Media Roundtable Highlight: A Healthy Workforce is the Incentive for Green Buildings

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The first panel of the Lamudi Outlook Media Roundtable: Building Resilient and Sustainable Cities held last September 27 at the Makati Shangri-La, in partnership with Holcim Philippines and the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association, discussed “Sustainability Efforts for the Philippines of NGOs and Private Organizations.” For the second part of the discussion, Lamudi had a new set of panelists for the topic “Design and Construction Trends in Real Estate to Build Sustainable and Resilient Cities in the Philippines.” 

The panel was composed of James Buskowitz, Chief Executive Officer of Buskowitz Group, Architect Amado de Jesus, Vice Chairman of the Philippine Green Building Initiative, and Jaime Fernandez, Strategic Management Consultant of Menarco Development Corporation. 

The discussion among panelists started with Buskowitz steering the conversation into energy sources as an important part of building construction. According to Buskowitz, “80% of a building’s energy consumption comes from electricity. The source of energy is quite important.” 

Energy Efficiency in the Philippines

“The Philippines has a lot of opportunities,” Buskowitz mentions, particularly with roofs underutilized and serving as “dead space” for buildings. “We try to make full use of a roof and have the adoption of solar easy for our customers and for building owners so they can produce and avoid expensive electricity costs that usually come from fossil fuels.” 

De Jesus, meanwhile, talked about feeling frustrated when talking about energy. He says, “We’re not doing enough.” This is in part due to the Filipino culture of complaining. “We like to complain about energy when we see our bill.”

Ar. Amado de Jesus, Vice Chairman of the Philippine Green Building Initiative
Ar. Amado de Jesus, Vice Chairman of the Philippine Green Building Initiative

In terms of energy efficiency, de Jesus states that there is nothing being done, which is “the problem with energy in this country.” 

“You don’t have to have a trained eye to be a very good scientist,” de Jesus adds. “Drive around Manila and you’ll see a lot of buildings that are just messy. We’re not talking about aesthetics; we’re talking about how they use electricity.” 

Talking about a conversation he had with a “big-time developer,” where de Jesus asked if the developer can name their most energy-efficient building, he mentioned getting the reply: “Come to think of it, I don’t know.” 

This proves that the Philippines, still in the early stages of building green, has a long way to go. To begin with, the country needs to be able to measure how green a development is.  

Standards Against Greenwashing 

“They’re selling their products. But are you sure they’re green?” The question from de Jesus aims to make the audience aware of a practice called greenwashing. De Jesus mentions that there is a possibility for everybody to claim to be green. 

According to de Jesus, a building that is designed based on green principles will modulize its key features, such as the site, water, energy, materials, and indoor air quality. After all of these, de Jesus notes, that’s where developers can think solar. “You don’t do it the other way around.”

Fernandez agrees that buildings cannot simply claim to be green. Even the source of materials, he says, contributes to emissions. He goes on to say that 20% of the materials used in the Menarco Tower were sourced within 500 miles.  

JJ Fernandez, Strategic Management Consultant of Menarco Development Corporation
JJ Fernandez, Strategic Management Consultant of Menarco Development Corporation

Fernandez, who was part of the team behind the healthiest building in the Philippines, talked about the WELL-certified and LEED Gold-certified Menarco Tower, which goes even further than what LEED and the World Health Organization (WHO) set as benchmarks for healthy buildings. Talking about the indoor air quality in Menarco Tower, Fernandez reveals that the building uses the same filter rating used in hospitals, and fresh air is continuously pumped into the building. 

De Jesus also talked about EDGE, the software innovation by the World Bank. The free software concentrates on energy, water and materials. According to de Jesus, users only have to input the parameters of their building to verify the efficiency of their design and estimate their savings. 

“If you don’t have a rating system of any kind, nobody can tell.” de Jesus mentions. “There are so many shades of green. It’s not just green or not.” 

Small Contribution, Big Impact

James Buskowitz, Chief Executive Officer of Buskowitz Group
James Buskowitz, Chief Executive Officer of Buskowitz Group

According to Buskowitz, “Renewable energy sources will provide in the future cheaper energy costs in a very sustainable fashion while mitigating climate change issues.” However, before the Philippines can enjoy these benefits, the country has to take another look at how it considers its impact on global emissions. 

“As we know, buildings are the biggest culprit in the emissions and that’s why we have this problem–climate change,” de Jesus adds. 

In the previous panel, Justine Santos-Sugay, Director for Resource Development and Communications of Habitat for Humanity, mentioned that the Philippines contributes less than 1% to global emissions. To this, Buskowitz shared his take by citing Tesla. “They’re probably supplying around 0.5% of global vehicles today, but what is their impact on the overall sustainability? It’s massive because now everyone’s going to electric vehicles.” 

“You can’t look at the mindset of saying, ‘This is only 0.5% so let’s disregard it,’” Buskowitz says.  

The Philippines as innovators of sustainable practices would set an example for other countries to follow, and that, Buskowitz believes, “has quite a big impact.” 

“Why is it that green buildings do not get tax incentives?” 

“If you wait for the government to come up with incentives, nothing happens,” de Jesus replies to the question from the audience. “Green buildings definitely bring you savings. I think that’s the best incentive.”

De Jesus talked about the net-zero energy building in the University of Singapore, which has 1,200 panels on the rooftop of the efficiently designed building. With small ceiling fans in combination with air-conditioning, the energy use index for the building is 60 kilowatts per hour per square meter per year. Most buildings in the Philippines, notes de Jesus, run on 200 kilowatts per hour per square meter per year. 

Fernandez adds, “The whole point of making sure that the employees are treated well, from an economic point of view, and this is what our tenants appreciate, is that healthier employees are more productive. If you have a more productive workforce, this will translate to a healthier bottomline.”

The media roundtable has successfully opened up a conversation showing different perspectives regarding energy efficiency and how design and construction trends have a long way to go to build sustainable and resilient cities in the Philippines. It is a call to action for developers to open their eyes to the effects of climate change and react proactively. 

When builders say they are not ready, de Jesus quips, “When will you be ready? We’re talking about the urgency of climate change.” 

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