Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Need for Sustainable Urban Systems

Population growth, urbanisation and climate change represent three of the greatest challenges for sustainable development. Cities need sustainable urban systems to integrate all components of its strategic infrastructural plans. 

Dealing with urbanisation

The explosion of urbanisation is widely regarded as a chief contributor of carbon emissions, resource depletion, and climate change.  They are the seats of all government and all knowledge, culture, opportunities and innovation but at an awful environmental cost. 

More than half of the world’s population now live in cities.  And those cities consume over 2/3 of the world’s energy.  Furthermore, our cities span less than 3% of the world’s land area, but their ecological footprint extends far beyond urban boundaries to the forests, croplands, coal mines and watersheds that sustain their inhabitants.

European cities with a long history such as London and Paris have the advantage of mass transit infrastructure which can support a densely packed city and reduce travel-related emissions.  But these typically European cities suffer from poor building stock in terms of energy efficiency and environmental performance. North American and Australian cities have large power, transport and building footprints but also access to a wealth of natural resources.

In the developing world a large percentage of a traditionally rural populace is moving into cities like Delhi and Mumbai that were not designed for mega populations.  They are bursting.  Suddenly the challenge is of the urban poor being worse off than the rural poor, with poor basic standards of living, pollution exposure and a lack of services.

Decision-makers therefore face complex policy choices as the conflict between nature and human development finds its battleground.  Can we make urban living work better in future?

Making it happen

There are a lot of elements to influence to make urbanism work and create sustainable cities of the future. The solution lies in the total rethinking and redesign of our present urban model at all levels, social, economic and environmental. Most of our cities that we presently inhabit today have grown organically and naturally to meet market demands. This has been a linear process and indeed most of the engineering systems that serve us are simple linear processes. Input-process-output and waste. Rarely is there any real cross over of these systems or sharing of resource. For example, rarely is the city’s power plant placed near the sewage plant despite the fact that as a by product of sewage processing methane is produced which could be used directly to generate power and heat (where needed) for the community. 

An alternative model that has been put forward by people such as Herbert Giradet is that we should view our cities more as holistic metabolic processes which are integrated and linked, sharing wastes and resource to maximise efficiencies and minimise waste production (and costs).

This will require a new approach to urban design and master planning that involves an integrated team of engineers, planners, urban designers and architects. Understanding the cities ecological footprint will provide a better grasp of the impacts of each part of a city’s infrastructure, identifying where attention is required the most, and will have the greatest effect. 

Recognising that there is ultimately a balance in resource availability and demand will bring a focus to replicating nature’s processes in the built environment.  Waste, heat, water, materials and energy can actually work together in an integrated way, with by-products from each benefiting the delivery of others.  For example, waste can be used to create electricity, heat, and water can be reused for cooling and irrigation.  

The success of this integrated approach to infrastructure is dependent on learning and resourcing in areas of technology, heritage conservation and environmental management.  If achieved successfully it links people, buildings, infrastructure and the environment as a single living unit.

But success is also only achieved by one party taking the helicopter view and drawing together all the specialist contributors to a city’s infrastructure as part of a collaborative design process. We should call this the delivery of a ‘sustainable urban system’ - a system that can be applied to the masterplan of a future city, to integrate all component parts of the strategic infrastructure plans.  

Friday, 21 October 2016

Banking on Green Buildings

River or a rock?

A few weeks ago, a senior manager of one of the largest South African banks commented “we banks are like timber logs floating in the river--we go with the flow to where the business is”. The evidence suggests that the flow of the river is changing toward green construction finance. Governments are attempting to make conducive policies. At the first-ever Buildings Day at the Paris COP21, both the public and the private sector made ambitious commitments.  Over 90 countries have included the need to focus on buildings in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). It is clear that not only will the public sector have to take a leading role to act on this, but so will the private sector solution providers. [also see my earlier blog Green Buildings in Emerging Markets: Where are they likely to Succeed?

With the cost of energy outpacing inflation and reducing disposable income, homeowners are looking for ways to meet this challenge. Some studies in the developed world are providing insight into the financial benefits to developers, occupiers and funders of green buildings. Recent studies have shown that home buyers are increasingly demanding green and that energy efficiency is an important attribute of housing for consumers.

