If you’re a regular Inhabitat reader, you’re probably already familiar with LEED, BREEAM, Passivhaus and even LBC, but there’s another green building certification program that you should know about – particularly if you’re interested in sustainable architecture in Asia. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore launched the Green Mark certification system in 2005 as a way to incentivize energy efficiency and cut dependence on foreign resources, but the program has since traveled outside of national borders and has been adopted by other Asian countries as an established standard for sustainable building. We recently met with the BCA’s CEO, Dr. John Keung, during the 2013 International Green Building Conference to pick his brain about what distinguishes Green Mark from other green certification systems, what Singapore is doing to promote eco-conscious design and behaviors through education and how the program is making its “mark” on Asia. Read on to learn more about Green Mark and see Dr. Keung’s thoughts.
INHABITAT: For our readers who aren’t familiar with Green Mark, can you give us a little overview?
DR. KEUNG: As a whole, Green Mark is a green building certification system very similar to LEED in the US or BREEAM in the UK. I suppose the key difference is that we place a lot more emphasis on energy efficiency in our certification system. As an example, for LEED, energy efficiency probably accounts for a quarter or 25% of the entire scoring system while in Green Mark, it is 50% or more. The reason as a whole is very simple, as I mentioned the other day – because [Singapore does not] have any natural resources in terms of oil or natural gas, or power generation. We import all our energy from our neighboring countries. So, the less we consume, the better off we are. So, for energy security reasons, we do emphasize a lot more on energy efficiency. That’s why we want our green building, our Green Mark team, to help us achieve this objective – to cut down the need for energy: to light up, to cool down our buildings. That is one key difference.
The other key difference of Green Mark compared to LEED is that we emphasize a lot on verification – meaning we really want the building to be designed green, built green, and operate green. So, we do the verification process to make sure that whatever is happening on the ground is really in accordance with the design. What you promise to do, you deliver in your project.
INHABITAT: This is a program that’s being run by the government, so it’s a little bit different from other certifications. Is there a third party – someone else who’s coming in to survey and make sure that everything is legitimate?
DR. KEUNG: Well, I suppose we see ourselves as an impartial, objective regulator, because the building is not ours. We actually function like a third party to certify this green building. We are not the consultant, we are not the developer, we are not the land owner, so we are effectively a regulator. Ever since 2008, all new buildings in Singapore have to meet a minimum standard of Green Mark Certification. So effectively, this becomes a part of the building code. That’s how we see ourselves, as an objective third party, to verify, and certify a building that is green. We are not a commercial entity. We have no commercial interest in any of these buildings.
INHABITAT: What are the different certification levels in Green Mark?
DR. KEUNG: We have four levels. The lowest level is what we call the certified level. That’s the minimum. Then we have the second level, which is a Gold level, then Gold Plus. You can see that we don’t like silver (laughs). And then of course, the highest level is Platinum. But, for everyone of each level- as far as energy efficiency is concerned – there is a minimum mandatory requirement. A Platinum-level project must be 30-35% more energy efficient than one that just complies with Gold Plus and the same applies to Gold Plus and Gold. For example in a Platinum building, if you cannot achieve 35% more energy efficiency than a co-compliant building, you can’t get a Platinum certification even if you do very well in many other areas.
INHABITAT: Singapore is impressive in that 21% of the building stock in the country has achieved Green Mark certification. Is that correct?
DR. KEUNG: As of today? Yes, we are at 21%. One in five.
INHABITAT: That’s very impressive. So, what advise do you have for other cities looking to achieve this level of certification?
DR. KEUNG: I suppose for most cities it’s probably not too difficult to legislate new buildings to be green. I think the more difficult problem is really to get existing buildings to go green, because they are the bulk of your stock. It’s really very important to find the right levers to really interest the building owners to come forward and green their existing buildings. Of course legislation is one way, but if there are other incentives to really get them interested in greening the building, it may be more effective. So, that’s why you know in Singapore we have a very strong incentive in terms of funding support – upgrading schemes, metro-fitting schemes for existing buildings. That is one way.
But I think the other, probably more important area is that cities need to look at how to raise awareness among the public, because not everyone is aware that a green building can eventually give you a lot of benefit in terms of cost savings. For example, you cut down electricity consumption. That is important, but not many people know. And the other part of raising awareness is really know about the public – people who work in the building or live in the building.