Will Green Buildings result in Greener Pastures?

In compliance with the Philippines’ commitment to the Paris Agreement and as part of efforts to address climate change, the government has been pushing for the adoption of green practices.

One of these affirmative actions was the promulgation and issuance by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) of the Philippine Green Building Code “GB Code”, as a referral code of Presidential Decree No. 1096 or the National Building Code of the Philippines. 

GB Code

Policy and objectives. As espoused, the State shall “protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accordance with the rhythm and harmony of nature against harmful effects of climate change.” In addition, the Code seeks to “improve the efficiency of building performance through a framework of acceptable set of standards that will enhance sound environmental and resource management that will counter the harmful gases responsible for the adverse effects of climate change.”

What it is and it is not. The GB Code is basically a set of regulations setting minimum standards for compliance, and not intended to rate the building.  These performance standards include energy and water efficiencies, material sustainability, solid waste management, site sustainability and indoor environmental quality. 

Implementation. The Code sets and prescribes acceptable standards and requirements for several building types in order to improve the efficiency of their performance throughout the buildings’ life-cycle, by regulating their location and other parameters, such as site planning, design, quality of material, construction, use, occupancy, including operation and maintenance, without significant increase in cost. 

Who are covered? Residential condominiums/dwellings with total gross floor area (TGFA) of 20,000 square meters as well as hotels, resorts, schools, hospitals, offices, malls with at least 10,000 sqm. are covered. In case of mixed-use developments, the total aggregate area required is equivalent to the minimum established TGFA. 

Adopted in June of 2015, the Code did not have a retroactive effect, unless those building types undergo alterations, additions, conversions and renovations, and reach the minimum TGFA, wherefore the whole building shall be subjected to the applicable provisions. 

Energy Efficiency and Conservation 

Legislation. Last 2019, another landmark legislation – Republic Act No. 11285 or “An Act Institutionalizing Energy Efficiency and Conservation, Enhancing the Efficient Use of Energy, and Granting Incentives to Energy Efficiency and Conservation Projects” was passed. 

The law mandated, among others, the institutionalization of energy efficiency and conservation as a national way of life; promote and encourage the development and utilization of efficient renewable energy technologies and systems;  reinforce related laws and other statutory provisions for a comprehensive approach; and ensure a market-driven approach to energy efficiency, conservation, sufficiency, and sustainability.

Establishments covered. Rather than just including buildings based on their size, the law expanded the coverage to establishments that have an annual energy consumption of (a) 0.5 gigawatt-hour (GWh) to 4 GWh (Type 1); and (b) more than 4 GWh (Type 2), subject to periodic review and adjustment, if deemed necessary by the Department of Energy (DOE).

Selected tasks. Government agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) are required to adopt energy efficiency measures and ensure implementation in their daily operations. In addition, the law called for compliance with Minimum Energy Performance (MEP) standards for commercial, industrial and the transport sectors. It also tasked the DPWH to coordinate with the DOE in ensuring the implementation of the “Guidelines on Energy Conserving Design of Buildings and Utility Systems” as an integral part of the National Building Code.

Green Building Benefits

Cost savings. As can be gleaned from Eric Rosenkranz’s article “Financial Benefits of Green Buildings – Are they expensive?” (smart-cre.com), green buildings are feasible and viable investments. This is further reinforced by the US Green Building Council when it noted that green buildings are “profitable, cost-effective and good for the economy.”

While these building developers may spend two percent more on average to build (contrary to the perceived 15 percent additional cost), these costs are normally incurred for the hiring of specialized professionals like architects, engineers, consultants; building certifications; and procurement of special equipment, including those used for monitoring when they are in operation. 

Savings in building operations, maintenance and utility costs have likewise been reported to range 14 to 19 percent, on the average. Specific savings include 25 to 50 percent for energy; 10 to 40 percent for water; and 12 percent for maintenance. Meanwhile, based on the estimates provided by DPWH when it approved the GB Code, businesses and consumers can save up to P35.2 billion between the periods 2015 and 2030.

Other benefits. Based on various reports, qualitative and quantitative benefits of green buildings also include access to natural light, better indoor air quality and thermal comfort, resulting in improved employee productivity (by as much as  15 percent); enhanced health and well-being in these building, thereby reducing sick building syndrome and improving the overall benefit to the community; increase in building asset values of seven to 18 percent; and higher building occupancy level between six and 16 percent.

More significantly, green buildings are part of the environmental solutions, as CO2 emission can be reduced by as much as 34 percent. 

Government incentives. Many nations are also encouraging the development of green buildings. Examples of incentives they provide include VAT exemption (Argentina and Colombia); height bonus incentive (Peru); lower permit fees (Ghana); lower interest of green bonds and mortgage-backed securities (Kenya, Philippines); extra floor area ratio (Indonesia); and higher loan-to-value ratio (Indonesia), among others. 

Quo Vadis

Considering the tasks, responsibilities, challenges vis-à-vis opportunities, project proponents like developers and contractors, professionals like architects and planners, no longer have an alibi not to support the development of green buildings.

There is no other way but to go green. 

Additional references used include “Building the Green Way” by Charles Lockwood (hbr.org); “Green Buildings Market Intelligence, Philippines Profile” by International Finance Corp. (edgebuildings.com); “Is There a Green Pasture in the Philippine Real Estate Market (colliers.com); “Making the Business Case for High Performance Green Buildings” by US Green Building Council (courseresources.mit.usf.edu).

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Henry L. Yap is an architect and fellow in both environmental planning and real estate management. He is one of the undersecretaries of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.