Studies that analyse homes in energy efficient certificates in the US and Europe show that developers can command higher sales prices for green certified homes, ranging from 4 to 9% higher; Green homes sell as much as 4 times faster; Occupants save 15-20% on lower utility bills for green homes; Re-sale value is 4-10% higher; Banks enjoy up to 32% lower default rate from buyers of green homes [refer to my earlier blog for details]. These numbers are certainly large enough to get your bank started down the green path. The market seems to be getting ready and primed, at least in the West. Just last year Fannie Mae announced 10 basis points reduction on loans to help apartment owners invest in energy and water saving improvements. This year, Federal Housing Association (FHA) is also offering a 0.2%-0.4% discount for loan issuance for energy efficient homes
Maria in Medellin (Colombia) has a $200 mortgage installment and $40 utility bills


Big challenge, huge opportunity

IEA estimates that the building sector alone needs an additional investment of up to US$296 billion each year if average global temperatures are to be capped at two degrees. This is in addition to the $358billion that already goes into the sector annually.

Population growth, combined with migration to the cities and rising incomes will substantially increase the number of buildings we have currently and it is expected that this in  turn will double the global GHG emissions from the buildings sector (making it 40%). This adds to the complexity of tackling climate change.
Global impact of buildings

For the banking sector, meeting these funding needs is a big challenge, but also a big opportunity. The opportunity is in supporting the transition to a low carbon economy by investing in and financing green building projects and technology. By adding a few extra resources, immense existing capital flows into new buildings can be reworked to include and fund green designs.

Greening construction offers a chance to secure emission cuts at a low cost and lock in energy and water savings for decades. A more significant reason to pay attention to it is that it allows lenders to capitalize on a nascent market segment with unlimited potential and generate attractive risk adjusted returns as a result of better asset risk profile and higher revenue per borrower [see my previous blog on Transforming the housing market through green mortgages].

Positioning the financial institution as a sustainability leader. Green building financing also provides branding in an important market segment and spotlights participating lending institutions as leaders in an area of focus among regulators. The evolution of the policy environment at all levels of government is moving strongly in the direction of requiring green buildings and energy efficiency, and financial institutions can benefit by providing products and financing that get ahead of and capitalize on this trend.

From a business perspective, it also makes a lot of sense, as it allows banks to present a new offer for current clients and reaching out to new clients. It offers possibilities for cross-selling i.e. green construction finance to developers and green mortgages to home buyers. And finally, energy efficient assets create a stronger portfolio – as data shows owners of green homes have lower delinquency rates.
Value proposition for banks to offer green building finance

What's hindering the market from responding to demand?

The technologies are already present and well-documented. But the building sector is complex.  Perception of costs and affordability of green buildings are much higher than reality given falling technology costs.  IFC analysis of projects shows that while the cost premium ranges from 1% to 3%, the perception is that it’s from 1% all the way to 30% higher.

Developers often tend to hesitate to invest the additional 1% capital expenditure for fear that they will not be able to pass the cost on to a buyer, despite the lower energy and water utility bills a buyer will enjoy.  A buyer will focus on the living space he can purchase, utility savings will be a secondary issue and lower operating cost claims of a developer may be difficult to believe.  A banker might in theory be ready to give a buyer a bigger mortgage for a green home if it is cheaper to run but how can he assess that?  Bankers typically are hesitant to provide additional financing to cover costs, because of the fear it will increase non-payment risk. They also don’t want to establish systems to validate savings if there is not sufficient level of green building pipeline to finance.

Cycle of Blame: Multiple players with divergent interests and asymmetry of information

Underlying all of this is a lack of data on the financial benefits of green buildings – particularly in developing markets. The real game changer is how to solve the “cycle of blame’ between investors, developers, and buyers? The key is to address each party’s concerns .

In order for lenders to recognize the value of a property’s green measures, large-scale adoption of a universal green performance standard with a sharp focus on areas of cost and resource savings (energy water and materials) is required. An user-friendly investment planning tool which recommends cost-effective solutions to make the building design and specification 'green'.

The standard needs to be defined by an inexpensive, smart and robust certification system -making it accessible to the majority of the market. [see my old blog on The need for a new green building rating tool]. 

And finally, we need to get better at collecting and sharing evidence that prove the positive value and financial savings of green buildings. This is especially important for bankers who can finance a pipeline of green building projects at acceptable rates by monetizing the economic benefits of green buildings.

It is clear that everyone wins financially by building green and it is imperative that collective action is taken to meet this need. International Finance Corporation, has launched Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) platform with this global public good in mind. Platforms like EDGE make it easy for financial institutions to get into green building financing. It streamlines eligibility as it is pre-calibrated for local conditions. It simplifies compliance for loan officers and makes reporting easy as the tool has all the savings and GHG reductions built in. This tangibility reduces the cost for green investors.

What comes first- demand or innovation?

In the real estate sector, commercial banks already play a crucial role by providing financing to developers, mortgages to homeowners, or providing insurance solutions. The exciting thing about green buildings is that the investment and financing for the construction industry already exists. The challenge is to incorporate the additional upfront costs for resource efficiency into the financing.

