Technical merit does not always take into account users’ needs
Living spaces and gathering points should form part of a building’s function
By Thomas SK Tang
The impact of green building labelling schemes on improving the environmental performance of buildings has been significant. The World Green Building Council estimates that buildings certified by green building councils have reduced energy and potable water consumption by 85% and 60% respectively, and reduced waste sent to landfill by 69% compared with non-certified buildings.
Yet, as the industry develops, learns and evolves, and as planning regulations and policies become more and more stringent, it is important for green building labelling schemes to keep at the forefront by setting higher standards and act as the driving force pushing for better performing buildings.
Hence, green building labelling schemes are key to ensuring significant environmental initiatives such as carbon reduction beyond the minimum requirements set in individual countries.
Despite the obvious benefits that green building labelling schemes bring, they have come under strong criticism. Commonly, cynics decry that these schemes are just a “tick-the-box exercise” that actually distract designers from creating truly green buildings by entangling them in the quest for points and awards.
In the same sense, schemes are criticised for not ensuring an integrated design approach is achieved, as design teams pick and choose credits under certain topics, not on the basis of their actual impact on the design but on the weighting and points they carry.
In addition, the lack of supporting data on the incremental cost of assessments and the potential savings is another weakness of schemes around the world. The often bureaucratic process that is required for the collection and submission of the required documentation is also a recurring complaint amongst applicants.
To resolve these and other criticisms, the following suggestions are offered:
• Ensure a design-integrated approach and an overall design strategy that works for the specific building
• Ensure credit weighting reflects the required effort and costs associated with the design features
• Increase the number of prerequisites to qualify for labelling
• Provide clear and well documented data on case studies for costs and savings
• Provide clear indication of areas where additional costs are required for an assessment
• Simplify the application process and reduce amount of paperwork required
• Provide an easy-to-use method of submitting information (templates, online system, etc)
• Review submissions based on whether they achieve the intent of the credit, and not just for “ticking the boxes”.
Green labelling of buildings is one way of ensuring environmental and sustainability performance. However, it is important we remind ourselves that technical merit does not always take into account the users’ needs.
Buildings are living parts of sustainable communities and as such must not be driven just by environmental and energy factors but be cognisant of societal factors. Living spaces and gathering points for communities should form part of a building’s function as well as pleasing aesthetics and living comfort; these are not always recognised by green labels alone.
Green labels will continue to serve as a primary means of sustainability performance assurance for buildings, but to use just this method is to overlook a vital cog – the people that lie at the heart of sustainable communities. Green building labels that incorporate this holistic outlook will be the ones that are the most effective in the future.
Dr Thomas Tang is director of corporate sustainability for Aecom Asia. This article was adapted from a paper he delivered at RICS Hong Kong annual conference earlier this year.
Short history of green building ratings
• Up until the early 1990s, there was no tried way to assess the overall impact of a building in terms of its environmental performance or to benchmark it against other buildings of its type
• 1990: United Kingdom’s BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) was the first scheme launched to address this issue
• 1996: Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method (HK-BEAM) launched
• 1998: US launched LEED
• 1998: Australia introduced NABERS and later Green Star in 2005.
• 2002: Japan established CASBEE
• 2005: Singapore launched Green Mark
• 2006: The China Green Building Label system was initiated
• 2009: Malaysia launched the Green Building Index