How to promote the creation of green buildings in Malaysia

THE upcoming Earth Day, on April 22, would be a golden opportunity for the government and the private sector to discuss an important method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that is rarely brought up: green buildings.

According to the World Green Building Council, a “green” building is one that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts and can create a positive impact on our climate and natural environment.

Green building refers to both the structure as well as the application of processes that promote efficient use of energy, water and other resources while reducing the building’s impact on human health and the environment during the building’s lifecycle, from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and demolition.

It is relatively challenging for Malaysia to have green buildings in our current situation. According to the Green Economy Tracker, over 90% of Malaysia’s electricity comes from polluting fossil fuels. In addition, there is a lack of awareness of green buildings, with people considering price, condition of the property, and the views it offers without looking into whether the property is green or even energy-efficient.

While Malaysia is seriously lagging behind in the green building area, it is good to see that the current administration is committed towards a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic by advocating a sustainable development agenda in the national budget for the first time.

Following are some of the green initiatives introduced by the government under Budget 2021:

> Cooperate with the United Nations to establish the Malaysia-Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Trust Fund. The fund will coordinate financing from various public and private sources systematically. (The SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” set in 2015 and are intended to be achieved by 2030).

> Provide RM40mil over five years to strengthen environmental quality monitoring enforcement activities, including establishing 30 monitoring stations nationwide.

> The allocation under the Economic, Infrastructure and Welfare Development-Based Grants to all state governments has been increased from RM350mil in Budget 2020 to RM400mil. Of this amount, RM70mil is allocated for Ecological Fiscal Transfer Activities as an additional incentive to state governments to ensure the sustainability of the country’s biodiversity.

According to the midterm review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Malaysian Carbon Reduction and Environmental Sustainability Tool (MyCrest) was adopted in 2016 to encourage the construction of more green residential and commercial buildings. The Public Works Department has also made it mandatory for all government building projects worth RM50mil and above to adopt MyCrest to reduce carbon emissions in the construction industry.

Furthermore, the Green Building Index (GBI), Malaysia first comprehensive rating system developed by the Malaysian Institute of Architects and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia, offers a good foundation for the construction of more green buildings throughout the country. GBI examines buildings for six main criteria: energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, sustainable site planning and management, materials and resources used, water use efficiency, and innovation.

To promote the creation of green buildings, Emir Research recommends the following:

> Strong enforcement of rules and regulations to ensure wider compliance with environmental standards.

> Encourage industrial players to use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels by providing small grants.

> Attract impact investors by promoting and emphasising the uniqueness, strengths and opportunities in green buildings.

> Organise advocacy campaigns with the Malaysia Green Building Council to educate the industry and the public on the benefits of having and using green buildings.

Although an initial costing is required, GBI-certified buildings could yield at least 30% to 40% energy savings for their users compared with the average baseline building. Higher energy savings could be achieved in buildings with higher levels of certification.

> Give additional tax deductions to GBI-certified buildings so building owners can enjoy income tax deductions equivalent to the additional capital expenditure needed to obtain the GBI certification.

The Malaysian government could also modify the Singaporean government’s approach: develop specific targets to adopt green buildings. For instance, Singapore launched its Green Building Masterplan by specifying targets like greening 80% of its buildings by 2030 and for 80% of new buildings to be super low energy from 2030.

AMANDA YEO , Emir Research

Note: The writer is a research analyst at Emir Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy ecommendations.

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