There is evidence that these can be paid for by  the increased savings as a result of operational cost reductions, better credit ratings, and higher resale value of the green buildings.  Banks need support to create new products such as green construction finance, Green Mortgages, Risk Share Facilities and secularization of green building loans as collateralized bonds i.e., Green Bonds.  Banks are concerned about the required added resources to develop new products, train staff, and convince their management to take perceived risks if there is no reliable availability of green buildings stock. This is why it is important that both supply and demand aspects must be looked at simultaneously – building green stock while securing financing.

Here are four examples that show innovative thinking from banks that have led to rapid scale up. The case studies below show successes in delivering finance for new green construction in emerging markets.
The market for green building financing can take off quickly with the right incentives 


 Case Study 1: INFONAVIT Green Mortgage Program

A green mortgage program was developed in 2007 by the Institute for the National Workers’ Housing Fund (INFONAVIT) in Mexico to encourage the use of energy efficient systems and technologies for low-income households. Families purchasing homes through the bank received an extra credit of up to US$1,250 to cover the cost of green-technologies (these are quality assessed and controlled by third-party auditing agency).

Infonavit has more than 70% of market share in the Mexican mortgage market, it is the largest player in terms of assets (with a loan portfolio of almost $70bn).

Over time, the product became extremely popular and mainstream especially for low income housing finance. By 2011, 75% of all originated home mortgages were green. In 2014, Infonavit decided to issue only green mortgages. Their market share has also increased significantly (~12%) during the period. The bank has granted over 1,000,000 Green Mortgages, benefiting over 3 million people.

Green Mortgage system used by ODEA and PNB using EDGE certification

Case Study 2: INDIA: KfW NHB-EE credit line for housing developers

In 2010, KFW extended a re-financing line to National Housing Bank (NHB) of €50 m. Almost no green stock was present in the market at the time of launch, yet within 1.5 years (ahead of the planned 3 yrs) the mortgages were distributed and the line exhausted. 21,000 housing units were developed through the program.

The criterion of green was set-up using the NHB-EE Fraunhofer tool which is also a performance based standard like EDGE and even uses the same engine for energy calculation. The KfW NHB-EE program is a success story in stimulating supply-induced demand. 

Case Study 3: INDIA: PNB Green Construction Bond

In early 2016, IFC, invested INR 5 billion ($75.8 million) in green bonds issued by Punjab National Bank Housing Finance Ltd. (PNBHFL) to help construct green residential buildings in India.

PNBHFL, India’s fifth largest housing finance company, will use the funds to finance residential projects based on recognized green building standards, including EDGE. The bank's green bond is the first issuance designated to green buildings in India and IFC is the sole investor. This investment will help the bank develop a committed green lending practice and sustained growth of its green loan portfolio.

Case Study 4: Turkey: Odeabank Green mortgages and green commercial and residential finance

In 2015, IFC, invested $65 million in Odeabank for green building construction and green mortgages. The eligible loans have to demonstrate compliance with green buildings certificate, including EDGE or obtain an "A" or "B" Energy Performance Certificate from the Turkish Government.

The above cases show that housing finance markets can take off quickly as long as there are adequate incentives. A metrics-driven, objective label or standards are required to bring together market players, prove the business case for building green, and reward innovative design.  It is with this background that EDGE was conceptualized and initiated.

Lead or play catch up time for banks

It is clear that banks and financial institutions must develop new strategies, knowledge and operational structures to embody green strategies into their offering.  Undoubtedly, end users are still not totally aware of the virtues of green buildings. The evidence is still quite patchy on the financial benefits in this particular area of operation and all the incentives are still not in place to get many of the developers interested.

However, there is little excuse for inaction. Especially now, with platforms like EDGEthe existing capital flows into new buildings can be reworked to fund green designs.  A CEO of one of the largest banks in India recently said “fundamentally, it boils down to whether we really want to fund these developments which will ruin our built environment- that we and our families live in?-we banks have to show leadership by setting higher expectations”.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

How India's Architects can Save the World.

What is our Responsibility Towards India’s Future?

Buildings are an inspirational mix of art and science. But past the point of inception, what happens when acts of creativity are no longer exquisitely rendered models but become inhabited and real? What happens at the moment when architects lose control?

We know that glass buildings consume more energy, as the solar heat gain is greater and must somehow be abatedYet the ideal percentage of glass is far below that of most of today’s mostly glass-covered struyctures. Like SUVs, “transparent” buildings have become sought-after cultural icons for clients. But do they fit into a world that has devoured most of its resources? And are we ready to acknowledge that what we have so carefully crafted has contributeto climate change?

