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Better buildings
05/05/2008 The Star By TAN CHENG LI

A new green labelling scheme is nudging Malaysian builders to put up structures that save energy and resources, and emit little toxic substances.

ARCHITECT Dr Tan Loke Mun’s dream home is a “green” one – and not just because the garden will flourish with fruit and flowering trees grown to nurture specific species of insects and animals, but because of the small carbon footprint it leaves behind.

The house that will come up in the quiet suburb of Section 11 in Petaling Jaya will adhere to strict rules governing green buildings. To cut down air-conditioning needs and hence, electricity, the house will be heat-insulated by roofing materials and aerated lightweight concrete walls. Well-placed windows will allow a breeze to flow through. Cool air will be drawn from the cellar to further lower interior temperatures while a light tube from the ceiling will allow natural light to spill in.

The bathrooms, meanwhile, will partially use collected rainwater and condensation from air-conditioners. Demolition material from the original house will not go to waste – the timber will be reused for construction formwork and the roof tiles, crushed and mix into concrete. And only sustainably harvested timber will be used for the 720sqm property.

But Tan’s home is not just claiming to be green; it will be officially declared as such for Tan is having his house rated under the Green Building Index (GBI), Malaysia’s very own certification scheme for sustainable buildings.

To be launched on May 21, the GBI spells out the standards which a new building must meet before it can stake that green claim. It was developed by Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) and Association of Consulting Engineers (ACEM) as part of the effort to green the property industry.

Greening the property industry: Architects Selina Hijjas and Dr Tan Loke Mun are part of the effort to encourage Malaysian developers and builders to construct more sustainable buildings that will conform to the Green Building Index rating scheme.

As chairman of the sustainable committee in PAM, Tan had led the team that drew up the GBI. So it makes perfect sense that he is eager to have his home rated.

And he is not alone. There appears to be a growing number of builders embracing the movement – Tan shares that the idea for a green building index was prompted by requests from clients. In fact, the absence of such a scheme here had left the developers of at least three projects in the Klang Valley – GTower skyscraper, Sunway Pallazio condominium and 11 Mont Kiara condominiums – little choice but to seek Singapore’s green building certification scheme, the Green Mark.

Apart from Tan’s home, another 11 projects ranging from office towers to malls, mixed development and even a car showroom, are seeking GBI rankings. These are expected to receive provisional GBI awards within the year.

The GBI labelling is voluntary but because buildings are major emitters of greenhouse gases, all new structures should strive to be green-certified. Buildings have an enormous impact on the environment, human health and the economy. The processing of all the glass, steel and concrete that are needed for construction, plus the energy needed to power, heat and cool buildings, collectively belch out 33% of global carbon emissions, according to the World Green Building Council.

In Malaysia, commercial and residential buildings use up 48% of the electricity generated. So making buildings greener is key to tackling climate change.

Eco-wise structures

PAM and ACEM started drafting the green building criteria last year, drawing upon industry views and existing schemes such as Singapore’s Green Mark, Australia’s Green Star and the United States’ Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). A company, Greenbuildingindex Sdn Bhd (GSB), has been formed to manage the certification scheme.

To qualify for the award, the buildings will be judged in six areas: how efficiently it uses water and electricity, indoor environmental quality, sustainable site planning and management, use of eco-friendly materials and resources, and innovation.

“Achieving points in these targeted areas will mean that the building will likely be more environment-friendly than those that do not address the issues,” says Tan.

GBI accreditation panel member Serena Hijjas says the final list of criteria was designed to suit the tropics and local culture. “The GBI is not of a lower standard than other certifications but gives different emphasis,” she says. Singapore’s Green Mark, for instance, addresses specifically the priorities and needs of Singapore.

Hence, it weighs heavily on energy and water efficiency, areas deemed critical to the republic. As Singapore’s public transport network is already in place, this is of lower priority in the rating procedure. In the GBI, however, access to public transport is given much weight.

The GBI also has to suit current social, infrastructure and economic development, says Serena. “LEED is more detailed in its requirements as they are at a more mature stage of development. They have requirements like how much light spill can be allowed from a building to avoid light pollution.”

Serena says one reason why energy-efficient buildings have not taken off in Malaysia is because most buildings here are not owner-occupied but are either tenanted or bought from developers. “The developers are not the ones paying the electricity bills and running costs, so they would not care about including energy-saving features into the building. Only corporate clients buy into it (green buildings), not developers.”

To comply with the GBI, buildings must have an energy consumption of below the national guideline of 150 kilowatt hour per square metre per year (kWh/m˛/year). Most commercial buildings are now at 250 to 350kWh/m˛/year.

The GBI certification fees are said to be reasonable, starting at RM5,000 for the review of a residential home of below 2,000sqm. For commercial projects, rates vary from RM8,000 (for projects up to 4,000sqm) to RM45,000 (50,000sqm to 100,000sqm).

“The fee is for assessing and awarding the certificates. GSB won’t make huge amounts of profits but it needs the money to sustain its work,” explains Tan.

Raising the bar

For Tan, the GBI certification will not just give developers a marketing edge; it will also lift the industry. “Malaysia introduced the MS1525 (an industry code of practice on energy efficiency in buildings) in 2001 but because it is not mandatory, few adhere to it and so our buildings never improved,” says Tan.

He adds that reducing energy usage can be as simple as adding a RM2,000 insulation layer under the roof, which prevents heat penetration. But developers often omit this to save cost and because it is not a legal requirement. “And this is why in linkhouses, you need air-conditioning in the afternoons.”

Singapore, he adds, has leapt ahead of Malaysia in green construction as it had mandated reduced energy usage. And last year, it made Green Mark certification a requisite for buildings over 2,000sqm in size, a mere three years after it was introduced as a voluntary scheme.

Malaysia is nowhere near making green buildings a law but Tan says the Uniform Building Bylaws 1984 that is now under review will include energy efficiency rules.

He is also optimistic that the GBI will help create informed and discerning consumers who will keep in mind the life-cycle of buildings. He believes that green buildings will stimulate green labelling, especially for the energy consumption of electrical appliances. After all, it is pointless to live or work in an eco-friendly structure, yet use energy-guzzling equipment.

To further promote green construction, the architects suggest that local authorities reward such initiatives by offering reduced car park rates or lower assessments.

As the GBI will be the only such rating tool for the tropical zone apart from the Green Mark, its proponents hope to promote its use within the region. A GBI certification criteria is also planned for existing buildings and new townships. This means old buildings which are retrofitted to be energy efficient and less polluting can apply for the GBI award in future.

Tan says the green certification of townships will be a first as most countries do not have it. Unlike the criteria for buildings, those for townships will emphasise the biological impact of the project since a larger site would be involved.

Such standards augur well for the future of green construction. We will finally see buildings that not only provide energy and water savings plus healthy indoor air, but also cause minimal disturbance to nature. And let’s hope it puts an end to developers calling their projects “eco-towns” or “eco-projects” when all they have is just nice landscaping.


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