Green buildings: Why they aren't just about energy consumption

May 22, 2015 19:32
The health and productivity of people inside the buildings should be counted in while evaluating green building projects. Photo: Bloomberg

Maybe you are not to blame for being less productive or absent-minded at work. It could actually be the building and the office environment that is the root of the problem.

Lack of fresh air, improper lighting and inferior materials in office buildings affect staff productivity and lead to far greater costs for companies than they realize, says an expert.

While energy consumption is always the focus when we talk about green buildings, the invisible human costs are also significant, says John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer at UTC Building & Industrial Systems, the world's largest provider of building technologies.

Ninety percent of the true cost in operating an office building is related to human resources and the work environment provided to them, he told EJ Insight in an interview Wednesday.

Only one percent of the true costs are on energy, he said, noting that health and productivity of people inside the buildings should be counted in while evaluating green building projects.

We should "balance the human being as part of the equation", Rick Fedrizzi, chief executive of US Green Building Council and the Green building Certification Institute, said during the same interview.

Regarding energy saving, in Hong Kong, buildings account for about 90 percent of total electricity consumption while also being the source of 60 percent of the local green house gas emissions, according to government data.

Mandyck said, on a global basis, 45 percent of the energy used in a typical building is for heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) system and the elevator system.

In Hong Kong, a city with hot and humid weather and high density of buildings, only the HVAC system along accounts for more than 30 percent of the usage, government data shows.

In the government's "Energy Saving Plan for the Built Environment 2015-2025+" released last week, improving energy efficiency of the HVAC systems is among the key efforts to achieve the energy intensity reduction target of 40 percent by 2025.

The efforts also include a targeted 5 percent reduction of electricity consumption in government buildings in the next five years.

However, industry insiders have said that private-owned buildings have less incentive to do the green upgrade, given the funding gap and investment return concerns.

Mandyck believes the targets are achievable. It is a very positive step for the local government to set targets, he said, adding that more aggressive moves could be expected if the targets were completed early.

Registered green buildings command a 3 percent rent premium and higher occupancy rate while enjoying 13 percent premium in asset value, compared to otherwise identical buildings, Mandyck said, citing data from an academic paper published in 2013.

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EJ Insight reporter