Can We Achieve This Target?

The future is definitely bright for green buildings in Singapore. With government intervention in the form of the BCA Green Mark already in place, the incidence of green buildings and building sustainability technology will definitely increase in Singapore and around the world. However is the BCA’s target for 80% of buildings to be Green Mark certified by 2030 actually realistically achievable?

As I have examined in my previous posts, there are many areas in which we can improve upon. Firstly, education and public awareness of green buildings and green building technology has to improve. Without public awareness of such technology and its benefits in the long run, the number of green buildings in Singapore will never increase. Also there will be no constant upgrading of buildings. For example, after an owner of a Green Mark certified building becomes aware of the long-term benefits of green buildings, he may seek to actively upgrade to be Green Mark Platinum certified instead. Public awareness and education can be improved by increased media coverage, education in schools or by improving public displays, such as the one in JCube mentioned in a previous post.

Secondly, the mind-sets of Singaporeans have to change. As explained in the Ted Talk by Lindsay Kindrak in my previous post, there are many aspect of psychology that can be improved upon. However, the most important in my opinion is to focus on long-term gains rather than the short-term benefits. This again relates back to increased public education and education in schools so that these aspects can be improved. Again the government would be the key stakeholder to improve this.

Thirdly, there has to be increased economic stimulation in this field. Be it for usage in research and development, or the actual subsidy for green technology in buildings, there has to be sufficient funding to ensure that the private sector will comply with the goal of the BCA. This is where the $52million grant that was announced during Green Building Week is crucial. This can be used directly to subsidise building owners and tenants as well as on R&D to reduce initial costs and efficiency, which is one of the biggest barriers for many green building initiatives.

Lastly, there is a need to target residential areas and especially government built HDBs, as I earlier pointed out in a previous post. The criteria for residential buildings have to include private areas, not just limited to public areas such as common corridors and lift lobbies. This will ensure the sustainability of the whole building and only this will have a significant impact on the environment. This again goes back to public awareness and education so that every citizen will incorporate green technology into their homes. This can be as simple as energy efficient appliances, or more complex systems to reduce energy or water wastage.

At the end of the day, there are many different motivating factors for stakeholders to improve building sustainability. With global climate change upon us, we need to make concerted efforts not just limited to using public transport instead of driving, or turning off the tap while brushing my teeth. We can start from the most obvious environment that we have in this bustling city, the built environment and make changes to it so as to better connect to the external and larger environment that we live in today. It is never too late to make a difference to the building sustainability movement and every little bit counts as we seek to preserve this planet for our future generations to enjoy.

Are We Afraid Of Green Buildings?

This week, I watched a TED talk, titled “Are We Afraid of Green Buildings?”, by Lindsay Kindrat,  hoping to get a better understanding as to why green buildings are catching on so slowly overseas and require legislation before they became commonplace in Singapore. The link to the video is as follows, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzPpH9WexDc.

The video started by giving summaries on what green buildings are and the benefits of green technology. The main part of the introduction that I found to be particularly interesting was on the need to integrate science to help increase building sustainability, in particular physics and thermodynamics. For instance, dark objects absorb heat and lightly coloured objects reflect heat or cold air sinks and hot air rises. Taking into account these basic scientific principles would definitely ensure that our buildings are greener in the future.

I also found some of the statistics to be extremely interesting. Kindrat claims that green buildings reduce the number of sick days taken is 80% lower than for conventional buildings and solid waste is reduced by 90%. These statistics were not substantiated and I find them rather dubious and hard to believe. Even though I do see the good points of green buildings and that they indeed have a large role to play in our futures, these statistics just seem too good to be true and are dependent on other external factors, not just the “green-ness” of the building.

Kindrat gave a total of four excuses that people commonly given when they choose to build a conventional building over a green building in the US. Green features are optional there, unlike Singapore and hence many building developers still do not see the value. Looking at and addressing these excuses is extremely important to change mind-sets and improve public awareness to make a larger impact in the future. The first excuse was that it was too expensive as building developers only take into account the up-front costs and do not factor in long-term maintenance and operational costs. This is prevalent not just in green buildings, but also in many climate change related issues. Mind-sets of the public need to be changed and for people to think long-term rather than short-term.

The second excuse would be that these green buildings are just some “left-wing hippie crap”. However, one does not have to be a hippie to be concerned about his or her health and well-being. Nobody would rationally want to be exposed to more toxic and harmful chemicals on a daily basis.

Thirdly, people do not like being told what they should do or what to do. Extreme ultimatums do not work and people do not like being portrayed as the bad guy. People respond that they need to be encouraged to make positive changes instead of being told they are criminals or villains for ruining the environment. This point can be noted by governments and other parties during their education campaigns to increase their effectiveness.

Lastly, many do not see the need to save water or energy now. Many people are not worried that they will not have power to turn on the lights or have water to drink as the media tends to portray these resources to be abundant and unlimited. However this is definitely not the case. Every little bit counts and everyone has to do their part to improve building sustainability in the future.

