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Malaysia’s Green Building Index Paves the Way to Sustainable Development

Buildings are responsible for almost 50% of annual global CO2 emissions. With urban areas expected to hold almost 70% of the human population by 2050, we can expect the built environment to expand exponentially over the coming years, creating a huge liability on the road to net zero emissions.

To keep emissions in check while enabling large scale urbanisation, green buildings have emerged as the solution that would not only reduce the negative impacts of development, but also provide positive impacts on the surrounding environment and its residents. Designed to reduce the overall impact on human health and the environment throughout its lifecycle, green buildings prioritise the efficient use of water, construction materials, and energy – during development and throughout its operational lifetime.

To quantify a building’s socio-environmental impact, green ratings systems have been developed to identify and manage resource consumption of buildings. One such system, the Green Building Index (GBI), is Malaysia’s own industry-recognised green rating system for buildings, designed to promote sustainable development and encourage widescale responsibility for creating a green future for Malaysia.

What is the Green Building Index?

Buildings that adopt green construction methods and eco-friendly designs provide a host of benefits both to the environment as well as its residents. Some of these benefits include reduced water and energy wastage, reduced burden on natural resources and improved air and water quality. Although the upfront costs of a green building may be higher than conventional options, the return on value from conserving energy and using the surrounding environment to its benefit reduces energy and maintenance costs in the long run, and even improves the quality of life for users and residents.

Malaysia’s GBI rating tool was developed specifically for the country’s tropical climate, taking into account its cultural and social needs as well as its environmental and developmental context. Helmed by the Malaysian Green Technology and Climate Change Corporation (MGTC), the process to receive the GBI certification starts with an assessment of the building by an appointed certifier. This certifier scores and provides a rating for the building based on six main criteria: energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, material resources, sustainable site planning and management, water efficiency, and innovation.

Once assessment is complete, a provisional certification is issued by MGTC, with a final certification provided when the completed building is verified according to the design provided. Depending on scores achieved, buildings will be awarded either a Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating.

Building a Green Future for Malaysia

For a developing country like Malaysia, large scale developments are inevitable, especially considering that up to 87% of its population will reside in urban areas by 2050. As the building sector continues to be one of the largest users of energy and emitters of CO2, it is crucial that the energy and resource usage of buildings are optimised. By promoting and rewarding the efficient use of natural resources, green building rating systems like the GBI are playing a significant role in the road to net zero by 2050.

While green building developments and certifications are entirely voluntary at this point, Malaysia already boasts dozens of green projects that span from individual buildings to factories and even townships. One such project, the University of Technology Sarawak, received a Platinum rating for their campus design that incorporates green elements in its design and planning to create a beautiful, eco-friendly campus that even went viral on social media for its stunning architecture. Other similar projects with a GBI rating include Nucleus Tower, Sunway City Iskandar Putri, IKEA Distribution Centre Malaysia, Tropicana Gardens Mall and The Energy Commission Diamond Building in Putrajaya.

The building sector continues to be one of the largest users of energy and emitters of CO2, it is crucial that the energy and resource usage of buildings are optimised

Inspired by green developments, Malaysia is seeing an increasing number of partnerships between property developer and utility companies. Most recently, national utility Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) has formed a partnership with property developer SP Setia to provide smart energy and renewable energy solutions for SP Setia’s future property developments. This partnership, beside optimising costs of developments, will also provide sustainable energy solutions for future property owners and significant savings in energy consumption, proving how collaboration has the potential to bridge knowledge and resource gaps.

Another partnership would be Sime Darby and GSPARX on the development of Ilham Residence in the City of Elmina, Shah Alam where homes are equipped with solar panels, smart green meters and home energy management systems. This pioneering partnership between a property developer and solar player will allow its residents to manage their electricity usage while exporting excess energy under Net Metering Scheme (NEM) back to TNB.

Sustainable Development Around the World

Across the world, several different green building rating systems have been developed to encourage sustainable development practices. These include the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), Green Globes, the Green Mark Scheme, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). These systems primarily aim to raise awareness on the benefits of a sustainable approach to building design, offering a framework to integrate sustainable solutions in an effective manner, and providing market recognition for their designs.

At the same time, green certifications in certain locations can help developers and owners qualify for tax incentives, utility rebates and other rewards. In Ohio, U.S.A, one city offered an automatic 100% real property tax exemption for properties that earned a minimum LEED certification, and other places recognise green certifications for tax credits qualification. In Singapore, incentive schemes provided by the government’s Building and Construction Authority offer up to 2% additional gross floor area (GFA) for buildings that attain Platinum or Gold Green Mark ratings. In the UK, which has pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050, many publicly funded and procured buildings are required to be assessed and reach a minimum BREEAM rating.

Even without these incentives, sustainable buildings have proven to be more commercially successful with one study reporting that BREEAM-certified buildings in London achieved a 21% premium on transaction prices and an 18% premium on rent. On top of this, certified buildings often have a reduction in energy, water, and material usage, improve indoor environmental quality and reduce the potential environmental impact if the building. Green buildings that produce their own renewable energy could also potentially offset operational costs through initiatives such as Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), that allow companies to purchase excess renewable power from prosumers. Altogether, these ratings systems have help support green development practices that have produced incredible feats of sustainable architecture such as:

  • Bosco Verticale (Italy): Meaning “Vertical Forest” in Italian, these twin residential towers have over 20,000 trees and plants on the buildings’ exterior and are equipped with solar panels and water filtration systems to water its plants. Certified LEED Gold.
  • Vancouver Convention Centre (USA): An award-winning green convention center with sustainability features including a rooftop garden with over 400,000 indigenous plants and four beehives. The world’s first double LEED Platinum certified convention center.
  • Shanghai Tower (China): A skyscraper with 200 wind turbines at the top that generate 10% of the tower’s energy needs, alongside 40 other energy-saving measure that, together, reduce the building’s yearly carbon emissions by approximately 34,000 metric tonnes. Certified LEED Platinum and China Green Building Three-Star rating certification.
  • Eastgate Centre (Zimbabwe): A shopping center and office building without conventional air conditioning or heating systems but instead combined architecture with design techniques used by termites to keep the building at a constant temperature.

Building for the Future

At a global level, the building sector has the potential of making over 50% energy savings by 2050, preventing a significant chunk of emissions from being released into the atmosphere. While there is already progress seen in the green building sector, high initial cost, insufficient green expertise, and lack of interest among stakeholders may hinder the widespread adoption of green development practices. However, the lack of awareness and expertise can be realised through collaborations such as the TNB-SP Setia and Sime Darby-GSPARX partnerships which serves as proof that the resources and knowledge for green development are available to those who are willing to collaborate.

With the encouraging interest in sustainable development, implementing legislation that mandates a level of preservation and restoration of the environment can kickstart a green building revolution that could future-proof Malaysia’s urban development. In the end, the crucial role of green buildings and sustainable development in race to net zero cannot be ignored, and stakeholders need to work together to make green living a reality.

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