China, the Vanguard of Asia’s Green Building Industry? | BEE | Alessandro Bisagni

A.Bisagni_photo_small_edit e

Much spotlight has been shed on China’s prowess in the green building industry. Being the world’s greatest consumer of energy, China’s energy consumption has more than doubled in less than 10 years. As one of their aggressive coping mechanisms to this issue, China’s 12th Five Year Plan targets to achieve 20% of all newly constructed building spaces to meet the Chinese “Green Building” standard.  The challenge however is, today, less than 1% of construction building projects meet the standard and the likelihood of achieving such an ambitious target seem overreaching with the prospect of hyper-inflating a market that may not exist today or in the short term.

Is China really the vanguard of green building industry in the Asia region? Alessandro Bisagni, the Founder & Managing Director of Bisagni Environmental Enterprise (BEE), gives his perspective on how China carries out their green building initiatives throughout the development stages towards the desirable future.

***

How significant has China developed its green building industry over the last decade? What kind of sound differences do you spot and where would it go afterwards?

I believe that the paradigm shift that has been happening in China for the past decade with regard to sustainability is unprecedented, even when compared to developed countries like the US. Of course, saying that there’s still a lot of work to be done is a major understatement. Despite this, we have to remember that before 2004-2005 there really was no such thing as a green building movement in China so all the innovation, projects, and technologies you see in the sector now have come about in a relatively short period of time.

The biggest barrier for better-performing buildings has been China’s constant struggle between modernization and environmental stewardship. Despite these challenges, the federal government has become very aware of the importance of sustainability and how green buildings are very much tied to this. One of the main differences that I spot now is the importance that local and federal governments have placed on the building sector and making it more green.

China’s local Certification system, the China Green Build Label (GBL or “3-Star”) has seen a tremendous rise in popularity around local developers (with a current total Certified number of 850). This Certification has now important federal subsidies tied to it and certain municipalities are designating zones where the a minimum level of 2-Star Design Label must be achieved in order to construct. While Certifications such as 3-Star and LEED (or others) are just a tiny tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to China’s enormous building stock, they ARE drivers of change and encourage the market across the country to evolve and improve. I think that we will continue to see a rise in Certification numbers and along with that higher standards for general building stock trying to keep up with the industry leaders.

Having been exposed in the marketplace where various green certifications are favored, what kind of factors are being considered by the market/clients that you’ve observed?

In China, the significantly most-popular Certification choice among developers is the local China Green Building Label (more commonly referred to as “China 3 Star”). However, we are seeing most developers choosing only the first stage of the Certification – the Design Label – and not pursing the more arduous Operational Label. In the Design Label the Certification is given only based on the proposed design and respective calculations, while the Operational Label is only issued after the building is monitored for 12 months post-completion AND if the building shows it performs the way it was designed to perform.

Personally, I think that the Operational Label stage is an incredible tool and should be an important component of any Certification system, however, in China this has either proven too difficult for developers to comply with or it is causing a major delay in Operational Label Certifications because to date only 6% of ALL China 3-Star projects have achieved this Label. Interestingly, in order to obtain the federal subsidies for 3-Star (45 RMB/sqm for 2-Star / 80 RMB/sqm for 3-Star) a developer MUST get the Operational Label (no incentives exist for Design Label). Therefore, this could mean that the primary factor or driver for 3-Star Certification is the brand name of the Label itself. While there are no subsidies available for LEED we are also seeing that the primary driver for LEED Certification is its international brand recognition.

Do you spot any admittance of difficulties in the operationalization of green buildings in China? How versed is the Chinese market in maintaining and pursuing their green commitment?

I believe that there still exists a vast knowledge gap between what is currently standard (business-as-usual) practice and a “sustainable best-practice.” I continuously see the disconnect happen at every level of the project phase and every project is different: commonly a local developer perceives the “greening” of their building as a mere cost with no benefit besides a marketing value; a Local Design Institute frequently decides to eliminate certain green building features from the design because it does not understand them and they don’t want to loose face by asking for help; or ordinarily, contractors that are untrained in aspects of green building construction improperly install building features meant to improve the performance of the building or choose to source cheaper (less-sustainable) products to increase their bottom-line.

