We are all aware that the world's natural resources are being stretched to the limit and that our impact on the environment, particularly over the last 50 years, has already done much damage to our air and water, forests and seas.
The very survival of those with whom we share this small planet is under threat, as never before, and both green-field building and interior construction uses up a large amount of natural resources and energy.
It is therefore the responsibility of those who are part of our industry, Clients and Designers, Project Managers and Contractors to act responsibly to reduce the environmental footprint of our activities. All of us, in however small a way, can assist.
BEAM PLUS (HK) / GREEN BUILDING DESIGN LABEL (CHINA)
On all large scale projects in Hong Kong, developers are keen to meet optimum environmental standards in their buildings.
The Hong Kong Green Building Council has established a standard, BEAM (Building Environmental Assessment Method), by which the sustainability of a building can be quantified and, in most cases, a developer will aim to achieve Gold Certification.
The project team for even a moderately sized development will comprise a number of specialist consultants, each of whom, in addition to their primary role, is obliged to assist in achieving the relevant BEAM objectives for that building or development.
We have actively contributed to 9 BEAM Projects that have already been completed or that are currently under construction and pending certification. These include large scale residential developments and both private and public hospitals in Hong Kong.
When working with, or even without, BEAM objectives on a project, we:
- specify rapidly renewable materials, from sustainable sources - avoid exotic and rare timber veneers - specify regionally manufactured materials - reuse materials and/or furniture that has been retained and refurbished, - work within energy consumption limits for the design of lighting - use insulating materials and glass appropriate to solar orientation - provide self-adjusting shading systems to reduce solar heat gain / avoid glare - encourage waste recycling both during construction and for those who will eventually occupy our buildings and spaces - specify appliances with high energy ratings ( A+) wherever possible
QUALITY OF LIFE
Developers of most residential, and some commercial, buildings normally provide an array of facilities that add much to the quality of life. These usually include gymnasia, sports halls and swimming pools; there are also semi-private areas for Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates as well as for more cerebral individual activities like music practice or reading rooms.
As Hong Kong is known to have problems with its outdoor air quality, particularly during our hot and humid summers, it is therefore most important to budget for and properly design and maintain air purification systems and temperature and humidity controls that maintain indoor air within acceptable comfort ranges and eliminate pollutants and pathogens.
Our own office sponsors a Wellness Scheme to encourage every member of the Company to engage in physical and/or relaxation activities, and we reimburse staff - up to a limit - for the amount spent.
REFURBISHMENT / REUSE OF FURNITURE
A number of companies now offer to refurbish old furniture for reuse. For example, SOS (Sustainable Office Solutions), provides a cost-effective means of reusing clients' existing furniture when they move to new premises or wish to donate furniture to others.
Based in Hong Kong, their service inventories all unwanted furniture, collects it, professionally refurbishes and cleans each item before repurposing, redistributing or donating to those in need.
Each client will then receive a report detailing the project's carbon and community impact, which can be used for their own ESG submission.
We ourselves have been able to arrange for the reuse of furniture that was perfectly serviceable, in one case having arranged for the donation of adjustable height desks to an NGO and further assisting with their interior design - on a pro-bono basis. The furniture donor, a well established client of ours, kindly passed along the furniture free of charge.
RAPIDLY RENEWABLE MATERIALS
Many conventional building materials require large amounts of land and water, capital and time to produce. Conversely, rapidly renewable materials generally require fewer of these resources and cause less adverse effect on the environment.
As rapidly renewable resources are replenished faster than traditional materials it is important to first establish goals for their use early in the design phase, then to identify any items that may be substituted with renewable products and finally to identify vendors / contractors who can achieve this goal.
Examples of rapidly renewable materials include bamboo flooring and plywood, cotton batt insulation, linoleum flooring, sunflower-seed board panels, wheat-board cabinetry, wool carpeting, cork flooring, bio-based paints, geo-textile fabrics - such as coir and jute - soy-based insulation, form-release agent and straw bales.
Goals for recycled content are established during the design phase and included in our project specifications. Many commonly used products are now available with recycled content, including metals, concrete, masonry, gypsum wallboard, acoustic tile, carpet, ceramic tile, rubber flooring / wall base, and insulation.
We work with sub-contractors, vendors and suppliers to ensure that materials containing recycled content are available within each project’s time schedule. We also run preliminary calculations based on the construction budget or schedule of values during the pre-construction phase - which allows the construction team to focus on obtaining only those materials with the greatest recycled content.
Every project's connected lighting power should be designed to maximise energy performance. We always consider using an energy simulation model to assess the performance of lighting in a client’s new or refurbished space. We also encourage the use of task lighting to supplement ambient / base-building lighting.
Lighting controls are rarely limited to on-off modes, rather, continuous dimming, daylight sensors and motion sensors are usually specified to reduce energy consumption.
Use of high-efficacy sources such as LED fixtures or those with high internal reflectance can also reduce the lighting power density in a new premises.
Using Energy Star products will help to reduce the overall amount of energy consumed in any project or situation.
Energy Star reports that qualified products use 30-75% less electricity than other appliances - although the initial purchase cost may be slightly higher - and the savings realised will translate directly into lower long-term operating costs.
These appliances include dishwashers, refrigerators, water coolers, computers, copiers, monitors, printers, scanners.
By creating convenient recycling opportunities for all staff, a significant portion of an organisation's solid waste stream can be diverted from landfills.
Recycling of paper, metals, glass, cardboard, and, especially, plastics, reduces the need to extract virgin natural resources.
Diverting waste from landfills can also help minimise land, water and air pollution. Recycling provisions, such as easy-access bins and overflow storage areas will take up some floor space but will help to reduce the amount of waste sent to our landfills. We have contracted with a Hong Kong waste recycler since 2015 for bi-monthly collection of of our discarded paper, cardboard, glass, metal, plastic and e-waste, and we keep suitably labelled receptacles throughout the office for each item.
Low flow fixtures are specifically designed to limit water waste.
The average low flow fixture discharges approximately half as many litres per minute as a standard fixture. Add that up over time and any organisation or individual can save a lot of water per year - and the less water used, the less energy required to heat it.
Not only that, but the decrease in the need to heat water also means a reduction in the use of water heaters, thereby extending their lifespan. This will also mean less electricity, and lower utility bills.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY (IAQ)
Interior construction inevitably introduces contaminants into the air we breathe. Reducing the amount of these air-borne contaminants results in greater occupant comfort, lower absenteeism and improved productivity.
Many building products, however, contain compounds that have a negative impact on indoor air quality and the earth’s atmosphere. The most prominent of these compounds – Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – contribute to smog generation and air pollution, and adversely affect the well-being of building occupants.
Specifying low VOC materials - such as adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, flooring systems, furniture and seating - helps to improve indoor air quality.