SLP Environmental Co., Ltd - An ASEAN Environmental Consultancy

Building green when times are lean

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In an article entitled “Actions Speak Louder than Greenwash” last December we looked at how some unscrupulous property developers in Thailand preferred to market “greenwash” rather than embrace the concept of sustainable building design and construction. Indeed, it seemed as if the property developers were suddenly falling over themselves in their rush to surf the green wave, with project billboards proclaiming to save the planet sprouting up all over Bangkok in particular. Unfortunately for the environment however, one had only to scratch the surface of these claims to find the green credentials of the majority of these new development projects rarely extended beyond planting a few trees and installing more energy efficient air conditioning units.

But even in this cynical and depressing environment, there were some positive signs that change was in the air, leading the optimists amongst us to believe that we were witnessing a transformation towards more sustainable building practices here in Thailand. The challenge facing us all now is how we nurture these sensitive green shoots in the face of one of the worst economic downturns in recent history. We must not allow the recession to distract us from the fact that climate change and global warming represent a clear and present danger to our very way of life, and the building sector is responsible for almost half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. Recessions tend to be cyclical but experts now generally concur that once the climate change tipping point is reached there will be no going back.

Green building does not necessarily have to come with a high price tag. Innovative, and often simple, modifications to construction and services design can lessen their impact on our environment through energy and resource efficiency. Relatively simple passive solutions in tropical countries include; sun shading, building orientation/placement, solar reflective paints, greywater treatment and reuse, green roofs, use of lower thermal mass materials, rainwater harvesting, use of sustainably sourced and recycled materials, natural ventilation systems (such as solar chimneys) and recycled and non toxic building and finishing materials. More active solutions include the use of solar panels, biomass boilers, air con waste heat capture and utilization and wind turbines.

Governments and consumers alike can play their part in ensuring that building green is incorporated into the mainstream. A useful first step would be for the government to legislate that all new development above a certain threshold should be subject to a formal third party green building rating and certification process such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED has become the international de facto green building standard and LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification by accredited professionals that a building project meets the highest green building and performance standards, is environmentally responsible and will provide a healthy place to live and work.

Since the last article was written there have been no ‘New Construction’ LEED projects certified in Thailand although there are currently 5 projects registered; including a Six Senses resort in Koh Kood and a new Kasikorn Bank commercial building in Central Bangkok. LEED Certification is awarded on a sliding scale of Bronze through to Platinum based on the buildings quantified commitment to sustainable building design and operation. LEED accreditation is a complex process with significant financial and design implications, and it is therefore critical that a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) is consulted at the conceptual stage of any proposed project. Encouragingly, there are now 14 LEED Accredited Professionals in Thailand, a nearly three-fold increase in the past six months.

Thailand could also establish a Green Building Council (GBC) under the auspices of the World Green Building Council (http://www.worldgbc.org/home), a union of national councils whose mission is to accelerate the transformation of the built environment towards sustainability. WorldGBC support their members with the development of effective rating systems; they facilitate knowledge transfer and co-operation between councils and provide an impartial forum to share best practices globally. To date 14 GBC’s have been established with a further 7 more granted “Emerging Council” status, including ASEANs only representative in Vietnam.

There have been some rays of light however in these currently austere times. The Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) has recently tightened its Environment Impact Assessment standards and now requires larger green spaces. The Energy Ministry has also revised its codes to require new or renovated buildings with floor spaces greater than 2,000 sq.m to set design standards that include a 10% energy saving.

There are also encouraging signs that Thai civil society is starting to awaken to the importance of building green, as evidenced at this year’s Architect'09 fair where the Association of Siamese Architects under Royal Patronage (ASA) highlighted the importance of environmentally responsible building with its “ASA Green Awards”. These awards were presented to nine buildings, ranging from commercial buildings to a Buddhist temple, which included energy efficiency, water conservation and other environmental quality improvement measures in their design. They also presented a wide choice of locally made building materials including products made from recycled agricultural wastes and other renewable sources.

Last but not least, one should not underestimate the role of the general public in transforming traditional building practices in Thailand. There is a growing awareness of the importance of protecting the natural environment amongst the younger and more progressive elements in Thai society, and it is these green consumers of the future that will truly create and sustain the demand for green buildings and products.

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