All of these examples are common in today’s green building industry, but things are changing very rapidly and all players involved – from the client to the contractor – are beginning to see the true value of building green (i.e. beyond the marking) and choose to be part of the movement. There’s a long road ahead but so much opportunity exists so for those who like a challenge.

What are the latest innovative green building solutions currently favored in China? How would this market preference affect the industry in the coming future?

Unlike the large-scale energy production industry, I don’t think there is any one solution that is currently being favored over others and this is the way it should be. China’s climate and urbanization differs widely across its vast landscape – having one set of blanket solutions would reduce the potential for efficiency improvements. Rather, buildings should be looked at individually and via proper studies by architects, engineers, and consultants like myself, a “best set” of solutions can be identified for that specific building.

For example, in China solar-powered water heating systems are very common and used frequently. This is a great tool for building efficiency but usually makes no sense for high-rise commercial towers that have no space to have a properly-sized system installed. Another example, while in colder climates such as Beijing it would make strong economic and sustainable sense to have expensive triple-gazed or low-e glazing, such a solution may not make sense for a more temperate climate in lower regions where that money could be better spent elsewhere and have even greater efficiency improvements.

I have noticed, however, that solar electricity seems to remain a supported technology by the government. In Shanghai for example, subsidies are given for buildings that incorporate photovoltaics in their projects. I believe this is because China wants to protect and stimulate this sector since it is so prominent in the country.

How realistic is it to presume that China’s potential prowess is putting it as a vanguard of Asia green building industry in the coming future?

Just by looking at China’s current urbanization rate and how much it still needs to build, anyone can see the vast challenge but also great opportunities that exist in the country. It is imperative not just for China but for the rest of the world as well that China reduces its carbon footprint and improving its buildings’  efficiencies is a major factor. This is also not considering the huge market potential in the EXISTING building stock that will eventually need to be renovated and improved – a still comparatively nascent industry.

Without a doubt, China will be at the forefront of the green building industry for many, many years to come.

How realistic is it to presume that China’s potential prowess is putting it as a vanguard of Asia green building industry in the coming future?

Just by looking at China’s current urbanization rate and how much it still needs to build, anyone can see the vast challenge but also great opportunities that exist in the country. It is imperative not just for China but for the rest of the world as well that China reduces its carbon footprint and improving its buildings’  efficiencies is a major factor. This is also not considering the huge market potential in the EXISTING building stock that will eventually need to be renovated and improved – a still comparatively nascent industry.

Without a doubt, China will be at the forefront of the green building industry for many, many years to come.

What kind of change would you like to see in China’s green building industry?

Education, education, education. I am a huge proponent in providing knowledge not only to the building industry and also the general public. As in Europe and the USA, the green building industry is predominately driven by consumer demand for better buildings. If the Chinese public doesn’t know about the opportunities that currently exist for them, they will never demand to live, work, or learn in more efficient and healthier buildings.

In addition to this, I would like to see more enforcement at the provincial and municipal government level for the implementation of building codes. I believe one of China’s great problems is the general lack of enforcement for rules and regulations and this very much applies to the green building sector as well. However, I believe that these two issues are connected because the more the public is educated, the more pressure they will put on their local government to enforce green building code compliance.

***

More about BEE :

BEE – Bisagni Environmental Enterprise, specializes in high-performance building consultancy with a focus on engineering, passive design solutions, and computer simulations (energy, daylight & artificial light, acoustical, and Computational Fluid Dynamics for thermal and ventilation flows). The company’s goal is to maximize building performance and then subsequently ensure that Clients can achieve green building certifications such as LEED, HK BEAM, and China 3-Star. They have worked on a wide variety of green building projects seeking both whole building or interiors-only Certifications. Some of their key clients are Shangri-La, Chanel, Gucci, Starbucks, Las Vegas Sands, Akzo Nobel and notably, Haworth, for whom they were just recently able to achieve the world’s first LEED v4 Certification of any project worldwide.

Website: www.bee-inc.com

Print Friendly

1 Comment

  1. Patrick Sin

    18/03/2014 at 2:21 pm

    Convert existing buildings in China into green buildings is big potential market, we need to propagate the benefits of green building to the public so as to influence the municipal enforcement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read previous post:
Residence_finished_beams_unfinished_walls
A “Green” Building Is Not Always “Sustainable”

Though the words “green” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably, there are several differences between them, meaning that a “green”...

Close