PROP UP: Green buildings and the value of sustainability for planet and people

Published June 19, 2021, 2:30 AM

by Joseph C. Tay

With environmental sustainability in the minds of most people, properties are jumping on the green marketing bandwagon. But how do we define sustainability in the context of a building? And what implications does being “green” have on the people living and working within that space? 

Kelly Cada, project head of Exquadra Tower in Ortigas business district — by some measures one of the most sustainable new buildings in the country — helps us find meaning behind this marketing buzz.

To minimize its environmental impact, the developers of Exquadra Tower sourced 40 percent of all construction materials from recycled sources and implemented a rainwater collection system.

The first step is to define what it means to be “green.” With no unified global standard for green buildings, property developers can choose from a range of certifications — LEED, WELL, BREAM, to name a few. 

“The developers of Exquadra opted for LEED certification by the US Green Building Council because it is the most “holistic measure of sustainability…not just considering environmental impact but more on tenant wellbeing,” says Cada. 

Through its focus on sustainability, Exquadra was awarded Platinum certification, the highest distinction within the LEED rating system.

The developers of Exquadra chose LEED certification due to its holistic approach. The tower was awarded Platinum certification, the highest distinction within the rating system.

A true green building implements sustainable practices in its entire lifespan — from design and construction, through decades of usable life, says Cada. 

“It considers both the structure and the use of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient throughout a building’s lifecycle.”

For Exquadra Tower, this meant obtaining 40 percent of all construction materials from recycled sources, implementing a rainwater collection system to reduce the amount of water drawn from underground aquifers, and creating opportunities to save energy and reduce waste at every stage. 

After construction, “the contractors redirected recyclable resources back into the manufacturing process to be reused in future building materials,” says Cada.

Exquadra’s large windows mean that natural light is sufficient to illuminate interior spaces, lowering energy costs for the whole building.

Design plays an equally important role. Traditional buildings often contain fewer and smaller single-pane glass windows making them darker and warmer than their green counterparts. Green buildings like Exquadra Tower are covered in windows using a special type of double-pane glass to allow for natural light without heat gain, making them brighter but also easier to cool.

For most green buildings, the use of innovative materials and techniques adds to the cost of construction, but also makes them cheaper to maintain in the long run. Offices in Exquadra, for instance, do not need to turn on their lights as the natural light coming in from the large windows is sufficient to illuminate interior spaces. This, combined with the latest in energy efficient air-conditioning systems, elevators, generators, and pumps, translates to lower operating costs for tenants and the building as a whole.

Sustainability in the building context also extends to tenant health and wellness. In Exquadra Tower, building planners put an emphasis on “Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ).” The building’s double-filtered air-conditioning system was designed to push in pre-cooled fresh air from the outside every hour to ensure that the indoor air is constantly being replaced — a feature initially envisioned to prevent “sick building syndrome” that has become all the more vital in the current pandemic.

Ultimately, the system that brings all these sustainable features together is technology. The best green buildings employ an integrated whole-building approach to technology. This is evident in Exquadra, “from turnstiles that reduce crowding and physical touch in the lobby, to destination control elevators and 5G compatible cellular base stations. The experience is all-encompassing to the extent that interacting with technology becomes second nature to building staff and tenants alike,” says Cada.

This begs the question, will green buildings become the norm or will it remain as a niche category within the property space? Cada believes that with the amount of global energy consumption attributed to buildings and the threat to public health from traditional indoor ventilation systems, societies will necessitate that sustainable properties become the norm — not as a marketing strategy or value-added feature, but as a way of building for an unpredictable future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Joseph graduated from Ateneo de Manila with a degree in Management Engineering but realized decades later that he would rather have taken architecture. He earned his MBA from Cambridge University and owns a furniture business and a prop-tech company. He was born in Davao, grew up in Manila, and stayed for short periods in Shanghai, Beijing, Canberra, Sydney, and Cambridge. His travels have instilled in him a fascination for cities, houses, and buildings as physical spaces where learning happens, great companies are made, art is created and shared, families nurtured, and societies formed. Writing about property via PROP UP is Joseph’s way of continuing his adventures and sharing the possibilities of the places we shape to live and love.