So, how do we build a sustainable city?

Industry stakeholders strategize on how to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet theirs.

These days, “sustainable (or sustainability)” is a word that gets tossed around a lot. But do we really know what it means? Sustainability simply means being able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet theirs. To be sustainable means not being harmful to the environment or not depleting our natural resources so that the generations that would come after us could have their fair share of nature’s bounties, too.

So, how do we build a sustainable and resilient (now, that’s another big word) city, building or home?

That was the riveting topic of a media roundtable series held recently by Lamudi, a leading real estate marketplace, in cooperation with Holcim Philippines and the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association. Panelists from non-governmental organizations put their heads (and hearts) together to address the burning issue of global warming/climate change.

A merry hot christmas

“Now, they’re even talking of a hot Christmas,” notes Ferdz dela Cruz, former CEO and chief sustainability officer of Manila Water Company, Inc. “Climate change is a very real issue. It has affected the water industry, it has affected the whole world.”

“Climate change re-highlighted or heightened the social conditions that are already existing, it has made us more vulnerable,” asserts Justine Santos-Sugay, Habitat for Humanity director for resource development and communications. “The Philippines contributes less than one percent (compared to 27 percent from China and 14 percent from the US) to the global carbon emission and yet, we, together with Cambodia, Ethiopia, and a lot of other poor countries are the most susceptible to the effects of climate change. China and the US are not even in the top 10 countries which will feel the brunt of climate change.”

Justine asks, “Which countries will be more equipped to deal with a major disaster in terms of housing?”

She affirms, “We at Habitat believe that a safe home, a resilient city, a safe community are at the heart of what we have to address to adapt to the changes in the climate.”

They all agree that with so many lives at stake, developers cannot just sit around and wait for the next catastrophe to happen.

Blessed as we are with so much sunlight, James Buskowitz, CEO of Buskowitz Group, believes that one of the most efficient ways to be sustainable is to utilize solar energy (solar panels). He shares, “If we combine all the roofs in the entire Metro Manila, we would have enough solar energy to power the whole country.”

Speaking of roofs, did you know that simply choosing a white roof can already help a household save energy? “White and beige are the best colors, they’re self-cleaning,” suggests architect Amado de Jesus, vice chairman of the Philippine Green Building Initiative, to his bemused media audience.

Architect De Jesus talks about porous buildings in tropical countries like the net-zero energy building in the National University of Singapore, which has amazingly incorporated sustainability into campus life. “Its average energy consumption is zero because it has 1,200 solar roof installations. The building is so efficiently designed. The classrooms have ceiling fans, the air-conditioning is kept at a comfortable 27 degrees.”

Shades of green

This gregarious green architect observes, “Everybody is claiming to be green. But are you sure you’re green? There are so many shades of green — light green, medium, dark green. You put a pot of plant in a corner and you say you’re green. You need a third party to certify you’re green.”

Or you can go to EDGE, which brings together those who develop, design, finance, live and work in green buildings, to create a healthier, smarter world.

De Jesus goes on to stress, “Green buildings are healthy buildings and people are seeing the benefits of locating in a green building. You may have the most energy-efficient building, but if the people inside are getting sick (Sick Building Syndrome), it’s not good.”

Nothing can get any greener than a bamboo house. “Ha, bamboo house? But isn’t that a home for the poor?” That’s the typical reaction that Justine Santos-Sugay of Habitat for Humanity gets from people when she goes to areas outside Metro Manila. She tells us, “It takes a lot of deliberate effort, a lot of investment to change a certain mindset. The national government is there to provide the policy landscape, but cities have so much power and mandate to be able to mold how they want their development to be. Cities and leaders have so much to say about how sustainable they can be. Bamboo? Get the city and the leaders themselves to use it and they become an example for our cities to copy.”

Follow the leed-er

“Much of the effort real estate developers have put into sustainability can be seen in the commercial buildings they have strategically positioned in key cities,” says Jaime “JJ” Fernandez, strategic management consultant, Menarco Development Corporation.

Fact is, JJ Fernandez’s first project, the Menarco Tower in Bonifacio Global City, is not only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certified but is also WELL Certified Gold (promoting health and well-being of the occupants in buildings). Because of its efficient, sustainable design, Menarco Tower is able to pass on its savings (about 20 percent in terms of energy consumption) to its tenants. By prioritizing sustainability, it’s a win-win situation for both developers and tenants.

“Preserving our environment and promoting the wellness of building occupants — many developers are responding to this in their own way,” JJ points out. “I’ve experienced this first hand when prospective tenants would ask about our views on the environment and also the wellness of our occupants. The market is shifting and people prefer to locate in an environmentally friendly development or in a building built by a developer that holds the same values as their company.”

Up ahead, JJ says that 60 percent of the new buildings that will be built in the next few years will be more environment-friendly or climate-responsive. “If the market is responsive or there’s a demand for it, it makes developers more motivated to invest a little bit more just to have their buildings LEED or WELL certified. I heard it straight from prospective tenants that they’d rather pay a little bit more rent to be in our building because they know we will take care of their employees.”

Just how LEED and WELL Certified Gold is the Menarco Tower?

JJ Fernandez is proud to share, “There are many areas to look at, like the air quality. Whereas LEED requires a mere eight filter, we use a MERV-13 filter, considered the best rating for hospitals as it can remove more of the most minute contaminants. Fresh air is pumped into our building continuously while the used air is pumped out. In terms of water, we make sure that our lavatories have a turbidity rating of less than 1; LEED is 1 while the World Health Organization requires only 5. We have clean, filtered water any time of the day for our employees and in the food hall. For light, the LEED requirement is 75-80 percent of your space should be accessible by daylight; ours is 100 percent.”

He adds, “The other component of being a WELL building is aesthetics. At Menarco, we showcase Filipino artworks in all our lobbies, and we call it the Menarco Vertical Museum. Not only are you physically well, the intent is also for you to be mentally and socially calm. Hopefully, it will also stimulate your creativity and imagination.”

The bottom line, says JJ, is that healthier employees are more productive. And a more productive workforce translates to more economic benefits for everyone.

And there’s the poster boy for sustainability: Hamilo Coast by SM Prime. “How you design a building, if implemented correctly, can help towards reducing the carbon footprint and making the development more sustainable,” says Wesley Caballa, senior manager for sports, recreation and sustainability programs of Costa Del Hamilo Inc. Together with Antonio Felix Ortiga, senior assistant VP for project development operations, he tells us what makes Hamilo Coast a haven for sustainability, “We use natural light with our solar panels and natural ventilation to cool the interiors of our buildings so it’s fresher in the lobbies and hallways and we use less electricity. Our condos also have skyroofs, so everything is naturally lighted. In the common grounds of the estate, our lampposts are solar-powered. Inside, we have a desalination plant so we use seawater to deliver potable water inside Hamilo Coast. We have a good waste management system that’s recognized by the Environment Management Bureau. We also have a conservation program for marine turtles (pawikan). All our beach personnel are trained to handle these marine mammals and we have also partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature.”

For her part, Lamudi CEO Bhavna Suresh exhorts everyone, “There’s plenty to be done to address climate change — from big industrial efforts to small household changes.”

If only each of us would do our part in building a sustainable city, a day may come when other countries would be green with envy.