Green fatigue

Over the years, the buzz of the “Green” trend has gotten louder. It’s been streamlined in the media, conferences, and coffee table discussions. But on a deeper level, how does all this translate into design operations.

Are interior designers willing to embrace it as a challenge or a reality that should be met with serious measures? Has the trend been reduced to plain old propaganda and in turn, is it being misused as a marketing tool for businesses?

According to Christian Merieau, managing director, Samuel Creations, Dubai, in consultation with Melden Francia, the masses are weary of the push to be more environmentally responsible, hence the term “green fatigue”.

The overwhelming information of green products has led to speculations on the adequacy of the efforts of “saving the earth” strategies. This could be brought about by the escalating attitude of society that everything is fast tracked.

“The UAE’s construction industry is thriving but is beset with wasteful practices and the excessive use of materials,” said Merieau.

“Although local authorities have realised the significance of energy efficiency and conservation, the adoption and integration process is painfully slow.

The Emirates is developing a rating system that measures green credentials that will conform to its climatic context and will be region specific.

“In addition to this, the recently formed EGBC (Emirates Green Building Council) is taking steps to ensure sustainable building practices in the UAE.

Attempts are being made to transform the perception of property developers and prospective owners. EGBC says its vision is ‘to be the prime driver in facilitating the UAE’s prominent position as a global leader in the ecological footprint reduction of the built environment by 2015’. This is a bold statement and the task is extremely challenging.

“We, as responsible design consultants, must rally to the cause and form a unified front to help facilitate this vision. We have the ability to suggest ‘lifestyles’, how difficult could it be to suggest responsible ones?”

Siddarth Peters, managing director, The Total Office, is not sure if his company is part of the problem regarding ‘green fatigue’. He said his company joined EGBC three years ago to understand and contribute to a bigger cause outside of the perceived “bottom line”.

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One Response to Green fatigue


    World needs to go Green, than Green needs to go LEED

    In the past decade, the idea of building ‘green’ has sprouted globally – the so called ‘Green revolution’. As years passed by, one could see this revolution gradually turning into one of those temporary trends set up to support marketing of related fields of construction activity. Today, the term ‘green’ is certainly abused and misunderstood by most of the engineering empire.

    Truthfully, the natural living systems on our planet are the only designs we know of that are triumphant in their sustainability because they relate with the environment in holistic, integrative, and reductive processes. On the contrary, many of the current green building rating systems like LEED are structured to endorse solutions that are in majority additive and encourage consumption over conservation. This is simply because the rating systems are initially conceived to have certain set of sections which cater to sustainability; that are then packed with technologies, systems and products to achieve it. Architects now depend much on these intelligent service systems to make up for their neglect in the basic building design. If buildings are based on a sluggish design process, one would be obviously strained to use the so called ‘Green’ or ‘intelligent’ engineering methods to supplement it.

    It is unfortunate that valuable rating systems such as LEED have converted Architecture into an accounting exercise. This has completely digressed from what could have been a healthy exercise in coming out with truly good architecture. We are missing an opportunity to develop such architecture by allowing these accounting or statistical procedures to dominate our logical thinking and creativity. Targeting maximum LEED points especially in GCC countries require more common sense and deeper understanding of the effect. The potential benefits of solely achieving a certification should not be the motive of the design process.

    Advocating bicycle tracks or trying to invest in a rain-water harvesting system in the Middle East are some examples. Inexperienced individuals using LEED do not realize that considering these in GCC countries is a waste of wealth, effort and energy considering the facts that lay before us. Allow me to explain. By trying to harvest the little rain we receive in the Middle East, one does not collect water actually. It turns into a scenario of collecting mud, dirt, contaminated water. This water then requires additional treatment for reuse – simply meaning one needs to use adequate chemicals and systems to treat it; one requires to spend money for this treatment system; more water is essential just to backwash the filters; electricity is required to operate this pumps and trained manpower to maintain the tanks. In short it’s an endless burden. While it may fetch you extra points in the LEED ratings, the whole initiative if analyzed is a wasteful one.

