China’s greener construction market

Simon Chivers
The world’s largest construction market envisions a new era of green buildings.

Increasing concern over environmental issues, coupled with the need to transition to a more sustainable growth model, has highlighted the changes needed in China’s construction industry. Buildings represent one of the largest energy drains, and the Chinese government is now taking a more active role in promoting green buildings.

There’s still a long way to go, however. In 2015, China's building area was estimated at more than 40 billion sqm, of which less than one per cent was certified to green building standards. China therefore lags well behind the US in terms of per capita green building area.

There has been geographical imbalance, with China’s green building market in developed regions growing faster than in the less developed regions. More than 80 per cent of domestic green construction projects are located in the top ten provinces in terms of GDP ranking and the four municipalities directly under the central government, namely, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing.

Industrialisation and urbanisation in China is expected to gradually shift from developed coastal provinces and cities to the mid-west and northeast, so the future focus for the development of green buildings could be driven by construction in the less developed regions.

China’s 13th Five-Year Plan for Building Energy Efficiency and Green Building Development (2016-2020) includes aggressive goals for green building construction and renovation, including a requirement for 50 per cent of new urban buildings to be certified green buildings. The plan also specifies pilot programmes for constructing and renovating energy-efficient primary and secondary schools, community hospitals and public buildings.

However, there are currently no mandatory requirements for developers and building owners, but coercion through central government advisories is usually followed by local government and developers who rely on good relations with government controlled authorities and government owned banks.

Green building accreditation has been underway for several years. In addition to the government-led China Green Building Label (GBL), the US LEED accreditation has been widely adopted, making China one of the biggest overseas markets for LEED certification. LEED is well-regarded among multinational companies who often seek to apply a consistent standard throughout their global portfolios. Some seek dual LEED and GBL accreditation.

The Energy and Environmental Services Division of Faithful+Gould are key growth areas for the business in China and Hong Kong, where we are pioneering design, energy audit and building commissioning expertise alongside our sustainability, operational and strategic asset management services.

We’re finding that clients are becoming more open to the possibility of greener construction and occupation. Certainly the multinationals are leading the way, but we’re also getting more enquiries from local governments, some of whom are interested in reviewing their entire estates for environmental improvement.

We add value to our clients’ new-build projects by analysing the initial proposal for design efficiency, and then producing recommendations for environmental improvements that will achieve LEED and/or GBL accreditation. Typically this includes efficiency of plant design and commissioning to improve energy consumption. We then monitor the construction process, and carry out the accreditation certification assessment.

Our team also advises on the concept of energy saving throughout a building’s life. Existing buildings can benefit from energy audit, retro-fit and re‑commissioning, allowing owners to plan for maintenance, replacement, and energy conservation. This improves the way building systems work together, to avoid inefficiency and wasted energy.

Our whole-life approach has evolved to include the health and wellbeing of the internal built environment. A performance-based standard has been introduced to address this and it’s now available in China. The WELL Building Standard complements LEED and GBL, measuring, certifying and monitoring features that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. In China, the indoor air quality of buildings is of particular concern and is one of the features of our work with clients on the WELL Building Standard.

Clients are obviously concerned that green buildings are more expensive. However, with careful planning, additional costs may be covered by the resulting operational efficiencies. Payback periods average 15 months but typically range between 9 and 24 months. At General Electric's HQ and R&D Centre in China, we identified approximately 60 energy conservation solutions that were at no cost or minimal cost which would result in annual savings of around RMB4.33 million per year.

Our team can customise a solution based on the full life-cycle of the building, while also taking geographical factors into consideration. Our portfolio of environmentally-driven projects include Duke Kunshan University, Shantou University, iPark One Development, Beijing Huadu Center, CRLand Shenzhen Global HQ and many more.