Incentives urged to drive desire for green buildings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2009, 12:00am

Green buildings should be affordable for Hongkongers, architectural experts said as they urged the government to introduce tax incentives and legislation to stimulate demand for more sustainable architecture.

They said the stick-and-carrot approach adopted overseas lowered the construction cost of environmentally friendly buildings. Green flats would become widely affordable when a market was created.

'I haven't seen a demand for green buildings in Hong Kong yet,' said Sandy Edge of Woods Bagot, an international firm that prides itself on its pioneering role in designing sustainable buildings.

Mr Edge is the firm's Asian regional leader for sustainability and chairs the Australian Chamber of Commerce's sustainable development committee.

The public will be informed about the cost of having more green buildings in a public consultation to be held by the Council for Sustainable Development this month. Mr Edge said the extra construction cost for a building obtaining the second-highest rating under the local green-building labelling scheme would be between 2 and 3 per cent. The highest rating would add 4 to 6 per cent to construction costs.

'It isn't that much when you take into account the high land premium in Hong Kong,' he said, adding that green buildings were not necessarily costly.

'Green architecture does not necessarily mean a sky garden. High technology might not be sustainable because the payback period is long. It's about how a development is planned.'

The City Central Tower in Adelaide, the first building to obtain the second-highest rating in South Australia, cost only 1 per cent more to build, he said.

'China is overtaking Hong Kong in developing eco-cities,' Mr Edge said, adding that demand for green offices in Shenzhen and Guangzhou was rising as the cities sought to attract international companies.

He said Hong Kong's government had a role to play in encouraging greener buildings, despite the city's free market. Such measures as tax incentives and requiring buildings' green ratings to be assessed should be considered, he said, noting that green projects on the mainland were given preferential loans and quicker approval.

'In an immature market, few would pay more for a green building,' he said. 'The government is stepping in, but the actions taken are piecemeal.'

In this month's consultation, the public will be asked whether the government should continue the existing policy, which awards developers with extra gross floor area for green features such as sky gardens, and ancillary facilities like car parks and plant rooms. It will also look at people's willingness to pay for greener buildings.

Professional Green Building Council chairman Wong Kam-sing said that in Singapore, the government subsidised research and construction costs for green projects.

'The higher the environmental rating a project achieves, the more subsidies it will receive,' he said.

Asking developers to disclose green assessment results would create demand for a more liveable city, Mr Wong said.