    Even implementing large-scale solar driven technologies are of extreme risk due to the amount of atmospheric dust and harsh sunlight – both being predominant factors that reduce solar cell efficiency. Recently, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in Saudi Arabia was declared to be among the worlds top green buildings. While it is a matter to be appreciated; I hope they have found an energy free-cost free solution to keeping all the solar cells cool and devoid of dust, to run their envisaged roof panels and solar-powered wind turbines for all the years to come. People in the Middle East can only imagine and estimate how much money; water, energy and effort are required to keep all the solar panels and glass clad surfaces of all buildings clean – every year. The statistics are upsetting.

    I also wonder why a majority of the LEED credits are weighted equally, when it is plainly clear that some points have more environmental benefits than others. ‘ Why would I install efficient HVAC equipment for a few extra points when I could get the same points by adding few bicycle racks in the college campus?’, asked an Architect. Although installing the efficient HVAC system would amount to saving a huge amount of energy and add environmental value on a massive scale, according to LEED rating system – it still equals the idea of having bicycle racks within the educational campus. The solution here is to make a careful study of all the critical credits that add superior environmental value and make them mandatory. Then, the playing of points can be done by professionals within the feeble credits.

    It is a fact that the development and construction of Green and Sustainable buildings will initially cost more than a conventional building. This is irrefutable. Practically in addition to this cost, all associated procedures for LEED certification will add up to another 1% – 4%. I do not know why design consultants break their heads making up fake reports and statistics to show clients otherwise. The hidden costs will show up ultimately as the project marches towards completion and will cause clients havoc. Let us be brave enough to acknowledge that they cost more and are definitely worth it.

    Somewhere along the line, organizations such as USGBC have realized it could profit of the LEED system. The organization has undoubtedly advertised it globally, when compared to other rating systems like Greenstar (AUST) & BREEAM (U.K). The USGBC charges high fees for commissioning and even for becoming a LEED Accredited Professional. The fees to attempt this test is around US $400. Yes, if one fails another $400 has to be shelled out. In my opinion, if the organization is really concerned about the environment and making buildings globally green, they should make it affordable. Additionally, the LEED AP certification is being converted into an ‘elite’ profession – gradually threatening the importance of trained professionals in the architectural and engineering arena. I am forced to question the significance of paying for and passing this test as; all LEED APs – go back to referring the LEED handbooks again, while managing or commissioning all aspects of a project. Any professional can handle and refer the handbook as and when required, so why have this costly and superfluous testing system in the first place? Orientation modules and training programmes would more than suffice in this regard.

    Instead of converting the commissioning and certification into a technocratic exercise, the procedures should be more involving and also include a subjective approach. Points should be granted for innovative approaches that are not included, coordinated or valued in the LEED handbook. USGBC professionals I suppose, are trained enough to make such judgments and subjective decisions proficiently. The LEED handbook should be treated only as a guide.

    Instead of LEED APs judging buildings solely through paper and electronic media submissions – regular visits to analyze project sites, inspections of materials and products should also be conducted. Clients and consultants pay a lot of money and spend effort for LEED commissioning purposes and just analyzing a project through mere paperwork submitted through couriers or e-media, does not justify the whole system of USGBC at all. Decisions can be made on project sites through discussions with clients, design consultants and contractors collectively. This is how innovative and fresh LEED can evolve itself to be; rather than just being a mundane system of compiled data on which buildings are rated on.

    To conclude, handbooks for rating systems are not to be used as the encyclopedias of Green and sustainable designing. Architects and Engineers must possess ample knowledge on analyzing climatic data and geography, studying human comfort levels, including passive design techniques, careful use of materials/resources and incorporating efficient building services. These basic principles should drive our design process. Determining whether a building is rated green or not is one of the smallest of issues we ultimately face at the end of a project. A rating system such as LEED, BREEAM if required, can serve as a useful check list or a medium to refer alternate solutions to our evolving design concepts.

    The world needs green buildings a lot more than green buildings need LEED certification. If certifications such as LEED, BREEAM continue to cost too much money, time and effort – we will not stop building green projects; we will just stop certifying them.


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