 This model of delivering on an aspiration that has little relevance to reality has created a world where buildings consume 40 percent of its energy and produce 25 percent of its carbon footprint. Most of the emissions associated with buildings come from the combustion of fossil fuels to provide heating, cooling and lighting, and to power appliances and electrical equipment.

In India, the sale of air conditioning units is growing at 20 percent annually, with Mumbai estimated to have the same potential cooling demand as a quarter of the United States. If India were to use as much air conditioning as the West then we will be destined for a six degree warmer world. Ware already witness to extreme weather events such as the recent floods in Chennai. India’s architects have a pivotal role in preventing such catastrophes.

India is 80 percent not yet built, and we will see this growth happen in our lifetimes. The intensity of our country’s resource usage will increase with affluence, urbanization and population growth. By 2050, India will be home to 1.6 billion people, overtaking China as the world’s most populous nation. Most of this growth will flow to the cities, where the building stock will double.

This rapid expansion in construction creates a window of opportunity for a new kind of urban dwelling and workplace – one that is less resource intensive yet meets the ambitions of today’s growing middle class. Is the architecture profession ready to change course and deliver visionary buildings that no longer lead to climate change?

The Need for New Design Vocabulary 

The quintessential Indian building had high ceilings with punkahs(fans), open windows with chajjas (overhangs) and long external corridors. While this worked in the past, we need a new vision for tomorrow’s more cosmopolitan future that doesn’t lose sight of how well the buildings of the past conserved resources and protected human comfort. This vision must be cognizant of the desire to emulate the West yet deliver on new technologies and building materials that are readily available and respond well to a denser urban spaceWe need a new ideal that is mindful of the limits on energy and resources that exist in India today.

For decades, the concept of green buildings has been all the buzz in the building industry, applied mainly by clients on high-end, speculative commercial developments with the result that there are only random flagship projectsThere has been little effort shown in terms of tangible energy reductions demonstrating the economic case beyond the brand valueScale proves a significant challenge, as the few green-labelled buildings that exist cannot make even small dent in the onslaught of global carbon emissions caused by the majority of badly designed buildings.

Most importantly, green buildings is a concept that has not struck a chord with the architectural design community. Such early pioneers as Gerarda Cunha, Ashok Lall, Sanjay Prakash and Chitra Vishwanath are cynical about the current narrative which is less about bio-climatic design and more about the profit associated with green-washing.

Clearly, there is a need for a scalable solution that can allow architects the freedom to maintain their artistic integrity while creating buildings that respond well to their environment. A down-to-earth design approach that focuses on the practicality of how a building will be used by its inhabitants and keeps their best interests in mind. The solution must be able to turn an ordinary building at the concept stage into a high performing one at very little cost, without sacrificing aesthetics.

Architects can shape such a solution into a persuasive and compelling phenomenon, if they agree that they have a critical role to play.

Lack of an Effective Method for Bio-climatic Design 

In order for architects to become the protagonists of design that our world needs, they must find a way to quickly figure out which passive design features and building-integrated technologies work well in a given context, what difference they will make, and how much money they will cost the client. Until now it has been onerous to determine these numbers early in the design stage. For example in Bangaloredouble glazing may take years to pay back the initial investment while reducing the depth of floorplans can have a much greater positive impact with zero cost. In Chennai, this relationship may be quite different. How can an architect easily know this?

The design tools that architects have available today are either too simplistic or too demanding. Othe one handthere are reference textbooks with high level concepts and equations (Otto Königsberger’s “Manual of Tropical Housing and Building comes to mind). These provide a framework but are not detailed enough to make contextual design decisions.

On the other hand, there are dynamic thermal simulation software applications that are complex enough that they need specialists to operate with considerable building information required upfront. These software packages rarely provide conceptual design direction and require large number of iterations resulting in extended effort and budget outlays.

Neither textbooks nor advanced software integrate information on investment costs or the impact from the manufacturing of materials. This lack of a practical design aid may explain why most architects are left paying lip service toward bio-climatic design.

Free Online Instrument for Design Professionals

The need to solve this conundrum is what led IFC, a member of the World Bank Group focused on the private sector, to create a powerful online web platform called EDGE for every country that is on a prolific building pathAs tackling climate change is part of the World Bank Group’s core mandate, IFC aspired to democratize green building design by offering a solution that is free and available to all, in order to unlock the potential for greater efficiencies. EDGE shares the most cost-effective ways to build green in a given location and shows how long it will take before the investment is covered through reduced operating costs.

