To address growing concerns about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources, and the consequences of that deterioration on economic and social development; a World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), also known as the Brundtland Commission was convened by The United Nations in 1983. In its 1987 report titled ‘Our Common Future’ WCED defined “Sustainable Development (SD)” as those that “meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
Over the years, SD has been established as the principal development catchphrase. A wide range of nongovernmental as well as governmental organizations have embraced it as the new paradigm of development. Architecturally, sustainable buildings, also known as ‘green buildings’ are structures designed to meet specific objectives to ensure that usage by present occupants will not diminish the prospects of future persons to enjoy levels of consumption, wealth, utility, or welfare comparable to those enjoyed by present persons. To achieve these objectives, buildings need to be designed, built, renovated, operated, or reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner.
Architects designing green buildings initially clarify with their clients from the onset of the project that sustainable structures may cost more up front, but will benefit the building owners in terms of long term savings as their buildings run on lower operating costs over its life cycle. Feasibility calculations for the green building approach compare the project’s up-front expenditure against increased rental net income due to savings gained through significantly lower monthly running cost, in a benefit against cost analysis.
However, less financially tangible benefits that actually relate to sustainable development, such as improving occupant health, comfort, productivity, reducing pollution and landfill waste are not easily quantified and are consequently not adequately reflected in a developer’s benefit against cost consideration. For this reason, tangible benefits in the form of government incentives for green buildings are vital to attract developers to embark on sustainable projects.
In Malaysia, The Green Building Index (GBI) rates buildings based on energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, sustainable site planning and management, materials and resources, water efficiency, and innovation. The Malaysian Government awards incentives based on GBI ratings whereby new and upgraded buildings awarded GBI certificate are given tax exemption benefit, and first owner purchasers of buildings and houses with GBI certificates from developers are eligible for stamp duty exemption. In addition, a Green Technology Fund of RM 1.5 billion gives soft loans to companies, suppliers and consumer companies for loan applications made through the National Green Technology Centre.
The Malaysian Government actively promotes green technology by developing Putrajaya and Cyberjaya as pioneer townships in Green Technology, and gives priority to 'green' products and services, and the successful establishment of exhibitions and expositions. Towards this end, Malaysia Energy Centre has been restructured as National Green Technology Centre to enable it to perform its functions more efficiently. Such efforts by the government in the area of sustainable development will hopefully create conditions which in the long term will encourage people to save the environment.
Realistically, green building features cannot achieve their goals unless they work as intended. Architects, engineers and other consultants supervise the testing and commissioning of mechanical and electrical equipment to ensure that the installation and performance meet the required design criteria. This exercise also includes training related personnel on the operation and maintenance of equipment.
The trend towards sustainable development will prove beneficial to our future. Recent studies reveal that buildings with good overall environmental quality can reduce the rate of occurrence for respiratory disease, allergy, asthma, sick building symptoms, and in due course, enhance occupants’ performance. Ultimately, improvements in the quality of life would be the greatest gift our present generation could leave as a legacy.