Hong Kong's famous neon-lit high-rise buildings may dazzle and impress visitors and locals but, according to energy experts, the design and management of buildings, including residential properties, account for about 70 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Residential and commercial buildings account for about 80 per cent of electricity consumed in Hong Kong, mainly used to power air conditioning, lighting and ventilation. While energy consumption among Hong Kong's building inventory remains high, and operation efficiency needs to improve to reduce carbon emissions, a special situation may help reverse the trend. 'Competition among developers is helping to drive the 'green' building initiative,' said John Herbert, managing director at environment consultant engineer and independent building efficiency audit firm Kelcroft. 'Savvy developers have realised that constructing and operating energy efficient buildings is one way they can differentiate themselves from their competitors. This leaves their rivals to catch up and puts them at a disadvantage when trying to attract top tenants,' he said. Office tenants, particularly multinational companies that have strong environmental policies want to lease office space that supports their environmental goals and good-corporate-citizen objectives. Mr Herbert said energy efficient buildings were good for the environment and good for business. 'Energy efficacy can reduce costs, improve the bottom line, boost productivity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a company's reputation as a socially responsible organisation,' Mr Herbert said. While applauding energy efficient initiatives incorporated in new buildings, Mr Herbert believes that to achieve long-term results, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the lifetime cost of maintaining and operating a building rather than the initial construction. 'The cost of construction compared with the maintained costs during the full lifecycle of a building is really quite small. Consider a conservative estimate of a building with a 30-year lifespan, the construction cost is only 2 per cent of the total cost of ownership and it becomes apparent that the way a building is maintained and operated becomes a significant factor,' Mr Herbert said. The business case for greener buildings is well established. A United States study found that certified green buildings cost 1.8 per cent more to design and construct, but yielded 20 per cent cost savings over the life of the building. Like many other engineers, designers, architects and green groups, Mr Herbert would like to see a mandatory labelling system introduced that highlighted a building's environmental performance. While all government buildings must now reveal such information, Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah rejected the proposal last month and said it was not time to make the voluntary system mandatory. In Singapore and Japan, developers are required to have their new buildings assessed and make the information public. To improve building operation efficiency over the next two years, the government has earmarked about HK$450 million to carry out works in government buildings to install energy-efficient lighting systems, retrofit plumbing with water saving devices and incorporate energy efficient features in air conditioning, elevator and escalator systems. The government also has plans to legislate for the mandatory compliance of building energy codes relating to lighting, electrical, air conditioning, lifts and escalators. Legislation should be implemented this year and it was proposed that professionals approved by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department would conduct audits. Architect Michael Kwok believes the Civic Party's new premises - aimed at promoting the benefits of green office design - could act as a template for other businesses and organisations. He said the undisclosed location would feature energy-saving systems including hotel key-type cards to log in and out of conference rooms and sensors that would shut down workstations and lighting when they were not in use. A system would also be installed to control and maximise the distribution of air conditioning. 'Constructing and maintaining a green office is like maintaining a scaled-down version of a green building. The concerns are the same. It is about conserving energy, using less electricity and controlling the materials that are used and the way they are recycled,' said Mr Kwok who sits on the Civic Party's executive committee. 'There is still no real established benchmark on how to measure the affiance of a green office so we are working with concern groups and organisations that are looking at ways to set standards. We will be a guinea pig for them to test their ideas. We hope we can create awareness and educate the public and, through our joint efforts, find the appropriate technologies that meet Hong Kong's requirements,' Mr Kwok said. Kevin Edmunds, chief operating officer with the Business Environment Council, said there was a significant rise in the number of building developers and operators implementing energy and environmental measures. 'From design and construction through to operations such as indoor air quality, the use of environmentally friendly cleaning materials and responsible waste management, there is a lot of proactive movement. It is quite encouraging,' Mr Edmunds said. He said growing enthusiasm for the voluntary Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method, (HK-Beam) was another indicator of 'green' awareness. Now in its 12th year, more then 150 major developments covering nearly 7 million square metres of space have received the independent HK-Beam certification for high standards of building performance. Recipients include commercial and institutional buildings and about 36,000 residential units. The HK-Beam system, designed to specifically deal with Hong Kong requirements, defines more than 100 best practice criteria. These include material aspects including selection, usage and waste management, indoor environmental quality including thermal comfort, indoor air quality, lighting and noise. Mr Edmunds said the scheme had helped encourage innovative design and construction practices and stimulated local supplies of environmentally friendly building materials previously unavailable in Hong Kong. Mr Edmunds said the establishment of a Green Building Council later this year was a positive move to raise awareness of green building issues.