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5 Misconceptions about Green Building Designs

One thing i love about my job is the fact of constantly engaging with students and the academician field. It’s hypocrisy of one preaching professionalism but yet not knowing whether our education institution level is on par with the industry’s norms. Speaking of which, i am fickle minded on what to share with a group of architectural diploma students in UCSI really. Neither too technical, or too boring, so i just churned out like some free style slides which basically covers good practice passive sustainable architecture design and some precedent studies. I thought it will be good also to give them an overview of the various existing arguments of the green building industry. While noting that i am only a novice in this field of green building consultancy with close to 3 years of experience, this is my humble sharing after observing several stakeholders and projects in the industry.

I first started off by trying to beat the stereotype of green building.

CaptureAnd (again) not to my surprise, a lot of people were fancy the left option which is what seems to be a modern home with solar panels.. while again there’s arguments that the traditional malay kampung homes are the perfect case examples for our environment as well as socio economic aspect (Which i fully agree HERE) it all comes down to the ultimate aim of defining green buildings, which is minimizing carbon footprint via the life cycle of construction as well as occupancy stage. While not being too technical with them about it, i highlighted that ‘going green’ is not the end game of the way our city should be, the design of the cities and homes we are in defines the way our lives are. There are whole lot of social and economic issues, aside from environmental concern, that can be tackled from the design of our built environment alone. To me, ‘going green’ is never enough. If a city can be designed to be interesting enough, its people will not need to spend high logistics carbon footprint to get out from the city for the sake of entertainment. Go Figure.

Misconception #1 – Going Green is Not Cheap

I personally think it really depends on which stakeholder’s definition of cheap or expensive. There are few perspectives to discuss this, but can be focused to 2 main arguments. First, from the point of view of the planet and overall ecology economics aspect. It is inevitable true that going ‘green’ (or i prefer to precisely call it Energy Efficient) proves to be the cheapest and largest CO2 savings among the various sectors. This is recommended by IPPC 4th Assessment Report, where mitigation steps are studied.

Estimated sectoral economic potential for global mitigation for different regions as a function of carbon price in 2030 from bottom-up studies, compared to the respective baselines assumed in the sector assessments. (Metz, Davidson, Bosch, Dave, & (eds), 2007)
Estimated sectoral economic potential for global mitigation for different regions as a function of carbon price in 2030 from bottom-up studies, compared to the respective baselines assumed in the sector assessments. (Metz, Davidson, Bosch, Dave, & (eds), 2007)

Another international body, the International Energy Agency, IEA also discovers that in fact by adopting EE we are talking about energy security as it is the ‘first fuel’, the accumulated avoided fuel that we manage to save. According to the Energy Efficiency Market Report 2013 by International Energy Agency, it is found that the impact of long term improvements in 11 IEA countries between 1974 and 2010 has energy efficiency was the largest energy resource in the aspect of avoided energy consumption. Pic2

It’s irrefutably true that there’s a larger literature field on climate change with 99% (not 97%!) of scientist agrees that this anthropogenic activity is putting ecology economics at its highest stake. But what does this really mean to the man on the street? Green Building is a way to go for the better good of the future of our generation in terms of ecology economics but is it really monetarily cheaper? If one is to look purely at the capital expenditure, even with stamp duty exemption and investment tax allowance, there is still a net additional in construction cost. But, as oppose to what i have been looking at online literature which suggests from 3-7% additional in construction cost, based on the previous projects i have done, the increase in cost (or green cost they call it), ranges from 0.5% to 5% at most.

This is highly subjected to how technical compete the design team is to design energy efficient building holistically instead of just churning up expensive technology equipment. There is no saying of the need of must spend on expensive equipment at the start when one has to look at basic good practices for EE buildings. In fact, one of the aspect most do not consider is the millions of savings alone due to the downsizing of chiller as the building heat load is drastically reduced over EE strategy. This is one of the most popular myths in the industry and easily taken by those who are not involved in the design process at all.

Going EE Building is definitely Cheaper, in Long Run, Very Very Cheap.

Designing and Operating a Conventional Building - similar to the analogy of carrying a huge backpack and hiking over the years.
Designing and Operating a Conventional Building – similar to the analogy of carrying a huge backpack and hiking over the years.

Unless given that the developer is solely into the interest of build and sell, instead of build and operate. Then, one can be assured going for EE building is a no brainer. This is easily seen from the quick returns due to the huge energy savings (water savings a bit too little…) We are talking about returns as fast as 2 years. The lower the building energy usage over the year due to the design strategy, the faster it returns. Like the analogy of the hiker with huge backpack above, designing a conventional building with too much unnecessary lighting as well as oversized cooling system is both expensive at capital cost (big backpack) and also operating cost (hiking energy..). Yes the payback can be fast, just some of the projects that statistics the company did.

STDiamond LEOBuilding SEBBuilding

But i think overall a stronger point of argument is one which majority of the stakeholder misses out due the difficulty to quantify its impact. A lot of time the misconception of green building itself is about cutting energy and water expenses, thus cutting carbon or ecology footprint. Principally, yes! But an equivalent, great aim of green building is  occupant’s wellness. Be it indoor working environment, or Biophilic design of the building, these are unsaid overall benefit to the totality wellness of the individual work performance. And work performance matters a lot to the overall company’s income! Salary often accounts for at least 80% of the total company expenditure.

IntangibleCost

But then does it mean Green Buildings fetch a higher rental rate per square foot? RM/psf. This is something that it is clear as to date, there is no empirical study to prove this in Malaysia. However in the west, especially the home of LEED rating system, the United States, there are literature suggesting up to 10% increase in green building rental upon conventional ones.