We should not be afraid of green buildings. It will not change the way we work, eat or act. It will be a part of our environment. We are part of this complex environment and we need to know our place and role in this system. We need to embrace this new technology instead of constantly nit-picking its flaws and giving excuses. We cannot be afraid of making small changes to the way we live to reap the benefits now and in the future.

JCube

As I was walking around JCube after dinner today, I noticed this small noticeboard on the ground floor of the building. It was a small display, no more than up to my waist height, that attempted to educate the public about the efforts the shopping centre took to make it more sustainable. There were four segments that gave facts and figures regarding the energy efficiency, water efficiency, innovative green features and environmental protection of the buildings. The fact that the management of the building makes an effort to educate the public on the building’s green features is commendable and this initiative should be done in more locations around the island, so that public awareness on this issue is enhanced.

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Granted the management made a conscious effort to educate the public, the application of their efforts was sorely lacking. Firstly, the noticeboard was in an inconspicuous location, beside a set of automatic doors that were no longer in operation. Personally I have been to JCube numerous times and today was the first time that I actually noticed this display. There are so many better locations to situate this noticeboard, where it is more easily noticeable to a higher volume of foot traffic. Secondly, the fact that it was extremely small compounded the effect of it being extremely hard to spot. It was barely at my waist level and I had to bend down to read the bottom part of the display, making it extremely inconvenient for the casual shopper to notice. Lastly, the facts and figures presented had little impact on me. I knew how much water is saved and that energy efficient appliances and features are installed throughout the shopping centre, but I do not actually get to see them or the long-term impact. These numbers could be presented in a more easily comprehensible way that the general public can understand.

Overall, it is definitely heartening to see building management taking the initiative to educate the public about their own green initiatives. However, the application of the idea left much to be desired and it seems like the display was just left there, amidst the rebranding and renovation works in the mall. Much effort still needs to be made to educate more members of the general public on this issue and everyone needs to play their part. Hopefully more shopping centres and public buildings can follow JCube’s lead and building sustainability in Singapore will increase.

Improving Residential Building Sustainability in HDB Flats

When many think of the iconic buildings of Singapore, Marina Bay Sands, the Esplanade or even the shopping centres along Orchard Road. However, many do feel that the humble HDB flats are in fact the most recognizable buildings of heartland Singapore. To many Singaporeans and visitors, HDBs are the unmistakable and quintessential part of heartland living in Singapore. Built by the government and the HDB in order to provide housing for Singapore’s ever growing population, they are able to house many citizens in a smaller land area. They also incorporate elements of our kampong past into these high rise buildings, such as void decks and separate shelters to serve as common areas, as well as convenience shops or hawker centres at void decks.

In order for the BCA to reach their 80% target, a large effort must be made for residential buildings to become green too. In Singapore, 80% of the population live in HDB flats. As of 2010, a total of 992,089 HDB units have been completed and additional flats have continued to be built, especially in the newer towns such as Punggol and Sengkang (HDB, 2010). Many of these flats are not green buildings, especially those built before 2008, when the BCA Green Mark came into effect. However, this does not mean that these buildings can play a part in improving building sustainability in Singapore.

Improving the environmental friendliness of residential buildings is not exactly a new revolutionary idea. 60 years ago, in California, developer Joseph Eichler incorporated green features into residences in Granada Hills. These included improved insulation technology, day lighting, natural ventilation, solar power to heat the outdoor swimming pool and a large garden with local drought resistant plants (Hahn, 2014).

Making a HDB flat green does not mean that we need to tear it down and build it back up again. The BCA has a separate criteria for existing residential buildings which guides the HDB on how to make their flats more “green”. The criteria is similar to those for new non-residential buildings, the 5 main categories are again energy efficiency, water efficiency, sustainable operation and management, community and well-being and other green features (BCA, 2011). However, the main problem with these criteria is that they mainly targets general areas. For example, the energy efficiency requirements only target common areas, such as corridors, lift lobbies, car parks and the lifts. However, making a building green means that more than just common areas have to change. The government, BCA and HDB have to promote greener technology to residents, for residents to change their habits and as such really improve building sustainability.

Green retrofitting is an example on how existing residential buildings can be upgraded to be more sustainable. The US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has taken the lead in the US. They have developed a toolkit to show how green retrofitting can be used to make residential buildings more sustainable. This toolkit can be assessed at http://www.huduser.org/portal/pdf/HUD-LAMultifamilyGreenRetrofitToolkit.pdf. The HUD argues that every family should want to make their homes more green and efficient, due to the potential costs savings in the long run. They claim that families spend an average of 3.5% of their household incomes on utility costs, while lower-income families actually spend up to 20%. This can easily be reduced, with the advent of green retrofitting.

Green retrofitting involves taking small steps, which will allow your home to be more environmentally friendly. The HUD provides a long list of initiatives homeowners can take. I have chosen to elaborate on three of them which I feel that HDB residents in Singapore can adopt too.

