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Green no more

A green building may fade much sooner than you think

Karl W. Feilder CEO and founder of cleantech organisation The Neutral Group
Karl W. Feilder CEO and founder of cleantech organisation The Neutral Group

I know how it happens. You are sitting in your office and the boss comes in and says, “Hey, you know that new office block we are planning – let’s make it GREEN!” Someone told him that green buildings rent out quicker AND help to save the planet, so you say, “Great idea, boss, I’ll get onto it now!”

You start with Wikipedia and discover that there are 101 ways to define a green building. Or with your local sustainability expert who bamboozles you with splendid words and leaves you utterly confused.

But eventually you find out that a lot of smart people have come up with a few standard ways of calling a building “green”. There are points systems and scorecards, and even specialist consultants who can advise you.

Fast forward two years and the ribbon-cutting ceremony has gone well. You have a sparkling, headline-grabbing eco-building, which might, just might, actually stay green for a while. But without regular reviews, without someone taking care of your wonderful creation, that beautiful bright green will fade away to the pastel shade of a tired dollar bill.

In 2012, the government in Hong Kong passed a law requiring all commercial buildings to undergo an energy audit of their HVAC, lighting, and electrical systems every ten years.

I’m not saying Hong Kong got it totally right – I would have chosen five years instead of ten – but here in the Middle East, our green building programs, including LEED, BREEAM, QSAS, and Estidama, require at most only one year of post-occupancy data to achieve certification.

The real challenge is that once a building is certified green it is believed to be green forever, which really misses why your boss should want a green building – not for the great marketing but because the higher up-front costs typically associated with green buildings are usually offset by lower operational costs over time.

But to achieve this level of savings takes ongoing care and an ongoing focus on efficiency. In reality, for any building to become truly sustainable and ensure and maintain those fantastic cost savings, continuous monitoring and improvement needs to become the norm.

It’s just a fact - over a building’s lifetime, new and more efficient practices and technologies will become available. Codes change. Building use and occupancy patterns change. The green building programs themselves will lose credibility if they can’t prove that their rating systems do in fact yield more efficient buildings over their lifetime.
So, when is a green building not a green building? Probably sooner than you think if you don’t keep checking!

About the author
Karl W. Feilder CEO and founder of cleantech organisation The Neutral Group

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Construction Week - Issue 754
Nov 23, 2019