#Conclusion 1- Not Going Green is Not Cheap

Misconception #2- Green Building is just another “Statement of Fashion”.

I get that a lot, from my architecture related friends. Similarly to the actual fashion world, birds of a feather flock together, there are various streams of architectural aesthetics or “Starchitect idols“. But the architectural fashion theory has been evolving since ever, particularly lately with the rise of educated society and advanced building material. The green building wave is definitely not another statement of fashion, it is a component of the totality regardless of architectural aesthetic.

Timeline chart showing the establishment of some green building movements across the globe.
Timeline chart showing the establishment of some green building movements across the globe.

There are various reasons on the existent of green building codes globally, but this can be seen primarily on the agenda of developed countries as part of the climate change mitigation obligation. For the case of Malaysia, we are relatively young, yet a rapid and influential leader in green building sector regionally. With the existent of Green Building Index in 2009, GBI is the making of the ecosystem for the greener built environment in Malaysia. And also lately GBI has been involving as a regional role to assist other countries like Indonesia to startup their green building rating. While an interesting observation is that the green building certified buildings in Malaysia is expanding rapidly.
GreenBuildingTrend2

And that is not alone but also, the green building rating systems. Over the years, different stakeholder into the built environment such as REHDA (Real Estate & Housing Developer Association) & CIDB (Construction Industry Board) also started their rating tools, namely GreenRe and MyCREST. Well i will not touch the details of the tools and also the ‘politics’ about it, but we can be sure that this also means that it is slowly being embraced formally by the industry.

GreenBuildingTrend3

What drives the green building industry so much that it will be permanent awhile is explanatory from the chart above. We see international obligation from Malaysia, economic incentives as well as MNC CSR reasons that welcomed the new trend. Again what i believe about a green building itself isn’t the rating tool, but how do we slowly transit this intention of greener built environment into mandatory requirements being spelled out under the law. So this whole green building trend isn’t your architectural fashion trend, it’s a component of its own obviously, and slowly to be transited to EE building codes such as MS1525.

#Conclusion 2- Green Building is Not a Fashion Trend but well Motivated by Greater Agenda.

Misconception #3 – Green Building is just about “Saving the Environment”

I think as told earlier on. Some of the stakeholders tend to politicize green building rating tools as a monopolizing market which wastes money on expensive green technology in the bid to save the environment. That’s an utterly disgusting, convenient argument to take advantage on the current greater public who doesn’t understand the green building tools. Various green building rating tools have various approach on their definition of ‘green’, but it is not distinctively different as they all share the similar fundamentals.

GreenBuildingAspects

 

The top 3 most common rating tools in Malaysia share the same principal of energy usage reduction, water usage reduction, minimizing construction materials waste, good indoor working environment, sustainable site management and also innovation segment where credits the unique strategy of different projects in achieving ‘green’. I think this is obvious enough!

#Conclusion 3- Green Building also focuses on the Well Being of Occupant, Energy and Water Security.

Misconception #4 – Green Building is just about the Green Design of the Building/Project?

The approach of green building is definitely more than the building on its own. It is beyond merely packing in green features into a building and expecting it to work universally. What designer, or architects need to recognize is that the success of a project is often define on how you do it instead of what you do. You definitely need the ‘software’ or social programs to ensure expectations are well communicated from the designer to builder to user. The challenge of green building project is more than just punching in some ‘green features’. In fact, the design technicalities is the least barrier. The ‘cost’ of a green building design doesn’t necessarily come in monetary form but space as well (i.e more efficient cooling system larger size?), as well as Aesthetic (which is again so vague to judge from what is nice or not).

The greatest barrier i find is how do we shift the aspiration and green design strategy from day 1 to the actual end product, from design team, to contractor, to the end user’s maintenance team. That is probably why some green buildings fail, communication. Also another undervalued aspect is post occupancy survey and commissioning. What matters most of a green building isn’t what is built but how it operates, and this is easily fated by how well the design team understands the functionality of their design feature. For example, the best practice is to know your end user directly when you are designing it, take a trip to their existing office and observe user behavior with indoor environment etc. Various office work culture will potentially affect your building design outcome. So it is certainly more than the design itself to determine the performance of the green building.

#Conclusion 4- Green Building Success lies within Communication from various Stakeholders on the Green Strategy.

Misconception #5 – Going Green ‘dictates’ the Design of the Project.

And yes, i heard that from some friends, be it from the developer or architect related field. There is no absolute yes or no to this statement, but ‘dictate’ is certainly not the word. Going Green holistically improvise the design of the project instead, in respect to the problem solving skill of the design team. This is very case to case basis. Instead, going ‘green’ facilitates the design of the project. Aesthetic has its limit to be played with. Architect has to be true to themselves and professional in participating the aspiration for a better built environment by holistic means, not purely aesthetic. A pyramid shape building with huge clear windows in the window (for example) may look aesthetically nice (subjected also!) but yet it’s non functional as it doesn’t provide thermal and visual comfort. You can’t possibly say this ‘dictates’ the design of the project when you know it is a principally wrong design.

#Conclusion 5- Going Green Facilitates the Design of the Project

And yes, another lenghty post i know. But again if you are already someone practicing in the built environment industry then i am sure you have your say. This is what i have grasped for the past 3 years and shared to some students. At some instance, i do feel that the green building movement in Malaysia is, yes, a new phase of marketing gimmick, and easily ridden by a lot of people for green washing. But, it is necessary because then government sees the urge to set system in place to regulate, and end users will complement the awareness along and decide for themselves. There are times i feel that the green building effort iss shouting more than it actually really contributes to the whole objective of climate change impact mitigation, but it is definitely better than nothing.

You can download the full presentation i gave from below.

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