A handful of local public and private projects have already complied with green standards, ranging from water and material saving to energy efficient systems, says Edmund Lei, Director General of China Green Building and Energy Saving (Macau) Association. Lei talks to Business Daily about China’s leading role in environmental issues and its ambitious green goals for the next few years, claiming Macau is gaining momentum to be more environmentally and sustainability conscious

You are the Macau chapter of the China Green Building Association. When was the association founded and what do you do?
The formation of the association was in early 2014, registered in the Official Gazette at the end of 2014, with the formalization of the technical specifications of China Green Building [CGB] assessment standards for Macau. We are the portal or platform for the Macau developers and property owners who are interested in getting the CGB label. We assist them and facilitate the evaluation, also helping them to get the assessment panel to review the applications for the Green Building label.

What do the technical specifications or standards under the label comprise?
There are six technical aspects in the CGB assessment standard: land, water, material, energy, indoor environmental quality and operation control. Of course, the first four refer, in green buildings, to saving, be it energy, land, or water. These six technical aspects are similar to other certification systems in the world, such as the U.S. GBC [Green Building Council], or Singapore’s Green Mark, because all those labels have the same goals, which is achieving green building [sustainability]. These are key elements used worldwide. In CGB assessment standards, we are focusing on the Greater China region, because these were developed specifically for China, as the U.S. GBC would be rather based on U.S. conditions. So in different systems, they have different focuses. And CGB assessment standards are more tailored to suit the Chinese market and also the Macau and Hong Kong SARs.

What conditions would be specific to China?
For China, the number one aspect would be water efficiency, because water resources are really scarce and limited in China. In the green building assessment standards, they are focusing on using reclaimed water, recycled or rainwater for building usage to minimize the impact on underground water and the ways it affects the environment. Here, we are talking about technical requirements based on national standards. China is the first country to use national standards on green buildings. The U.S. GBC is a voluntary professional specification, in Singapore, it is legislation, you must do it. But for other countries, in Europe, in Asia, even in Japan, it is a voluntary specification. In mainland China, it is a policy driven national standard, because they have set a target that, before 2030, at least 20 per cent of the buildings will be green buildings. From 2009 until 2014, each year, the quantity of new buildings [erected] in mainland China equaled the number of [existing] buildings in Canada. That means that each year the quantity of new buildings in China was equal to building up a new Canada. Nowadays in the Mainland, all the public buildings have to comply with a minimum one-star [CGB] rating. It is a requirement. But a lot of private developers are already doing this on a voluntary basis. So the big players have already committed themselves that all the buildings [they] build will at least meet the one-star rating.

What is the priority in Macau? Have some of the standards been implemented here?
Let me go back to the assessment standards. There are three gradings for the green building assessment, one star, two stars, and three stars, with the three-star being the highest ranking. If you want to achieve the highest scores, you have first to do something for water, such as using a rainwater recycling system. Unfortunately, the government, even though they had a plan to build a reclaimed water plant, mentioned that this might not be a priority during this administration, so it hasn’t been done yet. If we have that, then we could use the government-provided reclaimed water to fulfil the assessment standard objective to be water efficient. The plan has not been dropped, but slowed down a little bit.

Water is a critical resource. What about land?
In that regard, reclaimed land is not encouraged as well, because it damages the water body. All elements are equally important. I am just saying water usage efficiency is one of the significant items. The principle here is mainly resource conservation – water, land, energy – and also building materials, such as sand, stone, wood. So, green building is about the familiar and localization, the building being in harmonization with the environment. So resource conservation is the first priority of CGB. In a building, land, water, energy and materials are the first four technical aspects to consider. Another thing is that energy efficiency is equally important in regards to water. In the standards, they promote the use of energy through the reclaimed system to reduce energy consumption on the electricity system, like the air conditioning system. So, it is not only one single aspect, all are equally important. Just earlier I mentioned that for land we encourage the use of brownfields, which are previously maybe contaminated sites, to be treated and to build new developments on.

What about existing buildings, are they following suit by adapting their structures to green building standards?
For the time being, most of them are new buildings. Like I just mentioned, there has been a lot of new construction and new developments in China in the last ten years. For all the new buildings, it is easier to achieve the intent of being more sustainable. For the existing buildings, nowadays, there are more projects to bring them to comply with the green building assessment standards in order. Because another thing about the renovation of existing buildings to comply with the green standards, is material and land conservation. Structurally, those buildings are saved to re-use, so they hope to modernize them, and create new spaces for the general public to use them. This is another new direction of the CGB committee, which wants to promote the use of existing buildings as well, not only the new developments.

