2013-12-12 15.45.45

Perceptions & Challenges of Sustainable Practices in Malaysia towards Building & Construction Industry

Earlier on I did a little of my rantings as a curious mind on Malaysia’s current state of building and construction industry practices towards Green Building Industry HERE and market’s perception by developer HERE. It always wonders me on how do these good sustainable practices in the building & construction industry move forward through the means of the regulatory framework or market driven induction approach. Recently a post grad student emailed me for some opinions towards the perceptions and challenges of sustainable practices in our building industry. I thought I could share some of it here:

1. What is your take on GBI Certification(its strengths and weaknesses) in comparison to other recognized building certifications such as Green Mark and LEED?

I have only done submissions for GBI and Green Mark as of now. Both of these tools are made in the favor of customizing towards the own country’s needs of the building & construction industry growth towards a healthier and greener benchmark one. Green Mark is particularly more interested in energy performance design, as I believe the other aspects of green building construction is regulated by the different existing aspects and parameters from different policies of different counterparts.

As for GBI, the credits weigh a lot on localized context as a mean to elevate the benchmark of practices in the current state of building construction industry. GBI is developed considering our localized context laws, by-laws, codes of practices, the rate of development, and also to complement major construction practices such as Industrialized Building Systems (IBS), Quality Assessment System in Construction (QLASSIC) and even Urban Storm Water Management (MSMA). I find that GBI is crucial to be adopted by as many developers as possible as a mean to bring the industry practices forward.

To put 2 in comparison, GBI is a more holistic of serious going ‘green’ in which the building is evaluated on the overall building energy consumption (but there are flaws that the BEI does not take into account of no. of people in building. Green Mark is very technology centric, in which the tool evaluates different components part by part and rating the building based on the efficiency of each component such as lighting/chiller/fan power etc.

GBI does better in a long run, with much emphasize on the client to maintain the building and commissioning, but Green Mark commissioning is purely on technology-centric. GBI takes into account on the surrounding socio economic context for Malaysia compared to Green Mark which was originated from Singapore that is very energy efficient centric.

But to put in into perspective, one can declare how green a building is through Green Mark as it has a very high energy efficient equipment but it does not suggest a lower consumption of the occupant. For example, a person can boast of its building being energy efficient by blasting HVAC to full load where COP is lower in most cases, just for the sake of compliance to Green Mark, but that wastes a lot of energy.

As much as the importance of EE is here, but what is more important than EE and RE is Energy Conservation, and it all boils down to the end user of the buildings to make the difference. And through this, we do see a difference in different green building rating tools, meaning different things because of how they are designed.

2. What is the main reason behind the discrepancies in buildings meeting the certification criteria but not maintaining their objective throughout their life cycles?

I will say the lack of education, expertise, and necessary troubleshooting equipment among building maintenance team. As we see that GBI has just kicked off in Malaysia 4 years ago, and as a good building performance tool that emphasize on building maintenance and commissioning by having a significant amount of credit (as much as 12 points!) dedicated to ensure the sustaining effort in maintaining the building, many GBI rated buildings can easily lose their certificate upon renewal if the maintenance team is not performing.

The majority of maintenance team today is still weak in understanding and sustaining the energy efficiency credits to ensure the building will comply with the design specification since commissioning. This is because as the year’s pass, a lot of factors can alter the performance of the building as per design, such as tenancy agreements and the maintenance & recalibration of energy instruments.

It is advised in GBI project to have a tenancy agreement that future tenants will send their proposal and drawing plans in changing the office space for their convenience to the building maintenance team to review through to ensure their fit out plan will not be against of the original intention of the design specification (such as lighting power density, blind fitting, Indoor VOC level, & view out availability). The issue raises when building maintenance team does not coordinate with these tenants to review through, or understand what is needed to be reviewed in the first place.

Another aspect is the technical aspect, as for energy efficient building, maintenance of the key components such as HVAC air distribution system is crucial. This is to troubleshoot whether VAV (variable air volume) system or the different valves in the chiller loop is working well to ensure efficiency and thermal comfort of office occupant are not affected. However, the majority of building maintenance team lacks such experience and necessary equipment to troubleshoot and fine tuning the equipment as a mean of maintenance. We will see more revealing evidence as the maintenance sector will soon need to address to the emergence of green building standards along the years.

