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Green building facilities a sustainable future in Hong Kong

Next to the Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, a leisure and entertainment business centre is about to be launched

The exteriors of the three main buildings are all made of glass walls, which effectively gives insulation and increases light sources, just like an airship. Its extensive green walls and surroundings with abundant plants signal its uniqueness as a green building.

“I am looking forward to the soon to be opened K11 Skies,” said Lai Wing-tsz, a passerby who just left the airport, “it amazes me and makes me wonder if it is still the Hong Kong I remember. ”

The K11 Skies themed office towers will offer entertainment, retail and food services between 2024 and 2025

In recent years, the concept of green building has been developing rapidly in Hong Kong with the goal of a sustainable future, a concept  valued by the government and top developers. 

"Green building is not just about the building itself," said Vivian Ngan, the assistant manager of Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC), "it's about an organisational unity of the building and its surroundings."

Green buildings are supposed to be environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient by reducing carbon emissions, increasing green coverage, reusing waste materials, installing rooftop solar panels and district cooling systems.

K11 Skies for example, has been awarded platinum certification in several Hong Kong and international green building ratings, a recognition even higher than K11 Musea beside Victoria Harbour. 

According to HKGBC, more than 57% of the roof of K11 Skies is covered with highly reflective coatings and greenery to reduce energy loss. It also uses non-chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants in the heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigerating system in order to avoid ozone-depleting substances. 

In addition to K11 Skies, there are thousands of other green buildings in Hong Kong.

In order to achieve the government’s long-term goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, green buildings are now a priority in sustainable development.

“Reducing air pollution is one of the top reasons why green buildings are vital to Hong Kong,” said Ngan.

According to the Environmental Protection Department, the annual average air quality index indicated by the concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 molecules in Hong Kong surpassed the limit set by the World Health Organisation.

 “Airborne dust and particulate matter will adhere to the surfaces of buildings as they pass through, thus worsening air quality and endangering public health,” Ngan said. 

“We have very high-density public areas in Hong Kong and we do need to have a chance for the residents in this city to breathe better,”she added.

To improve the air quality, Ngan addressed the importance of green plot ratio, that is the amount of vegetation and open spaces relative to the surrounding buildings.

“In the narrow street between the dense buildings, a line of trees is vital to help keep the air clean by absorbing carbon dioxide and emission from the vehicles at road side,” Ngan said.

 But since land resources are limited in Hong Kong, developers build green walls covered with hydroponics in order to upgrade the green plot ratio. 

More than 90% of the roof at K11 Musea is green, of which 70 square metres are edible plants

According to the K11 Group Sustainability Report, green walls increase the green plot ratio both indoor and outdoor by 2.2 times and about 4000 kilograms of carbon dioxide are absorbed annually, equivalent to the amount absorbed by 180 trees.

Energy conservation is also an  issue when it comes to green buildings.

Government figures show that  Hong Kong's electricity consumption reached 11,965 terajoules (TJ) in November 2023, with buildings accounting for as much as 90% of the total, and generating more than 60% of local carbon emissions.

“Electricity in Hong Kong nowadays mainly relies on the not so environmentally-friendly way, such as coal and natural gas,” said Jeffrey Wong, a council member of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners.

The CIC Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay constructed by the Construction Industry Council in collaboration with the government, is the first zero-carbon building in Hong Kong.

CIC Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay has solar photovoltaic panels on the roof, which supplies power to the building

The building generates renewable energy through solar photovoltaic panels and a triple-supply system that utilises waste cooking oil to produce biofuel. The goal is to achieve zero net carbon emissions according to Construction Industry Council.

The glass canopy of the pavilion can efficiently convert solar energy into electricity

In 2010, Hong Kong launched "beam plus", a tool meant for assessing the sustainability performance of buildings. Neighbourhoods, new construction, existing buildings, and interior buildings are given different scores and receive ratings accordingly.

Four possible ratings determined by the percentage of applicable credits gained under each performance aspect and its weighting factor, according to HKGBC BEAM Plus.

Currently, the green building rating standard has been updated to BEAM Plus New Construction 2.0, with increased emphasis on waste management of building materials, the physical and mental health of building users, and added a new assessment programme to encourage integrated design by builders.

The costs of introducing green building initiatives are high. For example, additional funding is required for rooftop solar panels and green walls.

However, there are also other financial benefits for developers to choose green buildings.The Buildings Department added BEAM Plus as one of the prerequisites for applying for Gross Floor Area(GFA) concessions in 2011, and added 10% on capping concessions to provide financial incentives for new buildings.

"It means that buildings that apply for BEAM Plus certification are able to have more floors of office space, so private developers can balance their extra costs for sustainability and get profit by selling more office space," Wong said. "I think it's a better way to promote green buildings than giving funds directly to private developers."

“Moreover, even decades after a building is completed, developers can still save money from reduced energy consumption in the long run,” Wong added.

As a key participant in BEAM Plus, Link REIT, Asia's largest REIT, aims to achieve 100% green building certification by 2025/2026.

“Green building principles enhance sustainability not just for long-term returns but more importantly for our environment,”  said a spokesperson for Link REIT.“We will prioritise adoption of the latest and most efficient equipment during any upcoming upgrades and firmly believe that these should be viewed as an investment rather than a cost, and we have not set a cap on our investment.”

"We support government incentives for green building projects involving environmental impact assessments," he added. "When planning to acquire new properties, we prioritise the acquisition of certified buildings or implement asset upgrading and certification programmes post-acquisition to achieve our goal."

Since the launch of BEAM Plus, the total floor area of registered projects has exceeded 74,500,000 square metres and more than 1,051 projects have been rated, according to HKGBC BEAM Plus.

"We have taken a big step towards green buildings by introducing BEAM Plus. However, public participation is low compared to other countries,” said Wong. 

"In the UK, people can post their ideas for building a green community by filling out a questionnaire in the park," Wong said. "Hong Kong’s private developers can also let residents comment on the new building’s plan."

Developing public awareness of green building is also important for its long-term development, Wong added.

Jeffrey Wong emphasises the importance of public awareness and participation in the future development of green buildings in Hong Kong

"Green building can be introduced in the school curriculum," Wong said. “People will be more supportive of green buildings when they realise the advantages.”

Technology is another key factor to developing green buildings in Hong Kong.

For example, in Modular Integrated Construction, buildings are constructed in factories and then moved on to site, thus cutting the construction period and reducing the difficulty of construction

According to the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, MiC can reduce on-site waste disposal by about 80%, reduce water and electricity consumption by more than 60%, reduce air pollution by about 50%, and improve on-site labour productivity by more than 400%.

"Utilising MiC structures requires very accurate models to be built in factories in mainland China and then shipped to Hong Kong," said Wong." Unfortunately, few companies are willing to take the risk of shipping such expensive modules."

In addition, the MiC application for high-rise buildings is still limited due to lack of strong inter-module jointing techniques, according to research by the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney.

“Hong Kong needs to step up efforts to introduce MiC as a technological support for green buildings and improve it to be more mature to meet the needs of Hong Kong's high-rise buildings,” said Wong.

“Green buildings are crucial to realising the Hong Kong Government's goal of zero emission,” said Wong.“I am confident that there will be more initiatives in support of developing green buildings to bring Hong Kong a greener and more liveable living environment.”

 

 

 

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.

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