Green buildings offer sustainable benefits
Aside from cutting energy consumption and gas emissions, they bring property owners higher rents and may help improve health of residents
We are in the midst of a global urban migration. For the first time in history, more people are living in cities than in rural areas. It is a force that is changing the landscape of our planet and presents a global energy challenge.
Urbanisation requires more buildings, and buildings consume about 40 per cent of the world's energy.
Today, cities account for as much as 76 per cent of the world's energy consumption and 75 per cent of its carbon-dioxide emissions. By 2030, water supplies will satisfy only 60 per cent of global demand. We have an opportunity and an obligation to build smarter, more sustainable cities to better manage our use of natural resources.
Hong Kong has an incredible reputation for doing that. The city has policy initiatives to reduce electricity use in government buildings while exploring the use of sustainable building products for public works projects. Just last week, it announced a new target to reduce energy use by 6 per cent over the next 10 years.
Additionally, the Hong Kong Green Building Council was instrumental in the launch of HK Beam and Beam Plus, well-used green assessment tools tailored for the city's built environment.
As Hong Kong's green building focus strengthens, Conrad Wong Tin-cheung, the chairman of the green building council, recently said something that, at first, seemed counterintuitive: green building features should not be mandatory. He is right. In our drive to make cities more sustainable, we must realise that there is no "one size fits all approach".
Building technology providers have a unique opportunity to see global trends as they unfold and to deliver products that help building owners meet their sustainability and efficiency goals. We see what works and can attest to the accuracy of Wong's statement through two specific learnings in the United States.
Plastic and metal components manufacturer Harbec saw immediate benefits after upgrades to its building automation system. It was able to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent (calculated at 375 tonnes of carbon dioxide) and natural gas consumption by 20 per cent, while lowering the building's utility costs by 20 per cent. These upgrades helped the company attain ISO 50001 superior energy performance certification and ultimately, carbon neutrality.
Last year, with guidance from a sustainability services group, San Diego International Airport achieved Leed platinum certification from the US Green Building Council for the airport's green build terminal expansion.
The terminal's sustainable elements include high-performance glazing, a new efficient baggage-handling system, access to daylight and views, materials selection, a commitment to measure and verify energy performance during building operation and diversion of more than 90 per cent of construction waste from landfills.
This marked the world's first certification for a commercial airport terminal, proving it is possible for atypical buildings to achieve the highest levels of Leed.
These are two solutions that provide equally excellent case studies of the tremendous economic and environmental value of green buildings, which consume 25 per cent less energy and 11 per cent less water and emit 34 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than average commercial buildings.
They also command a 3 per cent rent premium and generate 7 per cent higher cash flow as a result of higher rent and occupancy rates. Building owners in Hong Kong can see these measurable benefits with custom solutions created by groups like EMSI, an international leader in providing energy-efficient, green and sustainable services and a part of UTC Building & Industrial Systems.
As if these proven benefits are not enough, we are seeing an emerging trend of focusing on those inside our buildings - the occupants. If you look at the true cost of operating a building, the cost of energy is less than 1 per cent of the total.
In the US, more than 90 per cent of costs in commercial building are related to people, such as salaries and benefits. What if green buildings could not only save energy, but also improve the health and productivity of its residents? I believe this is the new context that will redefine and accelerate the green building movement.
In the interim, though, the value of sustainable urbanisation is real and it is proven. And in a city like Hong Kong, where 100 per cent of its residents live in an urban environment, what better location to focus on ensuring a sustainable planet for future generations.
John Mandyck is the chief sustainability officer at UTC Building & Industrial Systems