3) In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in the advancement/promotion of sustainable practices in the Malaysian building industry?

  • Diversified social/political milieu

Malaysia has many layers of governance, namely federal, state and local government, and the similar goes to the different policy and enforcement agencies. I think that the hard truth for various sustainable practices to face is to manage the conflict of interest, which can be sometimes political/policy centers or industry-vested interest. There are a lot of initiatives from different players for various reasons, and the challenge is to manage them to devolve down to the local authorities properly, and making sure they do not severely conflict each other or with the national policy in place.

  • Interpretation of sustainable practices into monetary return of investment

According to my conversation with some developers, going green is merely a corporate social responsibility which is adopted by leading big developer players in the market as of now, and some of the time it is induced by a mandatory requirement from local authorities such as DBKL. Also, going ‘green’ is still expensive, despite the income tax exemption ITA and stamp duty exemption benefits, which are minimal. Although going ‘green’ will save energy and water cost in the long run, but this will be passed down to the benefits of end users instead of the developer.

However, studies from National Property Information Centre (NAPIC) has shown that ‘green’ office building can fetch higher rental rates around RM0.50 to RM2.25 per SQ. ft and higher rental growth around RM0.50 to RM1.00 per SQ feet compared to conventional. But, in term of increased of sales prices and valuation was not being proven yet since green office building is still an emerging market. This has left some developers in doubt as time will reveal the answer if the green building can fetch a higher sales price. There is no doubt that economic benefits or demand from the end user are the greatest motivation for the emergence of sustainable practices.

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  • Lack of support from respective industries

The sustainable practices in the green building industry is not a stand-alone one, it is an integrated approach needing supporting initiative from different industries, whether professional industry or government led. This includes the national SIRIM’s ecolabel scheme, establishment of the national framework such as LCA life cycle assessment, carbon accounting scheme etc. This can be quite frustrating because some initiatives have started way back however due to human resource/technical expertise/conflict of interest, these have become redundant over time. To put things into perspective, is for example ‘green products’, the energy water and green tech ministry KETTHA has a newly launched MYHIJAU program, however, years ago SIRIM has been doing its Ecolabel program which is not really known to the public.

We see a lot of initiatives from different parties but however, they do not benefit and built upon each other. Unlike Singapore’s Green Mark, we can see a very organized manner between Singapore’s Green Label and PUC’s WELS rating for water efficient sanitary fittings. It is crucial because green building industry represents a very diverse range of industries and social layer to be good, which often is being distracted by the diversified political and social context.

4) In your opinion what are the most favorable assets that Malaysia possesses in terms of growth potential in the green building industry and overall sustainable development?

I will say it is the government’s role in endorsing sustainability into its program framework. Both Federal and Local level. The federal government has displayed some crucial role in introducing fiscal instruments and the making of new laws/regulations to encourage the sustainable practices in the nation. As much as we have external factors such as market drivers due to the demand for ‘green-certified’ products or services to fulfill EU criteria, and also some critical backing from professionals in the industry, the top-down approach has indeed complemented the bottom up approach to moving things forward.

Policy Roadmap (Credit to MGBC)

The amount of literature acknowledging this is abundant. The 8th and 9th Malaysia plan have captured in the importance of RE with various programs such as MBIPV Suria1000, SREP Small Renewable Energy Programme, and recently FeedInTariff well to initiate the RE industry here. New ministries and agencies are established to execute these programs across, such as Energy Star labeling, national low carbon cities framework, MS1525, just to name a few.

But what matter most is the execution plan of local governments. Whilst the federal government can and do set broad policies many of the local policies on green building are and will be actually set by the local authorities. MBPJ is one good example as it has come up with a lot of incentive and green rebate scheme, the local government also won the green apple award 2013. While there is some disagreement on the effectiveness of deliverance such programs both in federal and local, such as the long outstanding NEEMP National Energy Efficiency Masterplan, there is no doubt that the involvement of governments has been helpful.


And of course as a person who is relatively new in the industry, am sure some of you who are reading this may be a researcher or professional who has been in the field for quite some time. Kindly share with me on your thoughts and opinions on the pertaining fields. thanks!