EDGE reveals the truth that the cost to build green is much lower than previously thought. An army of experts from around the world came together to create market-specific metrics for strong results, hiding the complexity of the data and calculations beneath an easy-to-use interface.

For the first time, architects can quantify the green of their designs for their clients, demonstrating how affordable it can be and verifying the value that clients can pass on to their customers through operational savings. Top architectural firms such as ArchetypeHOK Perkins Eastmanand the construction firm Bouygues Bâtiment have made statements of commitment to EDGE in order to convince their clients of the rationale behind better performing buildings.

Why Progressive Firms are Opting for Resource-Efficient Design

The drive towards sustainability in the built environment represents both a challenge and business opportunity for architects. There is a persuasive business case to be made against selling out to yet another badly behaving building with a glass façade. Here are three compelling reasons why architects should consider the integration of green building design into their practices:

The new era of “performalism”: 
There’s a great future for the visionary who can turn the guts of a technical guide into a sketch of genius. Design is headed in the direction where it will be judged not only for its inspiration, but for responsiveness.

You cannot improve what you cannot measure. And soon it might be expected that architects must verify the quality of their green building design in quantitative ways. It will be up to a new generation of architects to help plot the future of bio-climatic design. Architects can pull the performance out of a building without sacrificing design integrity. And they can do it at the most critical moment when a project is conceptualized.

Think Tesla: the kind of rabid fervour that devotees express is hinged on the simple truth that the car’s environmental performance beats that of the competition – and in today’s world, that matters to the ever-growing throng of eco-minded consumers. Tesla must create its own battery-oriented electric vehicle infrastructure, but by doing so, it reinvents our approach to automobiles and gradually puts the dinosaurs of the market on the shelf where they belong. By licensing its technology to competitors Tesla fast-tracks the car industry against itself, forcing a fresh approach while guaranteeing the success of its own innovation.

Great design is sustainable design: 
Rather than considering green building design as an externality, architects must think about it aa set of principles for great design. This includes better user experience and comfort, doing more with less to enable the building to easily achieve peak performance, and maximizing the effectives of durable, quality materials. Rather than the well-known edict form follows function,” it’s time to think form follows environment.

The strategic adoption of a portfolio approach: 
A small but consistent difference in all your projects is far more effective than undertaking a handful of ultra-green projects. To do the math, a 20 percent reduction of energy use of all projects is far more significant than trying for net-zero buildings one percent of the time. The Bangalore-based architectural firm Ecumene has made the decision to run each of the projects in their pipeline through the EDGE softwareEcumene informs clients about the projected performance of their projects at key stages to effectively enable them to demonstrate value as well as to internally monitor performance and maintain quality control.

Focus on Saving Clients Money
Not only are performalism, environmental design, and a portfolio approach highly important, but a green building has a more compelling bottom line. Simply put, resource efficiency saves money for clients. Even if a client builds to sell, it will be understood that there is value being passed on to those who will occupy the buildings – and that value creates greater marketability, brand equity and customer loyalty.Architects can be appreciated for illuminating this.

It’s not about fancy, expensive technologies but about common sense, affordable solutions to lower costs. For example, the Infosys office building in Bangalore has cut energy use in half by installing ceiling fans which allow for less dependence on air conditioning to achieve temperature comfort, narrower plan depth and light shelves that provide uniform daylight throughout the work space, and better shaded, sensibly-sized windows to reduce solar heat gains.

IFC’s experience from pilot projects in India and beyond shows that the costs for greening moderate-income housing are only about 3 percent higher. Other financial benefits can mitigate higher costs, such as faster sales, lower homeowner default rates, and the marketability of resale values and operational savings. For hotel and office clients, there is no more persuasive argument that can be made than the fact that resource-efficient design will lead directly to utility savings of 20 percent or more. With EDGE, architects have the power of projections in their hands, which can be communicated directly to clients as an added value to their design offering.

India’s Architects Can Save the World

Architects can develop new skills, knowledge and instruments to embody green strategies into their practicesIt is true that end users are still mostly unaware of the intrinsic worth of sustainable architectureIt is true that architects only influence a small proportion of the buildings built today. And it is true that clients may not be willing to pay even one percent more for green design costs.

But there is also increasing understanding that buildings must prove they can perform well before they are built, as beauty will soon no longer be enough to satisfy clients. Will you be part of the movement that embraces resource efficiency by integrating green concepts, solutions and materials into your designs? There is no better time to chart your own course and get ahead of the curve than right now.

In this moment of change, the opportunity to influence design and growth plans is in your handsThere is a narrow window of opportunity for you to get it right before it is too late. As an architect, you are the protagonist who will save our world. All of us are counting on you.