would wish to do some rantings on some of the aspects in which the building/construction industry can improve, and yes I will take the advantage of being the novice in the field to ask silly questions too.

THE CONTRACTOR SCENE

While I acknowledge that the Green Building Industry is picking up, it’s quite sad to see that the overall standards of compliance among contractors towards basic safety and health is disheartening, what more about the environment? Over my exposure to the issue of Erosion Sedimentation Control, I would say that there is a serious lack of regulation enforcement on the contractor in managing their surface runoff by filtering it. I think we have talked so much about quantifying a development’s carbon footprint but this is a serious concern when you have untreated surface run off into Sungai Klang! and we were talking about the River Of Life project? A good benchmark to compare with is UK’s considerate constructor scheme or Singapore’s Green and Gracious Builder Awards by BCA (as shown below). While there is no significant step taken from CIDB on the aspect of environmental yet.

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STOPPING THE GREEN WASHING

There is 2 kinds of Green Labeling. One is in which a brand can stick on itself and claim that it’s “Green”, and another one that is accredited by a third independent party to recognize so. The latter proves to be more reliable obviously. Currently we have ST Energy Commission Star Labeling Scheme for some electrical appliances, and based on the latest info, effectively by mid of 2014, there will be a mandatory Malaysia Standards for 5 main domestic appliances namely Fridge, TV, Lights, Fans and AC, each with their own baseline target to fulfill to continue to be on the shelves. While that is something encouraging, there is a serious need for an official, established green labeling scheme such as Singapore’s Green Label. We do have Eco SIRIM Label (SIRIM) and MyHijau (KETTHA) at the moment, but it’s just not prominent in the market yet for the public to be able to distinguish what’s truly “green”, or rather, to educate them on their carbon footprint.

FACILITIES MANAGEMENT

I am very glad about the amount of GBI registered projects sky rocketing, however, they are largely enforced by 2 push factors I would say, local authority compliance and Corporate Social Responsibility as an MNC. And no, I don’t think they are attracted by the pull factors such as tax incentives. Anyways, my concern is the performance of green buildings down the road. You see, you can easily get GBI DA Design Assessment Certification, or perhaps getting the CVA verification stage as well, but we cannot assume that green building does its job when the maintenance management is not well done. a few days ago I was asking a professor in my university and also after looking through some literature reviews, the pool of knowledge for commissioning and maintaining green building is still very poor in our country it seems, and this is a valid concern for the much applauded green buildings we have today as we may doubt how long they really perform as what we expect them to be?

LACK OF INFORMATION AVAILABLE

If you are about to google “Green Buildings Malaysia”, you would most likely land on MGBC page, or some GBI consultancy firm web page, or some university publication.. or I am surprised that you would land back this blog again. My point is that while we do have a limited pool of individual talents pushing the boundaries for the industry to grow, there is a lack of end user-friendly articles or write ups that are circulating around. While at some aspect, we do have some attachments available on the net, but these are more catered for semi-professionals and not end users like those aunties, uncles and school kids at home. I mean some guides like this bottom. As silly as how simple it may sound, but we just don’t have the kit to let someone start from somewhere!

Download (PDF, 3.18MB)

THE EDUCATION PIPELINE

Another huge mind boggling fact for me to face as a fresh grad that just entered the green building industry is to realize the gap between the quality of education towards green building design and to what’s practiced actually. The disturbing fact is by revisiting my university back then and knowing from other university’s architecture program exposure towards green building is somewhat so shallow. The fact that some architecture students would know the principle of design much better than the end users thermal and visual comfort is somehow questioning the industry if they are really designing buildings for a better living of mankind or for the sake of design aesthetics. There should be an improvement to this syllabus since the trend of green building is no longer a surprising element for the students as well. Personally, I have gone through this experience where I presented the GBI scoresheet , technical calculation and daylight simulation to the lecturers and I am drained away by them saying that these are only for the green building consultants to do! (during my years of architecture student). So, How do we train these future designers up with a mind that they will be facing the newly amended UBBL that incorporates MS1525? Hooray!

RULE OF THUMB NEEDED FOR ARCHITECTS

Let’s face it, Green Building Consultant is a specialist consultant and you don’t expect every development that’s aiming for green building certification to have a consultant on board. For the sake of the objective of why such industry exists, there is a need for a guide for architects to refer to as rule of thumbs without much time needed to understand by technical means. Architects need to understand their building design better in terms of building performance rather than a piece of aesthetic art work. This is so Architects can defend their design better when it comes to VE Value Engineering process ( the process of cutting unnecessary cost). It’s very often Architects simply place external shading device purely for aesthetic rather building performance reason, and this is easily removed by the client for cost saving purpose. This is just an example out of many, you could refer more to the outline report done by CK Tang & Nic Chin at below, that is followed by the responding 200 page BSEEP Building Energy Efficiency Technical Guideline for Passive Design that’s hopefully to be a good guide for Architects.

Download (PDF, 297KB)

GREEN BUILDING INDUSTRY IS JUST PART OF THE TOOL FOR THE SOLUTION

One needs to know that the green building is just the very beginning of the development of sustainable development framework. Such industry would need input from various different stakeholders and industries as well, such as green technology, smart cities, low carbon transportation, materials with low LCA life cycle analysis carbon footprint, and many more. In fact it’s one tool that needs all different stakeholders to come together to a mutual understanding and practice to work this out effectively. We would need the end users being educated to understand their homes better to increase the demand for such high performance building and many more to come.

Well, seems like a rough ride ahead that needs many more individuals and groups to spearhead this. Above all was only mentioned to my personal experience, of course, f any of you who are reading this who has something to add on or to correct me, feel free to leave a comment below!