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What is Green Building?

John A. Herbert
John A. Herbert
Director


Buildings significantly influence our daily lives and are fundamental to our way of life. Hong Kong, as the most vertical cities in the world, is famous for its spectacular high-rises and bright lights. However, the buildings which give Hong Kong its special character can have a considerable environmental impact says the HKGBC.

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What is certain, our buildings account for over a significant proportion of the energy consumption, and GHG (Green House Gas) emissions, contributing to global climate change, as well as local effects such as Hong Kong's rising temperatures, and the heat island effect in urban areas.

Hong Kong has over 70 million sqm of building accommodation comprising commercial and institutional, and residential units.

More than 63% of Hong Kong's carbon footprint is created from our buildings, and 89% of all electricity generated is used in buildings therefore we must adopt environmentally and sustainable practices to ensure long term sustainability.

We will also need to urgently and dramatically reduce our GHG (green house gas) emissions, carbon footprint and environmental degradation, to protect our environment before it is too late.

Green Building defined

There is still no universal definition for a green building, one definition offered by HKGBC is a green building is an occupied structure that is environmentally sensitive and sustainable throughout it entire life cycle. A Green Building would be:

  • Energy efficient having a low carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Low polluter
  • Minimising waste
  • Good neighbour
  • Has healthy and productive indoor and outdoor environments
  • Sustainable, using recycled materials, and conserving water


  • However, the Australian Green Building Council says a green building is one that incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate its negative impact on the environment and its occupants. Building green is an opportunity to use resources efficiently while creating healthier environments for people to live and work in.

    what is green building



    These differences arise because different countries and regions have different needs and priorities depending upon their local environmental conditions and circumstances. For example, in area subject to water shortage or drought, water conservation would be more important than energy consumption or indoor air quality.

    And that is the crux of the green building issue, green building is a LOCAL issue, employing the USA LEED system in Hong Kong is meaningless, the same way as applying the Hong Kong BEAM to the USA, it doesnt work.

    Hong Kong Water is far ahead of US and other countries in Water Aspects, our local rating system recognises sea water is used for toilet flushing covering approx. 80% of home, but other rating systems, like LEED, etc. are based on their home situation.

    Minimum Building Code

    Each country has its own set of local regulations governing the basiss for the construction of buildings, usually these regulations cover the basics, provisions for means of escape, fire safety, structural, ventilation, toilets, drainage, lease requirements, and the like. Collectively we refer to these as the minimum building code to meet those LOCAL government requirements.

    Obviously, if you constructed a building in Hong Kong, but followed the UK building code, it would never be approved.

    However, the minimum building code generally does not include any requirements or consideration for soft factors, such as community, or sustainability, GHG emissions, or environmental impacts, and that is where green building fits.

    Green Building Rating Tools

    In response to lack of environment criteria, green building and green building rating tools were create in 1995 to as voluntary scorecare, the goal to reward developers who exceeded the minimum building code and provided lower impacts on the environment.

    That is core principle behind green building rating systems, reward improvments over and above the minimum building code requirement.

    Since the rating tool is voluntary scheme, the reward is a certificate which can be used by the developer to market a project or demonstrate credentials.

    Yet there are countless university papers written every year, trying to compare different rating systems which is completely futile exercise without first understanding the underlying local building code.

    Rating tools often providea shopping list of targets, and these are typically organised into similar categories, Hong Kong BEAM created in 1996, uses:

  • Site Aspects
  • Energy Aspects
  • Water Aspects
  • Material Aspects
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Innovation
  • and other rating tools have a similar arrangement of categories.

    Some rating tools offer compliance choices so it is possible to earn a very high score under one aspect to gain a green building certificate for a development having a significant deficit in one or more aspects.

    To counter the shopping list mentaility, some rating tools provide a schedule without choice, all aspects must be achieved to earn certification.

    Benchmark

    A rating tool provides the framework for reward scheme, each rating tool is different, typically with shopping list of environmental targets. However, there is no universally accepted standard to benchamrk performance, would 5%, 10%, 15% or 20% improvement be acceptable?

    The World Bank launched its own Green Building rating system for example setting their energy benchamark at 20% better than minimum building code.

    It is worthwhile noting that some buildings, typically government buildings are not bound to conform with their own minimum building code, in the past UK and Hong Kong Government buildings claimed "Crown exemption" essential permitting construction of government buildings that avoided minimum building code compliance, therefore complicating the baseline benchmark.

    What are the benefits of certifed green buildings?

    Hong Kong buildings contribute more than 69% of carbon dioxide emissions (globally the figure is approx. 40%) and 90% of the electricity consumption, and the portion for residenial and commercial is difficult to determine with any certainly.

    Green buildings have lower energy use by 30-50%, reduced waste output by 70%, and reduced water usage by 40%.

    Businesses and customers have become more socially aware, aware of the environment therefore many organisations now only take up a lease agreement within a green building and that’s important for speculative developments.

    In addition to lower environmental impact, owning or operating a green building also promotes your business as environmentally sensitive, a key opportunity to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace.

    Is there any Green Building Standard?

    There is no green building standard, comparison basis is used. To establish if you’re building is green or not the environmentally sensitive building is compared with an ordinary building. If it scores better than an ordinary building in terms of less waste, less water, less energy, etc, it can be certified green. In Hong Kong we use a BEAM PLUS rating tool to compare base building and green building.

    what is green building



    However, since this is only a comparison between buildings, it changes overtime. The goals for a green building today are different and are changing. Every year, increasingly stricter higher goals are set.

    Do funds prefer certified green buildings?

    Yes, certification differentiates, adding value during the leasing and disposal, some funds will only invest in green buildings or in green RIET.

    The World Bank IFC, possible the biggest fund, created its own rating tool system EDGE, targetting developing economies.

    Do Green Buildings Cost More?

    Yes, we have studies show that "Green Buildings" don't actually have to cost the earth, 1-2% over and above traditional methods.

    Indeed, we need more 'design' not less, what does that mean you are asking yourself, it means more time and effort should focus on the design stage to optimise the design, that might include designing out non-green features (glass), developing the design to reduce waste during construction, considering the lifetime cost instead of the first cost.

    The advent of energy modelling tools permits faster deep energy analysis, to map the life cycle cost of energy improvement options and combinations of options, in the past that was an unthinkable task with millions of hand calculations.

    green building hong kong, what is a green building



    Sustainability is not an expensive value proposition, most often the best value solutions also have secondary environmental, and sustainability benefits. For example lowering the window to wall ratio means smaller and cheaper glazing, causing reduced cooling load that results in a smaller and cheaper cooling plant, that results in smaller and cheaper electrical power switches and cabling.

    The sustainability goal is requires a multi-faceted and complex target, reducing the environmental impact, providing sustainable buildings with lower embodied energy, and emitting as little carbon as possible. The early BEAM pro involvement adds value to the design process, influencing building form, function and operation, and helping to develop a holistic approach with the architect and other design team members.

    About the Author

    John A. Herbertis a green building profession involved with the development of green building rating tools for more than decade, is a non-executive director of BEAM Scoiety limited, chairman of the BEAM Technical Review Panel, chairman of the BEAM Water Use expert panel and he is BEAM Professional.

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