Which properties have implemented the standards in Macau?
There are four certified projects under the CGB label in Macau now. The first one is the Student Activities Centre at the University of Macau, which is a three-star design label, MGM Cotai, a two-star design label, the Macau Science Centre, also a three-star green building label, and a residential building near A-Ma temple. These are interesting projects because they have already been designed and built up operations for several years [as green buildings]. The University of Macau was the first one. MGM Cotai is the first in Macau and China as a multifunctional complex, combining hotel and gaming, to apply for a green building label. As we all know, gaming facilities are not allowed in China. Hong Kong does not have such types of properties either. So, how to measure the level of energy saving or water saving and land usage when there is no previous case? Even in the U.S., it is not very common for this type of property to get the green building label. In a way, this showcases that in Macau, public buildings, as well as bigger players, are committed to sustainability. MGM Cotai is an example, while other facilities such as hotels and mega-size resorts, have also expressed their interest in applying for the standards.

So there are other properties interested in getting the label?
So far, we see more interest from the mega-size resorts, due to the nature of the business. Because they are major energy consumers in Macau, they have lots of motivation and push to becoming sustainable. Each dollar saved in electricity converts into each dollar they paid [in construction]. But at the same time, we see more architects, designers, and engineers interested in being sustainable, because this is a worldwide trend, regardless of what happens in the U.S., China has already committed itself to reducing its carbon footprint emissions. In Macau, we are already starting to gain momentum to be environmentally conscious and sustainability conscious. So, we hope to provide the platform for developers to apply for the green building label (GBL), to demonstrate the level of ‘greenness’ they can achieve. This is our association’s role, to promote that, to serve different property owners and developers, to educate, hopefully, to get all Macau citizens and residents involved. We also hope the residential buildings and property developers devote themselves to being green.

How do you promote the label and the standards?
Right now, we are doing seminars and courses to introduce the standards and the requirements for sustainability to professionals such as architects and engineers. We have, for instance, organized a presentation for the Macau Architects Association. Yet, most of the information available is still in Chinese. It is rare to find materials in English. But given that some property owners are also interested, we are also conducting courses to help them understand how to be green, as well as the green building label requirements, and how to achieve them. So that if they are interested, they can apply for the assessment to evaluate their properties.

Do you feel that there is resistance on the part of the private sector to implement the green standards, because they think it might be expensive or that it would add extra costs to the construction or the renovation of properties?
Yes, this is one of the concerns, even in China as well. During the application process, we also need to understand how much additional cost will be put into building a green building. Based on the statistics of mainland China, to comply with the one-star rating, the overall construction cost is increased by 25 per cent, so it is not that costly, because afterwards they will be saving costs, by consuming less electricity, for instance. So, in the long-run, actually, there is more saving. People may not be aware of the long-term savings. Overall, during the building lifecycle, nearly 70 per cent of the energy is consumed during the operation period. The construction period is only maybe two to three years or so, while the energy consumption, and the cost to improve the system efficiency and to save water, that is, the upfront cost is less significant than the overall operation cost.

How is the government encouraging the initiative?
The government has applied some measures to be sustainable, defining guidelines to promote energy-saving buildings, such as using LED lights, as well as in building design, to save energy using different types of materials. The marine bureau [DSAMA] is also promoting water saving, while the environmental department has issued a series of guidelines to the hotel industry, and the F&B [Food and beverage] segment. The environmental department has also sent us an invitation for consultation on legislation and some kinds of practices, like noise control, and it has initiated a green consultation paper and review on noise, dust, and practices on green construction. We have made ourselves available to the government. If they need our help or expertise, we will do our best to participate, and also offer our technical advice. So, we are seeing the government is doing different things, bit by bit, but we hope to offer our expertise to further promote sustainability in Macau. In the five-year development plan, published by the government, they also mentioned the intention to build a healthy city, a green city, a liveable city, and also a smart city. This is all related to the citizens’ well-being, and sustainability is one of the things to contribute to Macau residents’ [well-being].

How does the application process for the CGB label work?
The association itself does not provide consultation to private parties, it only acts as a platform for the certification process. We receive many enquiries from the government and property owners. Our general practice within the association is to refer them to green building consultants or introduce our green building consultants to architects so that they can work together. This is a self-evaluation process. The aim to achieve one, two, or three stars is based on the developer’s choice. So, once they prepare the application, they submit it to our association, and we formalize a review panel to study the application. This review panel will consist of experts from the CGB council, and also local experts, that will review the application in terms of the six key elements, because we have different experts, as I said earlier, and different experts specialize in certain trades or aspects. In all, the evaluation process takes less than three months. The panel has seven members. After the evaluation, the applicant will have a chance to present the case to the review panel, to further explain or introduce the specialities in green design for the applied project. After that, if everybody agrees, the property will be entitled to the CGB label, to whichever grading they have applied for.

Edmund Lei, Director General of China Green Building
and Energy Saving (Macau)