Although there are numerous climate action dialogues organised throughout the country, green building is not a common topic to be discussed at all levels of Government, on company boards and in non-profit organisations. Therefore, the upcoming Earth Day on April 22 would be a golden opportunity for Malaysia to promote green buildings and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
According to World Green Building Council, a ‘green’ building is one in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts and can create a positive impact on our climate and natural environment. It constructs based on green features and designs that enable re-use and recycling and green materials such as solar energy.
In short, green building refers to both structure and the application of processes that promote efficient use of energy, water and other resources while reducing building impact on human health and the environment during the building’s lifecycle, from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and demolition.
Any building can be a green building, whether it’s a home, an office, a school, a hospital, a community centre, or any other structure. With green buildings, individuals could enjoy good indoor environmental air quality and well-ventilated indoor spaces.
However, it is relatively challenging for Malaysia to have more green buildings in the current climate. According to the Green Economy Tracker, over 90 percent of Malaysia’s electricity comes from fossil fuels. Malaysia is also well-known as the world’s third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and the second-largest exporter of palm oil.
In addition, there is a lack of awareness of green buildings long before Covid-19. People often consider the price, the condition of the property, the views it offers without considering whether the property is ‘green’ or even energy-efficient.
The majority of the individuals also did not consider buying green buildings as they are expensive for them to afford. Even when the building is certified green, many individuals turned on the air-conditioner for hours without considering the adverse effects of climate change.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic also led many construction projects on hold. There are also many design revisions due to affordability issues and a shift in market demand during this health crisis.
Moreover, many firms have been affected financially and could not afford to make adjustments to their practices. This includes downsizing, cutting operational cost, diverting operations to other parallel activities to generate additional income and paying attention to environmental sustainability.
Although Malaysia is seriously lagging behind in the green building-related agenda, it is applaudable the current administration is committed towards green recovery – advocating sustainable development agenda in the Budget 2021 for the first time.
Following are some of the initiatives introduced by the Government under Budget 2021:
Cooperate with the UN to establish the Malaysia-Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Trust Fund or MySDG Trust Fund. The fund will coordinate financing from various public and private sources systematically. Thus, various parties can contribute and be involved in efforts to ensure the SDG is achieved by 2030;
Provide RM40 million over a period of five years to strengthen environmental quality monitoring enforcement activities including the establishment of 30 monitoring stations nationwide; and
Increase the allocation under the Economic, Infrastructure and Welfare Development-Based Grants (TAHAP) to all state governments from RM350 million in Budget 2020 to RM400 million. Of this amount, a total of RM70 million is also allocated for the purpose of Ecological Fiscal Transfer Activities as an additional incentive to the state government to ensure the sustainability of the country’s biodiversity.
According to the mid-term review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Malaysian Carbon Reduction and Environmental Sustainability Tool (MyCREST) adopted since 2016 to encourage more construction of green residential and commercial buildings.
The Public Works Department (PWD) also had made it mandatory for all government building projects worth RM50 million and above to adopt MyCREST, in a bid to reduce carbon emissions in the construction industry. This marks a good start in advocating the green building agenda.
Furthermore, the Green Building Index (GBI), Malaysia first comprehensive rating system developed by the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM), places a good foundation for Malaysia to have more green buildings throughout the country.
GBI examines based on six main criteria like Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environment Quality, Sustainable Site Planning & Management, Materials & Resources, Water Efficiency and Innovation. Its purpose is to evaluate the environmental design and performance of Malaysian buildings.
Therefore, to promote usage of green buildings, EMIR Research has several policy recommendations for the government to consider:
Strong enforcement of rules and regulations are needed to ensure wider compliance to environmental standards;
Encourage industrial players to use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels by providing small grants – the way forward towards building a more sustainable green future;
Attract impact investors by promoting and emphasising the uniqueness, strengths and opportunities of having green buildings in Malaysia;
Organise advocacy campaigns with Malaysia Green Building Council to educate the benefits of having green buildings. According to GBI’s published data, the incremental construction cost of going green (inclusive of material and technological costs) ranges from 0.7 percent to 11 percent besides registration and renewal fees. Although an initial costing is required, GBI-certified buildings could yield at least 30 percent to 40 percent energy savings for their dwellers, compared with the average baseline building. Higher energy savings could achieve in buildings with higher levels of certification; and
Give additional tax deductions to GBI-certified buildings, where building owners could enjoy income tax deductions equivalent to the additional capital expenditure needed to obtain the GBI certification.
The Malaysian Government also could modify the Singaporean Government’s approach – developing specific targets to adopt green buildings. For instance, Singapore launched its Green Building Masterplan by specifying targets like greening 80 percent of its buildings by 2030 and 80 percent of new buildings to be super low energy from 2030.
By highlighting the link between the environmental degradation and outbreak, more Malaysians would advocate green building agenda and reimagine sustainable cities that are fit-for-purpose in the post-Covid-19 world.
Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.