Eco-friendly buildings are slowly but surely increasing in Thailand. Here’s what you need to know.
Bangkok, one of the hottest cities in the world with an air temperature that regularly stays above 30 degrees Celsius, experienced an unprecedented cold snap this January. .
The freak weather underscores the fact that our planet continues to barrel towards a climate cataclysm. It also demonstrates that coastal urban centres such as Bangkok are often the most vulnerable to climate change. However, densely populated cities may be the biggest cause of the change that so adversely affects them.
Although cities and megacities drive economic growth, they also affect our planet negatively. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), cities consume 75 per cent of the world’s natural resources, 80 per cent of the global energy supply and produce approximately 75 per cent of global carbon emissions.Additionally, the UNEP estimates that “buildings contribute as much as one-third of total global greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through the use of fossil fuels during their operational phase.”
Clearly, architecture in densely populated cities can – and should – play a part in reducing global warming. Thailand, fortunately, is taking notice.
Establishing sustainability standards
After Thailand’s first green building in 2007, the number of green buildings in the country almost doubled annually between 2007 and 2012. Such growth is a direct result of increasing awareness driven by the Thai Green Building Institute (TGBI), universities, the private sector and the Thai government.
In 2011, the former established the Thailand Rating of Energy and Environmental Sustainability (TREES), a new green building standard localised for the country. However, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the United States’ certification for measuring building sustainability, is currently more widely used in Thailand. As of May 2013, there were between 70 and 80 buildings awaiting LEED certification.
The appeal for going green
A report by strategy consulting firm Solidiance identified four key drivers behind the growth of green architecture in Thailand. These are:
- Companies improving their corporate image: Toyota Motor Thailand, one of six pioneer companies that formed the TREES scheme together with TGBI, is one example. According to vice chairman Ninnart Chaithirapinyo, going green will benefit Thailand as a country, global society on the whole and the CSR-like commitment will bolster its corporate image and positively influence buying decisions.
- Lower operating costs: Green buildings capture higher savings over time, as energy efficiency in everything from ventilation to lighting naturally results in reduced operation and maintenance costs as the building ages. The TREES criteria, for example, will ensure a 30 per cent cut in energy consumption in buildings.
- Green buildings translate into higher asset value: Green buildings normally see their value increasing over time by 7 per cent compared to non-green buildings. Additionally, the break-even point of investment for a new green building in Asia is realised within an average of seven years, which is faster than the global standard.
- Ability to charge higher rent: In Bangkok, tenants are willing to pay up to 30 per cent more for a green building in order to get the best working environment. Additionally, having their office operations in a green building improves their brand image. For example, KFC Thailand has pledged to achieve LEED certification for all its restaurants across the country.
Small steps towards a sustainable urban landscape
Although green buildings wield significant environmental and economic value, the barriers to growth in the industry are significant. They include higher construction costs, a lack of know-how from local architects and contractors, a lack of awareness from building owners about the benefits of green buildings and also a misconception that opportunities for green building are limited to the commercial sector.
The Thai government has taken steps to implement policies and offer tax incentives in order to encourage the growth of the green development sector, but a high level of discontinuity persists in the execution of these plans. Despite the lack of reliable government support, however, the green building sector in Thailand presents tremendous opportunities for all market players.
Apart from working together with NGOs and councils to push for change in the regulatory framework, industry players can focus on highlighting the value of green buildings and to educate their customers. As the movement gains traction, the costs of going green will reduce in the mid-term to adjust for a larger influx of skilled workers trained under LEED or TREES standards, as well as the wider availability of energy-efficient products and solutions.