Singapore: New president of SGBC aims at further advancements of sustainable buildings

Construction and conservation often tread divergent paths but Mr Chia Ngiang Hong is leading an initiative that aims to reconcile the two.

Mr Chia, the group general manager of City Developments (CDL), became the fourth president of the non-profit Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) in March.

The body is a private sector initiative that aims to promote sustainable development in the building and construction industry by encouraging industry players to incorporate green building features.

Such features include utilising construction materials with a lower carbon footprint, or harnessing renewable energy.

Mr Chia replaces Mr Ng Eng Kiong, managing director of mechanical and electrical engineering consultancy Squire Mech.

Mr Chia’s career might have turned out rather differently, had he not encountered a perceptive colonel during his national service days.

Back then, Mr Chia was deciding between a pharmacy course, and a new building and estate management course that had been launched by the then University of Singapore. Hearing of his dilemma, the colonel advised him to opt for the building course – and he was convinced.

“Singapore is still so underdeveloped. The potential will be fantastic,” his senior officer told him, Mr Chia says.

After graduation, he spent about four years at DBS Bank, before joining CDL as a property manager in 1981.

In the early 1990s, CDL began to introduce green building features to its developments.

Mr Chia found that these initiatives were having an impact on his broader outlook on the environment and in shaping his daily life. “It’s built into our system, you see,” he says.

“At home, I encourage my family members to use recycling bins… In terms of compost, I try to experiment here and there with my garden plants,” he adds.

Little did he know that his boss, CDL’s current deputy chairman Kwek Leng Joo, would nominate him to be a founding member of SGBC.

The board of SGBC, which was launched in May 2009, had to secure funding and industry support, and establish concrete plans in order to qualify as a full member of the World Green Building Council, a global non-profit body with similar objectives.

He was pleasantly surprised when SGBC gained admission to the international council in February 2010.

Mr Chia says: “We worked from scratch, you know. There was nothing. No constitution, no structure.”

SGBC’s membership swelled from 142 in 2009, to 469 last year.

Despite these achievements, Mr Chia says he and the team at CDL can contribute more to these objectives.

He says: “Developers have a certain inherent advantage, being at the top of the supply chain… They can influence consultants by getting them to include green building features and these can transcend the whole supply chain.”

He took it upon himself to “set the tone” in the industry, by personally encouraging CDL tenants to bring in green building features – a practice he maintains.

Mr Chia has also taken an interest in the area known as corporate social responsibility.

However, to his co-workers, such as the senior vice-president of CDL’s innovation and green building projects division, Mr Allen Ang, Mr Chia was simply being his “charitable” self.

Mr Chia has played an advisory role in the City Sunshine Club, CDL’s staff volunteering programme, since its inception in 1999.

He has also served as chairman of NUS’ Department of Real Estate Consultative Committee since 2008. This involves reviewing and giving suggestions about the course syllabus. He was named a distinguished NUS alumnus in 1999 for his contributions.

As SGBC president, Mr Chia is gearing up to do more. “I want to make sure that the buy-in by industry players comes in very strongly… to make SGBC a stronger and more effective executive body.”

He also wants to change the way home hunters think. Usually, they target location and price.

“If we can make them see a third dimension, it will be very helpful,” he adds, referring to the “green” dimension.

Mr Chia says he hopes the Government would introduce incentives such as rebates on tax or stamp duty in return for undertaking green initiatives, to bolster SGBC’s efforts.

The industry veteran knows that the road ahead as president will be tough.

He says: “The shoes are very big now, I’m trying to figure out how to get them to fit nicely.”

Source: AsiaOne

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