Green Building a Smart, Socially-Responsible Way to Do Business

Developers and occupiers, who perhaps in the early days of green buildings considered themselves more progressive, may have picked the green path because "it was the right thing to do".

But these days, what's drawing them in are rather hard, tangible benefits such as cost and energy savings, Ross Shuster, president of international operations for United Technologies' Climate, Controls & Security (UTCCS) unit told The Business Times in a recent interview.

The unit is a market leader in providing heating, ventilation, air conditioning and fire and security systems for buildings. Its competitors are the likes of Honeywell, Tyco and Johnson Controls.

"A few years ago, it was just about being socially responsible. Now it's about being socially responsible and a smart business," he said.

This appears to be a more effective motivation too, evident from the accelerating growth of green buildings in recent years.

Green buildings are now doubling worldwide every three years, according to a study funded by United Technologies and conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics.

Part of the reason for this change in mindset is the greater awareness today that building green buildings can yield a higher return on investment and create a healthier environment for people working or living in them.

For offices, it also goes some way in improving employee recruitment and retention. People generally feel happier working in green spaces with natural daylight and fresh air.

Of course, over the years, the cost of designing and incorporating green features into buildings has also fallen, creating more impetus for developers to join the bandwagon.

"Three to five years ago, people didn't realize the actual benefit. They estimated the cost of installing efficient technologies to be higher than what they actually were, and estimated the payback to be lower than what they actually were.

"While there is a technological aspect to that, a large part of it also has to do with educating people on what the real paybacks are," Mr. Shuster said.

People also used to think that the payback could take eight-10 years, but in fact it usually just takes three-five years, in some cases even shorter, before the developer can recoup his costs and start enjoying pure savings, he said.

All it usually takes is one try for building owners to testify to the capability of green building technology to reduce costs, he added. After that, many would send all the other properties they own for similar retrofitting as well.

Take for example Furama City Center Hotel in Singapore, which five years ago was retrofitted with energy-efficient chillers. This resulted in annual savings of US$238,000. It represents a 36 per cent energy saving in the chiller plant system, which makes up about 16 per cent of the entire hotel's energy usage.

Spurred by this, the owner then asked UTCCS to do the same for another of its hotels, Furama RiverFront along Havelock Road.

The company has encountered many instances of such repeat customers. Once customers cross the initial apprehension and begin to reap real monetary and operational benefits from greening their first project, they naturally return.

On a global scale, the green building movement is now shifting from a "push" to "pull" environment, Mr. Shuster noted as well.

The government's pushing through of incentives and regulations from a top-down approach is gradually giving way to customers themselves creating the demand for it.

To be sure, every green building market begins with the requisite government enforcement, but for it to be sustainable, it needs a consumer-generated demand, he added.

UTCCS is actively working in both sectors: it helps to advocate regulatory changes for the support of green buildings through its membership in Green Building Councils in different countries. In the private sector, it educates building owners on the merits of greening their properties.

All these efforts are crucial to meeting the global aim of reducing carbon emissions, because buildings account for 40 per cent of the total energy consumption globally, and air-conditioning alone can account for up to 40 per cent of a building's energy use.

For more information regarding green building, please refer to the following links: 
H.B. Fuller’s Lüneburg Adhesive Academy is LEED® Certified to the Gold Level 
Top Environmental Problems and their Impact on Global Business 
Sustainability in the Built Environment