Green must be the new industry default

If we're serious about making sustainable buildings the norm, it is time to make green buildings the only buildings we talk about, said panellists at the International Green Building Conference in Singapore.

It is time to sweep aside discussions about “conventional” buildings and green buildings to accept that a new norm has been set in the building and construction industry, said government regulators and sustainability practitioners at the International Green Building Conference on Thursday.

The second day of the conference, held at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, saw a number of discussion panels, including one themed “A Bird’s eye view of sustainable built environment”.  

Led by moderator Yvonne Soh, executive director of the Singapore Green Building Council, panellists shared the challenges facing the green building industry in their respective countries.

Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, senior adviser, Dubai land department - Government of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was the first to throw down the gauntlet for the industry to alter the way green buildings are talked about.

He said: “It’s been proven that green buildings are important, and have a business case - no one argues that. But as sustainability practitioners and an industry, we have to change the language”.

We should stop talking about traditional or conventional buildings, and start talking about green buildings as default,” he added.

Romilly Madew, chief executive officer of the Green Building Council of Australia, echoed this, arguing that if the industry truly wants to be net zero by 2050 and deal with challenges, there is a need to “smarter about how we design buildings in cities and communities”.

“This is about how we’re going to build,” said Madew. “Let’s just get on and do it, and not argue about whether we’re going to build a green building or not.”

She added: “Every building has to be a green building.”

But how does a country or city embark on a quest to implement green building practices - is it industry or government that should lead the charge?

Wang Youwei, chairman of China’s Green Building Council, said China presents a unique case because “different cities take different approaches”.

As an economy that is used to a lot of central planning in the past, some cities have now moved towards working more independently, while other cities still rely more on the government-led approach, he said.

On the other hand, Raghupathy Sundaresan, executive director, Indian Green Building Council, said both industry and government work hand in hand in India because there is a business case for going green. 

However, Ibrahim said one of the “responsibilities” of the private sector is to invest in research and development because the governments sometimes “hit the wall when we don’t have the technologies (for green buildings)”.

After all, it’s not enough to build green buildings; people need to build smart and sustainable, he said.

Every building has to be a green building.

Romilly Madew, chief executive officer, Green Building Council of Australia

The question of cost was raised again during the panel session, as Soh said: “Our experience is that people want better buildings, but they won’t pay for it.”

Dubai Land Department’s Ibrahim refuted this, saying green houses don’t necessarily have to cost more and that people of how people have a “right to a green house”, not solely to help the environment or to get a certain rating, but because green buildings tie in to bigger issues of health and happiness as well.  

And by changing the language around green buildings, cost becomes a non-issue. “Will people pay for a quality house? Oh yes.”

Eco-Business is producing a special e-newsletter featuring stories on the proceedings at IGBC 2016, kindly supported by City Developments Ltd and the Building and Construction Authority. Sign up to receive the newsletter here.

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