For the last couple of decades, a new trend has emerged in the office and commercial building and construction industry. Where once architects and developers competed to build the tallest, biggest or most modern-looking structure in the city, there is now an additional “wow” factor for which building designers and developers strive.
New buildings must still aim to dazzle, but the billion rupiah question these days is: are they “green”? Whether one is “green” is such a standard question that quotation marks are no longer needed – being green is not special; it is mainstream. It is on par with the common-sense knowledge, particularly among Jakarta residents, that trees and city parks should be preserved, that people should bike to work rather than drive their cars and that rivers should be clean, not treated like giant garbage dumps.
Of course, we know that following green rules in property development will perform better than standard-built environments in terms of mitigating climate change.
But just as there is a discrepancy between knowing that urban parks should be preserved and coming to terms with the fact that parks are shrinking, it is another thing for developers to follow through in engaging in green building practices even though they know that buildings should be green.
However, in the estimation of the Green Building Council (GBC) Indonesia, the future of green building in Indonesia is promising. The association’s Greenship rating systems launched in 2010 and 2011 have been warmly welcomed by consultants and developers.
Tiyok Prasetyoadi, GBC Indonesia’s deputy for international relations and a core founding member, said 60 buildings are currently registered and 38 are in the process of being assessed.
“An investment in green building reduces the risks faced by the construction and property industries.”
But, as with many trends in Asia, there are signs of an overuse and abuse of the term “green building”. It turns out there are many different shades of green, ranging from a total commitment to following recognized practices to a token nod to them.
Candice Lim, the managing editor of Singapore-based FuturArc magazine that focuses on green buildings in Asia, said that many Asian developers use “green” in their latest offerings “because they think it’s ‘trendy’ and a popular catchphrase to have in their marketing and publicity efforts.”
She knew of a developer who cited a project’s landscape and greenery as its green features.
“Nothing was said about climatic-adaptive features that took into account Singapore weather and humidity or use of materials that were environmentally friendly or the use of renewable energy alternatives… There was the feeling that no real ‘green’ efforts were being considered, despite the fact that they were selling the new project to a younger generation of working professionals who are possibly more aware of environmental issues,” she said.
Then there are those who simply pay lip service in their work.
“Adding photovoltaic panels here and power-saving light bulbs there, they would be the ones hopping onto the [green building] bandwagon because it’s trendy or maybe it’s easy to say they have done a ‘green’ building just by adding such gimmicky gadgets,” said Lim.
“Greenwashing” – a spin in the marketing of products to make them appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are – is undeniably a by-product of the green building movement.
Tiyok said that before the establishment of GBC Indonesia’s rating system, greenwashing was rife in Indonesia, disseminated to the public through the media and corporate marketing material. Since the Greenship rating system was introduced, however, it has become possible to avoid such cases and to better quantify green parameters.
“Consumers can see more transparently, through the rating system, what exactly it is that allows a building to be categorized as ‘green’,” he said.
From her experiences in Southeast Asia, Lim found that architects and designers were generally more passionate and genuine in their concern over the negative impact of building on the natural environment, the depletion of natural resources and their consequences on the local landscape.
“Mainly because some have been green for a number of years, or perhaps even longer, or even before ‘green’ became a buzzword in the building industry,” she said.
Tiyok said that developers who understood and benefited from green building, especially those who were already engaged in the practice before the introduction of GBC Indonesia’s Greenship rating system, would gladly apply green building principles.
“They may be motivated by a desire to attract clients or tenants in a competitive market, or they may own and operate a green building and appreciate its lower operational costs,” he said.
Tiyok, an architect and urban designer at PDW Architects, said that contrary to popular belief, green buildings were not necessarily more expensive than conventional buildings.
“Extra costs usually arise when new technologies are applied.”
In fact, green building can be achieved by taking into account the surrounding environment and by designing the building so it corresponds with the site’s macro and micro-level conditions through a passive design approach.
Rating systems, which place emphasis on the performance of buildings, may push up building costs but these may be reduced if green choices are made throughout the building process and involve all stakeholders, from the start of the project to the operational stage of the building, Tiyok said.
The push toward green building, especially in Asia, will mostly likely be slow but steady as guidelines from most green building associations are seldom legally binding and often quite costly.
“Some of these local green building bodies are ground-up initiatives… which might make some of the programs more difficult to carry out because developers may not want to pay heed to what a group of green architects or designers have to say, as there are no real monetary incentives from the authorities for developers or landowners,” said Lim.
This made it all the more important for green building and rating system advocates to take locality and conventional building practices into account because, when push comes to shove, “Construction companies will follow what the market wants. And only a handful of pioneers will be willing to stand by green building principles,” said Tiyok.