Recently, I walked through the HSBC head office in Central, the spacious ground floor is highly ventilated, I could feel the cool breeze even in the summer. Every year, tens of thousands of new commercial and residential buildings are completed, and how to alleviate the heat island effect is a concern.
At present, the Hong Kong government adopts the Building Environmental Assessment Method Plus (BEAM Plus). The international building standard rates buildings based on various criteria including site selection and design; use of materials, energy and water; indoor and outdoor environment and innovation, etc. Government buildings are required to achieve at least “Gold" rating. To encourage private developers to put effort into environmental protection, a new building registering for BEAM Plus is a prerequisite for application for a relaxation of plot ratio.
From 2009 to October this year, there are 1,019 new buildings registered for BEAM Plus certification, among which most are residential projects (40%), followed by commercial projects (19%). It is gratifying that among more than half of the evaluated projects, 41% are rated “Platinum" or “Gold", the highest levels (including “provisional" and “final" rating). However, “Unclassified" meaning not reaching the requirements was given to a total of 34% projects submitted, and this apparently needs improvement.
Singapore’s achievement in promoting green buildings is worth our reference. In 2005, its government launched a Green Building Rating System, called Green Mark, focusing on evaluating energy saving, water conservation, environmental protection and indoor air quality, etc.
Its implementation started from an initial voluntary approach to a compulsory requirement eventually: At the introductory stage, the rating was voluntary and the government encouraged the industries to apply for it. By 2008, all newly completed buildings were required to obtain the certification. To assist the applicants to comply, the Singapore Building and Construction Authority implemented the Green Mark Incentive Scheme – a cash allowance of S$20 million (over HK$100 million) for new buildings at the end of 2006. As for renovation of old buildings, the government provided up to 50% or a maximum of S$3 million (approximately HK$ 16.89 million) cash allowance in 2009.
As a result, Singapore’s achievement in green buildings is reflected in the big jump from 17 buildings reaching the set standard in 2005 to over 3,000 buildings in June this year. At the same time, the government also set a target of 80% of buildings obtaining the Green Mark by 2030.
Therefore, I am glad that our Government mentioned that it would review the existing arrangements for promoting green buildings. These include “tightening the prerequisite by requiring a development project to attain specific standards of performance in environmental protection, or even adopt performance-based and site-specific approaches to determine the maximum gross floor area concession.” I hope that the relevant authority will follow the example of Singapore in speeding up the promotion of green buildings.
The renovation of old buildings or construction of new buildings will affect the quality of our living environment. I have read a news article earlier: Sweden has reshaped the country’s mountains, rivers and railways in their famous computer game Minecraft. Recently, Gothenburg, its second largest city has made the game available for free in order to stimulate young people and children’s interest in urban planning. This bottom up thinking on how to determine the development of city and community, and brainstorming to improve the quality of living, are really the core value of smart city!
Dr. Winnie Tang
Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong