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One Year After LEED

According to US Green Building Council data, 84% of the 252(1) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified projects in Taiwan involve the design and construction of new buildings or interior space. So, it’s not surprising that, while many people have heard of the concept of green buildings, most assume it only applies to new construction projects employing the latest in green technology and materials.

But many green buildings rating systems, including LEED, have versions that allow existing properties to certify as being green. Because there’s no design and construction to evaluate, these systems instead focus on performance metrics of the building’s operations and maintenance (‘O+M’) on an annual basis. While a LEED certified new build keeps its certification forever, existing buildings certifying with LEED O+M need to maintain their performance and re-certify every few years to retain their LEED status.

Taiwan’s Service Sector, which relies on commercial real estate to operate, was responsible for 16.1%(2) of total electricity consumption and associated Greenhouse Gas emissions production in 2021. The majority of that sector works out of existing buildings, so the greening of older building stock is essential for Taiwan to do its part in mitigating the impacts of the coming climate crisis.

Vicky Chou, Head of Property Management at Hung Kuo Building, shows the LEED Platinum Plaque.

In March of 2022, the 32-year old Hung Kuo Building received a Platinum LEED O+M certification from the US Green Building Council, achieving 85pts out of a possible 100 with the latest version of LEED (v4.1). This is the highest score using this version of the system achieved by any building in Taiwan to date, a feat requiring significant investment and hard work by the Hung Kuo team during a three-year period of building systems and operating procedure transformation. While achieving certification was a major goal for Hung Kuo, it’s better thought of as a significant milestone in the building’s journey. We look back, a year later with some thoughts on lessons we continue to learn and what that means for maintaining performance.

The Big Three Environmental Performance Indicators

To achieve LEED certification, we had to submit a minimum of 12 months of energy and water consumption and waste generation data. We chose to use 2020 as a baseline year from which to start consistently tracking this information, and 2021 as the year of data used for certification. We are committed to tracking and sharing this data as well as to continually work to improve performance as much as possible.

The significant building systems and fixtures upgrades we’ve invested in during the LEED preparation process continue to result in notable resource savings that help to alleviate pressure on Taiwan’s already stretched electricity and water supply infrastructure.

Last year, our energy consumption was 10.25% less than in 2021, which was in turn 10.65% less than 2020. Over the past two years we’ve saved the equivalent of more than 5,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Similarly, our water consumption in 2022 was 5.8% less than in 2021, which was 13.48% less than in 2020. Over the two years we’ve saved 5,829 metric tons of water (that’s 2.33 Olympic sized swimming pools!).

The story with regards waste generation doesn’t paint quite the same picture of success with last year’s waste generation being 9% greater than 2021. However, in more closely analysing and tracking waste data, we’ve come to understand how nuanced it is and we’ll be discussing that in more detail in next month’s article. The silver lining to this data is that 2022 total generation was 3.9% less than 2020 and the waste diversion rate (i.e. recycling) was up 8.2% from 2021.

It's All About The People

Hung Kuo Building exists to provide a premium work environment for local and international businesses and organisations in Taipei. The energy and water consumption is entirely dedicated to the provision of the quality office space that our tenants require and the waste generated comes entirely from their operations. This is to say, one of the key lessons we’ve learned in the past year is that, while there is much our building management team can do to improve the underlying efficiency of the property, ongoing reduction in building impacts relies on the understanding and cooperation of our tenants.

Working with our tenants to redesign our waste recycling infrastructure is a positive example of what can be achieved through collaboration, and their diligence in cleaning and sorting recyclable waste is clearly born out in the monthly haulage data – the rate of waste being diverted from incineration increased 8.2% over 2021 levels. But the fact that total waste generation appears to also be increasing also shows that there are always opportunities for us to work together and continually improve.

Another good example of where our tenants both enable the ability to certify Hung Kuo as a green building and impact the results is verification of indoor air quality levels. At least once a year we need to test both carbon dioxide (CO2) and Total Volatile Organic Compound (TVOCs) levels in tenant spaces during regular occupancy conditions, when everyone is busy at work.To do this, we rely on the generosity of our tenants to allow our testing teams to come into their offices during the workday to take the measurements.

CO2 levels rise with occupancy because of the natural process of respiration and are kept at healthy levels by the fresh air we provide through our ventilation systems. TVOCs within occupied space mostly come from sources that our tenants have control over. These include potentially harmful gasses released from new office furniture and carpets that aren’t made with modern green building materials and processes but also extend to other more common, everyday sources that include perfumes, flowers and indoor plants, and even food and drinks which have been consumed within the building.

Our CO2 concentrations throughout the building consistently prove to be reassuringly low, achieving the maximum possible score in LEED, but we have noticed fluctuations in TVOC concentrations that we’re working on better understanding to be able to effectively address.

LEED Tanent Survey is operated in Hung Kuo Building every year.

Running a LEED O+M certified building effectively is very different from a conventional non-green office building, and it requires a greater degree of interaction with our tenants to seek their understanding and cooperation on a number of issues. LEED does have a tenant survey that we also have to conduct at least once per year. The questions relate to how they commute to work and their levels of satisfaction with the indoor environmental quality of the building, which is useful feedback to obtain. However, it doesn’t help us engage with our tenants about the other aspects of green building that they have a significant impact on. This is something we’ll be working on addressing in the coming year, including finding ways to better communicate the benefits of green building to our tenants.

Behind The Scenes

While, as we’ve seen, much of what makes Hung Kuo a LEED Platinum building involves collaboration with our tenants, the lion’s share of the work remains hidden behind the scenes, embedded in the day-to-day operations of building management and maintenance of green building systems.

Some of the work involves doing the same things slightly differently, for example we still purchase building cleaning products, but now we only purchase those that bear the Taiwan EPA’s Green Mark eco-label. Others involve doing the same things in radically different but much better ways, our Integrated Pest Management program being a case in point.

But there is also work that is new for the team and which has increased management costs and workload.LEED requires the implementation of several green building management policies which need to be tracked and documented monthly to ensure compliance. Our landscaping fees have gone up because of the significantly increased vegetated area on site and we invest in maintenance of systems that didn’t exist prior to LEED, like periodic cleaning of our rainwater storage tank and regular cleaning and maintenance of the highly reflective white roof that helps to mitigate the Heat Island Effect in our neighbourhood.

Has It Been Worth It?

Getting the building to a point where it could achieve LEED Platinum certification, and then working to keep it there has been, and still is, a lot of work. Despite that, the team at Hung Kuo wouldn’t change a thing.

Vicky Chou (Head of Property Management at Hung Kuo Building) reports that she’s been surprised by how much her general respiratory health and sense of smell have improved since the successful implementation of our Integrated Pest Management program which has meant we’ve not sprayed any pesticides in or around the building. Among the building management team as a whole, there’s not only a great sense of pride in what we’ve achieved in greening Hung Kuo, but deep feeling of duty and commitment in continuing to meet an unprecedented challenge in human history.

This week, UN Secretary General António Guterres announced the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth synthesis report(3) by saying “Humanity is on thin ice, and that ice is melting fast.” Addressing the climate crisis is no longer about a moral obligation to future generations, its impacts are occurring across the globe and we all must do whatever we can to mitigate against this existential threat.

It’s never been more imperative that we green our existing building stock, which accounts for most of the environmental impact of the built environment. Doing so also creates better neighbourhoods and healthier spaces for building occupants. Getting certified with transparent third-party verification of actual performance is the most effectively way to achieve this and we believe we’ve demonstrated with Hung Kuo Building that, with the right commitment, any building in Taiwan can become a green building.

We’ll continue to share our story here in the hope that we can help educate everyone on green building issues, encourage others to join us on this journey and give them the benefit of the lessons we continue to learn along the way.

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