Green Building Industry in Malaysia: Reality Check : Market & Perceptions of Developers

So i thought it’s good to have a reality check on the Green Building Industry in Malaysia. It happened across my mind when i flipped out TheStar Land&Property section with some articles on property management, or the perceptions of the end users today. It’s true that the bread and butter factors of a property today is still ultimately location and resellable value. Developers seem to eye on the best piece of land, which is highly competitive in terms of infrastructure, that can assure investors to come, and yes that rises to the era where people sees housing properties as an asset to invest and this disturbs the housing agenda for our nation i suppose.

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So there you go, MRT line 2 and 3 will be kept in view by many developers i suppose. In the next 8 years all the way towards 2020, we shall see a tight, rapid growing property booming around Klang Valley still (that really tempts me to write about the Greater Klang Valley ETP could be a real nightmare) But yes that’s the concern, with this race of more property developments by more enthusiastic developers, how far is GBI Green Building Index is coming along to spread the green agenda? Where are we really heading to actually? And what are the strategies for next 5 years to put the idea of Green Building across effectively? Is GBI just a trend & fashion, or it remains here? Is it because the world market is heading towards the “green building” agenda and top property developers wants to be the first to set the trend?

Green Building Index has claimed on the successful benchmark of greening 50 Million square feet certified buildings. But i personally think that there are much more to be done and the number of projects and its categories somehow wouldn’t be a tangible measurement of key performance index. I love to be a critic in this matter because we really need to give a reality check on this ever since GBI started in 2009, and i am glad that a lot of research has been done such as comparing GBI rating to LEED, GreenMark.. and also GBI is still continue to fine tune its mechanism such as the latest GBI certification for Retail.

THE CHRONOLOGY of GREEN BUILDING in MALAYSIA

The scene of building energy performance awareness in Malaysia can be observed since 2006 onwards.  There were some prototypes or buildings built then there are well referred as case studies today such as the ST Diamond Building and also the GEO Green Energy Office. There were studies done on Household Energy Usage (DDC) project by CETDEM, and there was MS1525, which is the backbone for GBI today as well. As far as there are private small scale properties who took up the initiative to have a more energy efficient building premises for the good CSR Corporate Social Responsibility effort, there is certainly a need of a mechanism to put the benchmark for the building industry to move forward.

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In terms of policies, we could see how Malaysia has involved with international agreements such as Rio, Kyoto and the recent COPs.Roadmap1

And ever since 2008, we see a transformation in governance to encourage green policies. KETTHA was then a new ministry restructured from the old ministry, Income Tax Exemption for GBI certified buildings, GreenTech Malaysia is set up as the implementation arm for KETTHA, Sirim had its Ecolabel scheme started,  SEDA was formed and actively pushing for Solar Power through its various programs promising good FiT rates, Suruhanjaya Tenaga also started Energy Efficiency labeling then. These are the Push factors for the Green Building industry then.

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THE CURRENT REALITY OF GBI in MALAYSIA

Yes with all the push factors above, frankly speaking we are still at the very stage of awareness and knowledge. Awareness of the public on what Green Building is truly about, which is more than the typical understanding of Energy Efficient CFL and also rainwater harvesting and some PV panels on the rooftop. Knowledge as in the industry’s capability in embracing this new benchmark of change, skilled and dedicated talents are to lead this industry to the new paradigm shift. I do agree that the general scene of green building industry has made a significant milestone but there is certainly more to be expected in the next few years.

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  • Awareness & Knowledge – Only with proper awareness and knowledge, then there is a need demand from the end users and we can see a bottom up approach of pulling factor. Awareness and Knowledge towards Green Building is still under rated i would say, there are a lot of good prototype such as Sime Darby Idea House and Panasonic’s Econation Center  to make end users understand green buildings ebtter but the crowd generally does not see how all these link to the big picture of Global Warming (that sounds so cliche indeed).
  • Bringing the entire Building industry to a Paradigm Shift- On the other hand, when we talk about sustainable construction and the market for Green Building, it is also talking about the readiness of the entire building industry. One reason why i say that we are still at the very awareness level is also because the implementation of GBI also requires some time for the respective players in the field to absorb it, an example would be the contractors i am “educating” and also chasing them to submit the documents required for GBI, and these take time for the every contractors to get a gist of what it means to them. The entire building industry players need to respond together as well which we are still in the midst of getting everyone to do it. This includes also household interior design items and fittings such as sanitary fittings which flow rate is being emphasized, but still major fitting suppliers are not aware of this and rant around how GBI made business not as usual.. (oh well..)
  • A lot of Agreements, Little Actions – Yes, we have seen GBI related articles on the newspaper, new properties coming up and all th fancy ad promoting sustainable healthy lifestyle. A widespread agreement on sustainable construction or Green Buildings does not mean a widespread implementation. It was argued that although many construction practitioners agreed with sustainability principles, many still not grasped their meaning and even fewer have practised what they preached.

