With a new planning index, Malaysia is leading the way in developing regulations that will encourage the region’s construction industry to build with the future in mind. It seems that if you want to be acceptable to the rest of the world, paint yourself green. That appears to be the thinking behind the Malaysian government’s introduction of a Green Building Index (GBI), which sets out key construction standards of energy efficiency and sustainability. However, the fly in the environmental ointment is a lack of locally made materials to construct the buildings
The creation of the GBI is designed to raise public and industry awareness of environmental issues and give green guidelines to builders and developers. It signals Malaysia’s opening move to join an exclusive club of nations (including the United States and Britain) that have, since the 1990s, embarked on creating similar standards.
Evaluation starts with an examination of a building’s energy and water-use efficiency. Next, is the type of materials used in its interior to ensure that they are environmentally and resource friendly. The index has also been formulated to ensure that the future management of each building is carried out to agreed minimum standards.
Buildings are categorised into three areas: housing, commercial and public. For the first category the index is weighted towards planning and administration, with particular emphasis on its proximity to public transport and its efficient energy consumption. According to government sources, there is already a welcome for buildings that fulfil the index’s criteria.
For commercial as well as public buildings, such as universities, government offices and hospitals, the criteria are energy efficiency and the sustainable quality of their interiors.
The GBI offers four possible certificates. Credit is given for the fulfillment of the basic requirements and any other green attributes. The process of indexing buildings starts at the planning phase for each project, which is followed up a year after its completion. After a further three years, another inspection is made to ensure that the maintenance of the building follows proscribed standards. The GBI accreditation panel also offers the services of certified consultants who can work alongside developers. Currently an index for existing buildings is being compiled and is expected to be introduced later this year.
According to the World Green Building Council the building sector is responsible for 40% of world energy consumption and 12% of water. In Malaysia, in common with other Asian countries, the need for action on sustainable building is high.
Experts suggest that too little is invested in energy efficient technology and materials. Many buildings are badly insulated against everyday heat and their air-conditioning systems cannot be adjusted for individual areas. Available technology that could offer a more modest, measured and most of all energy efficient cooling system is not yet widely used. There is also little in the way of thermic solar installations for water heating, energy-efficient bulbs are rare and automatic lighting control systems are pretty well non-existent.
To reduce water consumption, the index proposes installation of water-free urinals, efficient toilet flushing and the recycling of rainwater. There are also proposals to only use materials safe for occupants and the environment. Construction materials can only be used if their manufacture is energy efficient.
GBI estimates suggest that the additional cost to developers will be between 3% and 15%, depending on the level of certification. Although the greater expense is seen as a deterrent in a cost-sensitive market, experts hope that the initiative will advertise long-term benefits such as lower running costs, better rentability and higher long-term value.
Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, has introduced incentives to encourage the development of environmentally friendly technologies. He would also like to boost local capacity by allowing foreign investment in research and development.
The introduction of “green technology hubs” as well as the creation of additional institutions within the government and the private sector are also planned in an effort to stimulate foreign investment in the sector.