31.10.2016 : Irene Yong

Environmental sustainability

It goes beyond ticking boxes.

For the past 30 years environmental issues have been discussed worldwide, with concerns of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and ozone depletion on the rise.

To help address ozone depletion the Montreal Protocol was developed in the late 1980s and, as of 2015, the treaty had 197 signatories committed to reducing and phasing out the use of ozone depleting refrigerants. In the 1990s the Kyoto Protocol - a treaty designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight global warming - saw 192 parties commit. Additionally, many countries have developed green certifications and standards to further look into environmental sustainability issues in their own backyards. This includes green certifications for buildings, services, products and policies.

Of all the green certifications around, the most commonly applied would have to be green buildings certifications.

How do you go about attaining green certifications and what does it mean once you attain them? 

Lots of documentation and evidences of implementation are needed to justify green certifications. Each has a set of pre-requisites and non-mandatory criteria generally focused on energy efficiency, water efficiency, environmental protection, indoor environmental quality, sustainable construction, sustainable policies and green innovations.

The project team uses the criteria as a framework; ticking the boxes to decide which ones they are able to meet, and then scoring themselves to see what level of certification they could achieve - Silver, Gold or Platinum. If they want to aim for a higher level of certification, this approach enables them to know where the gaps are and where they need to include more green initiatives.

A green building consultant, or environmentally sustainable design consultant, is usually engaged at the start of a project to manage the entire green building certification process. They set the framework for the green building design, conceptualise the green building strategies, and simulate and model the building's performance. They are also responsible for compiling the documents for submission, managing the assessment process and submitting everything for certification.

The green buildings consultant also ensures all project consultants are clear on the target of the green building certification, and that there is buy-in and commitment from each of the project stakeholders.

To be successfully certified and 'on target', constant communication with the project team is essential. This enables any differences between the design and construction stages (if they arise), to be quickly addressed by the project's stakeholders. Thus, keeping the certification target on track.

What is the cost of going green?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions, and the answer really depends on what your baseline is.

For more established developers that already have a list of internal green initiatives guidelines (e.g. use energy efficient lights, water fittings, low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paint), the incremental cost of going green is perceived to be lower for them. However, in the absence of such internal guidelines, and if your baseline just meets national energy-efficiency or water-efficiency standards, then your green premiums could range from 1.5% to 6% of the total construction cost depending on the green features adopted. This is usually when a green buildings consultant would come in; advising the developer on the 'best bang for their buck' to keep their green certification boxes ticked.

How do we go further and see beyond the tick boxes, and look at the real tangible benefits of going green?

If we compare the use of energy efficient lights with the use of low VOC products, energy efficient lights would provide more tangible benefits - you'd save energy during operation and can usually score more energy efficiency points. Choosing between the two should be a no-brainer.

But what about good indoor air quality, which is equally important? It's a vastly different criteria to energy efficient lighting so, if you had to choose between these two, which one do you pick?

The answer depends on what the building is being used for. If you were just ticking the boxes, you'd probably choose energy efficient lighting, due to their lower operational costs and ability to score you more points. But if you wanted to achieve good indoor air quality, you need to think beyond the boxes and look at the purpose of the building and whether using low VOC products for good indoor quality makes sense.

If the building is purpose built for a single user, then it is important to ensure good indoor air quality through the use of low VOC products in addition to the energy-efficient features. But if it is a tenanted space or strata titled, where multiple end users will eventually fit-out the space based on their preferred choice of finishes (which may not be environmentally friendly), then that would have defeated the purpose of using low VOC products on the base building.

So how can landlord control going green? Some landlords issue green guides to their tenants which stipulate guidelines for renovation, including the green practices to follow. More progressive landlords encourage their tenants to attain green certification for their tenanted space, and take advantage of government incentives available (e.g. in Singapore).

Once you're past construction and certification, maintenance is just as important - A building designed to be green will not stay green if it’s not maintained and operated efficiently. The maintenance team should therefore have handover documents for reference, and be trained to operate systems they are not familiar with. Sufficient capital expenditure budgets should also be set aside for periodic maintenance, servicing and upgrading or replacement.

I see many buildings that let their sensors drift or are not calibrated, therefore automatic controls are bypassed and equipment ends up being operated manually. Some green building features also get bypassed or made defunct due to maintenance issues, or because the maintenance team didn't understand the system well enough to operate them. Therefore, it is important to ensure that there is continuity to the green building beyond the certification.

At this point, the whole lifecycle of green building will then be complete. Inception, design, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring and continued leadership all play an important part in green building practices, and contributing to our environmental sustainability.

Irene Yong

About the Author

Irene Yong

Section Manager - Mechanical Engineering

Irene is a Certified Green Mark Professional, Singapore Certified Energy Manager and Green Building Index Facilitator. She has successfully completed more than 50 Green Mark projects and enjoys providing advice to clients intending to apply for Gold level Green Mark certification or above.

Ignite Your Thinking

What Do You Think?

ADD A COMMENT