Firstly, replacing major appliances with energy efficient appliances. This can definitely be applicable in Singapore. These appliances include air-conditioners and refrigerators. These are important as these appliances use the most energy, especially for refrigerators as they are required to be on 24/7. Energy efficient appliances are sold in Singapore, however, they tend to be cheaper than the normal varieties. Hence, more can be done to make them more accessible and attractive to consumers.

Secondly, the installation of solar panels can be done on the roofs of HDB flats. Due to the climate in Singapore, much energy can be converted using solar panels. The power generated can then be used to operate the lifts or for common areas, such as the lighting at common areas.

Lastly, the HUD suggests using energy efficient compact fluorescent blubs. These can definitely be installed at common areas so as to prolong the lifespan of these lights as well as to increase the energy efficiency. Further expanding on this, motion sensors can also be installed so as to reduce the amount of electricity wasted by keeping these lights on at full power for long periods of time. For instance, in car parks motion sensors can detect the presence of residents, which would then turn the lights on at full power. When there is nobody in the car park, then the lights can be dimmed to save power.

As such, there are many measures that the HDB as well as every single home owner can adopt in an effort to increase building sustainability throughout Singapore. Every little effort counts towards improving the overall situation in Singapore and even throughout the world.

 

BCA. (2011, May 19). Green Mark Criteria for Existing Residential Buildings. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from http://www.bca.gov.sg/greenmark/others/GMERB_v1.pdf

Hahn, K. (2014, January 1). Reuse Existing Buildings: The Revival of Mid-Century Modernism. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/reuse-existing-buildings-the-r-98783

HDB. (2010). HDB Key Statistics. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from http://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10221p.nsf/0/d4a0f107613b79944825766200236310/$file/Key Statistics.pdf

HUD. (2011, March 1). Multi-Family Green Retrofit Toolkit. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from http://www.huduser.org/portal/pdf/HUD-LAMultifamilyGreenRetrofitToolkit.pdf

Economic Benefits of Green Buildings

As they say, money makes the world go round. No one can claim to not be concerned about money. Whether it’s the strength of the overall economy, amount of profits generated for their companies and corporations, or simply the amount of money they earn. The environmental benefits of green building technology have been expanded upon to a large extent in the previous posts. Today, I will focus more on the economic benefits of green buildings and why it is beneficial to invest in green building technology.

There are a wide variety of economic benefits of green buildings. In today’s blog post, I will elaborate on three different aspects of economic benefits from green buildings.

Firstly, green buildings help to save costs. This can be further divided into construction and operating costs. It is a myth that the construction of a green building costs more than a normal one. This all depends on the effort made by the investor and the contractor to source for recycled materials which would lower the building costs and could decrease construction waste by 95% or more. Re-using the original building structures can also help to reduce demolition costs and production costs as this further reduces the amount of materials used in construction. This also preserves the heritage of the country as certain structures have been retained (Kamschroeder, 2009). This trend is further highlighted in the graph from figure 1 below, which shows that green buildings actually do not cost more per square foot compared to non-green buildings.

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Figure 1: Graph comparing cost per square foot and level of building sustainability (Institute for Building Efficiency, 2010).

As for operating costs, green technology helps to reduce costs in many different ways. For example, top tier green buildings that incorporate an integrated design approach had 45% less energy consumption, 53% lower maintenance costs and 39% less water use (Kamschroeder, 2009). This results in decreased electrical and utilities bills for owners and tenants. In the long run, this could help cover the possible higher costs and rents, and help to increase savings.

Secondly, they increase the property value, should the owner of the building wish to sell the building in the future. The asset value of the overall property increases as consumers and investors become more aware and educated about the benefits of building sustainability. This results in better marketability for the building. Based on a study conducted by Insight, the business of workplace design and management, greener buildings are able to attract more tenants and command higher rents and sales prices (Insight, 2013).

Lastly, green technology increases occupant productivity. Numerous studies have shown the positive correlation between increased natural light and fresher air and productivity and quality of work. Also, studies have shown that poor indoor environments have led to decreasing productivity. A study by the Herschong Mahone Group (2013) found that natural lighting and fresher air in a workplace would improve working efficiency by up to 20%.

Accumulatively, investors and building owners would definitely benefit in economic terms, both by reducing costs in the short run and long run as well as increased productivity leading to better work efficiency. In addition, the property prices of the buildings would also increase. Knowing these facts, the BCA could use them to promote the constructions of green buildings in Singapore, to further convince the public of their importance, rather than just merely implementing laws and policies. It is always more effective if you are able to convince rather than enforce.

 

Herschong Mahone Group. (2013). Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://h-m-g.com/projects/daylighting/summaries on daylighting.htm

Insight. (2013, March 6). Economic Benefits of Green Buildings Highlighted. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://workplaceinsight.net/economic-benefits-of-green-buildings-highlighted/

Institute of Building Efficiency. (2010, April). Economics of Green Building. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.institutebe.com/clean-energy-finance/green-building-costs.aspx

Kamschroeder, K. (2009, July 16). Benefits of Green Buildings on Costs, the Environment and Jobs. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/103662