THE UNDERSTANDING TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTION/BUILDING

So we are still in the stage of awareness and knowledge, do we have a problem of getting the right message across the crowd on the direction of Green Building? One of the problem i foresee is with the understanding the public has towards “Sustainable construction/building”.  The concept of sustainable construction or green building governs three main pillars; environmental protection, social well being and economic prosperity.

Environmental protection concerns the impact of built environment towards the natural environment and also with the extraction of natural resources. Social well being concerns the human feelings, security, satisfaction, safety and comfort, basically social cohesive. While economic sustainability is concerned with the monetary gains from the project for the benefits of the clients and the other player in the industry.  Referring to the survey which is done by Dr Nazirah Zainul from USM, here’s a summary of the understanding towards sustainable construction from developers.

LevelofunderstandingMajority of the respondents considered themselves to have moderate to good knowledge of sustainable concepts. Although they believe that their knowledge is ‘moderate’, they seemed to think that overall, the knowledge is still below average.  I would agree to this as it is very different to talk about green implementations in the paper compared to real practice. Cost is not necessary the only issue, other factors such as industry practice such as scope of work of respective consultants and significant technical knowledge would be a great decision maker for the determination of the project. But also on the other hand, what do they really understand about sustainable construction?

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Does it surprise you? Neither me. A lot of developers have heard or would agree to the understanding on sustainable construction or building approach towards environment cause. This is well reflected here, however very small thought on the social well being and what more about generating profits without compromising future needs? I got this picture when i was in university as well, that a lot of my lecturers and friends are all labeling ‘sustainable’ as only just being GREEN, but a serious lacking of mention towards economical and social benefits of such intention.

Size Matters; So what do the developers say?

The big companies of professional developers were aware of sustainability and actions were being undertaken to incorporate these needs, they have taken initiatives to produce better buildings by performing well above the required standard and aiming for certifications.

Although medium and small sized developers might be aware of sustainability, due to constraints such as cost, they preferred to produce a building which satisfied criteria set by regulations because they mostly deal with local buyers who were still not aware of sustainability and wanted cheap and affordable, ‘practical’ houses. The priority of any developer is to survive in the industry by ensuring that each unit constructed is sellable.

It seems that the developers who are playing the game of sustainable construction are only those who have strong capital and good reputation, who follows the global market trend whose targeting high income earners and foreign investors as potential buyers are interested in ‘green’ concepts.

It’s true to say that actually majority of developer from all stream knows the concept, and have a certain of knowledge of sustainable construction, but implementation is a different approach as many factors add up to the success factor.

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Green building needs to be proven to be economically viable in the long run and GBI has significant amount of building projects to showcase the best practice projects.

How do we move on from here? How do we improved the acceptance of Green Buildings or Sustainable Construction to the eye of developers?

  1. We see that the small and medium sized developers represent a large population of developers in Malaysia. More outreach program such as workshops etc, should reach out to them and improving their knowledge and understand their perceptions better on this matter.
  2. All players in the building industry should be capable of accepting this paradigm shift by having the necessary knowledge. The lack of knowledge or enthusiasm of a consultant in the project team could potentially fail the design.
  3. Some GBI matters have to do with legislation action as well. This requires government role to play in, be it ministry, or state government or local authority, their support and incentives will prompt interest among the industry players. For example today DBKL has enforced all development within its territory should achieve at least GBI certified, and this must be enforced.
  4. To tackle the poor perception towards sustainable construction/ green building, which does not suggest social or economic benefits. There should be more case studies compiled to reveal the economic value of green buildings, that is often always being translated by monetary terms, which is not true as green building also saves a lot of unsaid cost, such as increasing occupant productivity by ergonomic means. Since GBI has an extensive list of projects registered and i am sure there are some significant ones that can be taken as case studies to convince the developers that it is more than ‘about green’.
  5. Finally, the ultimate factor is end user demand. But realistic speaking, i still think authority requirement still works over the expectation to see end user demand coming anytime soon. End user still sees infrastructure and investment return as the prime factors in purchasing a property, while they would only see the ‘green’ concept as something bonus.

And that is pretty much the write up about the reality check towards the perceptions of the developers.. but there is more than meets the eye to see the overall factors that chart out the future of green building industry in Malaysia. I am not an expert to talk more about it, but i do see, Education as a vital factor in producing talents that can assist this industry, and i am glad that practicing professionals are helping out in the higher tertiary level 😉 I have to say that the education towards sustainable design in architecture degree is so under rating to what’s being practiced in the industry.

Credits to some of the slides belong to MGBC and also the research from Dr Nazirah, USM. You can refer or download it below here:

Download (PDF, 204KB)

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