Green business in Singapore:
What do a house with sliding panels for walls and solar panels doubling as a roof, and a bustling plaza in the heart of a business district in Singapore have in common? Each, in its own way, is an indication of what the affluent city state wants its building owners to do in the coming years — be sustainable.
Reduce energy and water consumption, use as much of natural lighting and ventilation as possible to meet the Green Mark certification standards set by its construction sector regulator, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore.
PLAZAS AND PANELS
Here is where the house and the plaza come in.
The three-floored terrace house that a group of journalists from India are shown, as part of a green mark tour, hosted by the BCA, is radically different from its more conventional neighbours. It is distinguished by the absence of a typical façade, except for vertical, black-painted metal screen, a mid-sized tree which gamely reaches for the skies from a concrete and wooden platform. The visitors who step past the gates, cannot help but notice the solar panels meant to power the owner's battery-operated bike; and that the entire ground floor, living space including the kitchen are one continuous space with no separating walls — great for natural ventilation. The stress on building design is on minimal.
At the other extreme is 313@Somerset, a modern plaza spread across nearly 3 lakh square feet that receives more than 100,000 shoppers daily, who come to the 180 retailers. Mr Mann Young, Head of Sustainability, Asia, Lend Lease Asia, shows the group around the plaza, drawing attention to the solar panels on the roof, light-emitting diode (LED) lighting that uses a lot less electricity than conventional fittings, water efficient taps —all contribute to making the plaza an example of efficiency in using natural resources.
Both have received the platinum ratings in their respective categories under the Green Mark standards. But these are not random instances of some conscientious individuals, but a component of a larger picture.
Singapore is looking to lead by example in the Asia-Pacific region, to mitigate the worsening impact of built-up space on climate change. According to the UNEP over a third of the energy related green house gas emissions are connected with buildings. Singapore has set for itself a goal of making 80 per cent of its 210 million square metres of built-up space meet BCA's green building norms by 2030 which will mean a significant reduction in energy consumption and therefore emissions. But this comes at a cost. The Singapore Green Building Council estimates will involve investments of more than S$300 billion.
What would it take hard-headed businessmen spend just a little more to make a building more environment-friendly? Convince them that the expenditure will help them make more money, of course, apart from reducing expenses in the operations of a building.
A study by the BCA and the Department of Real Estate of the National University of Singapore (NUS), in collaboration with half a dozen top international real estate consultants, including Jones Lang LaSalle, CB Richard Ellis, Knight Frank, Colliers International, has shown that there are benefits from retrofitting existing buildings.
Operating expenditure drops and value increases.
The study, presented by Assistant Professor Yu Shi-Ming of NUS at the International Green Building Conference in Singapore last week, covers 23 commercial buildings, including offices, retail space, hotels, and mixed-use buildings. The study shows that the average retrofit cost per square metre represents just approximately 2 per cent of a current new build cost for standard commercial buildings, and approximately 0.5 to 1 per cent of current market value for retail or office buildings, with minimal capital expenditure and no significant impact on owners and users in continuous occupation and operations.
And as for the benefits of retrofitting, the average savings in the buildings' energy consumption is approximately 17 per cent, as compared with the consumption prior to retrofitting. If measured by the area of buildings where the owners are responsible for paying the utilities, the average savings is nearly 30 per cent.
The next step, say authorities, will be to develop an evaluation guideline for green commercial properties, that will take into account the cost and benefit of newly-developed and retrofitted green commercial properties. This will be done in collaboration with representatives from the six real estate consultancy firms and the BCA, which is also working with the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers, to incorporate guidelines on green building valuation.
Mr Young, in his presentation on the need for a mind shift from cost to value regarding green buildings, pointed out that, based on Lead Lease's experience, green refurbishment has contributed to 5-6 per cent higher rentals and 11-12 per cent higher values. Mixed-use office and retail spaces delivered 18-40 per cent Internal Rate of Return (IRR). Even the so-called ‘intangible benefits' of productivity improvements because of better indoor environment has been measured, he says.
Following a green refurbishment of a building constructed in 1976 at 500 Collins Street, Melbourne, there was a nearly 40 per cent drop in average sick leave days and 10 per cent improvement in productivity.
Singapore is looking to lead by example in the Asia-Pacific region, to mitigate the worsening impact of built-up space on climate change.
- Umesh Shanmugam