Green buildings offer sustainable benefits

John Mandyck
South China Morning Post: International
June 23, 2015

ZCB in Kowloon Bay is the city’s first zero carbon building, built by the Construction Industry Council and government. Photo: SCMP Pictures

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.

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