What it Means to be Green

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Developers and architects in Malaysia are becoming increasingly concerned with making their structures environmentally friendly. Pat Fama examines this green building trend.

The frenetic pace of development in Malaysia has the power to both dazzle and dismay. Nowhere is this truer than in Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding Klang Valley, the economic and commercial hub of the country. It is virtually impossible not to be awed by the new urban landscape taking shape all around. But equally, it’s hard to avoid wondering whether this headlong rush into the future is really sustainable.

Just five years ago, most developers in Malaysia paid little attention to the environmental impact of their buildings. And even the minority who were concerned about sustainability had to look abroad for recognition of their eco­credentials. Fast forward to today, and developers are falling over themselves to have their projects accredited by Malaysia’s Green Building Index (GBI,

The GBI has gone from strength to strength since it was launched in May 2009, extending its accreditation from residential and commercial schemes, to first industrial buildings and  more recently to whole townships. Dr Tan Loke Mun is an architect, and one of the founding members of the CBI:

“The number of projects registering for GBI assessment has also been very encouraging with more than 250 projects now in the pipeline and more than 40 already achieving some level of GBI certi.cation. It looks like this trend will be here to stay. It is more than a fad but literally the right thing to do.”

So, what does it mean for a building to be green? The GBI says sustainable building should focus on increasing the efficiency of resource use, in terms of energy, water and materials, as well as reducing the building’s impact on human health and the environment during its life-cycle.

One of the biggest successes of the GBI has been to persuade developers that building in sustainability from the earliest stages of a project can actually save on construction costs. Not only this, but accredited green buildings are more likely to get tenants, have lower operating costs, as well as a better rate of return on investment. It is this win-win situation which has persuaded developers such as Ken Holdings ( my) to put sustainability at the heart of their business strategies. Ken Bangsar, a residential complex completed in 2009, has garnered six prestigious international and local awards so far. Among its many eco­features are rainwater harvesting, water efficiency, natural lighting and ventilation, and laminated glass. The company’s Executive Director is Sam CS Tan:

“We are very committed to ensuring that our owners and occupants enjoy living in our developments and being part of our ‘luxuriously sustainable’ culture. Buyers are becoming more discerning and they understand more about the specifications of their homes, and will more readily appreciate what is done in the green homes we’ve built for them.”

The GBI is careful to focus not just on new buildings, but also by making existing structures more sustainable. Umpteen perfectly good buildings are torn down every year in Malaysia, rather than being given a new lease of life. But even if an older building is too dilapidated to save, its materials can still be re-used, as happened in the case of the S11 House in Petaling Jaya.

The first private dwelling in Malaysia to have earned the GBI’s Platinum award, the house was built by Dr Tan, as his family home. It incorporates every eco-feature you can think of, from using salvaged materials wherever possible to wind turbines on the roof.


Not only is the S11 House environmentally-friendly to its core, it is also outstandingly beautiful. It nails the lie once and for all that going green means living a life of sacrifice. By working in harmony with nature, rather than against it, it is possible to build a house which is both sustainable and comfortable.

Of course, not everyone has the money, or indeed the architectural vision, to build a home as stunning as the S11 House. But reducing your carbon footprint need not be expensive or complicated. In fact, Anthony Tan Kee Huat, the Executive Director of the Centre for Technology, Training and Development in Malaysia or CETDEM (, believes the simplest solutions are often the best:

“The whole thing about the Green Buildings Index, green technology, it doesn’t have to be rocket science. Air-wells, louvred windows, the features are often there, but are now being plastered up.”

Anthony Tan argues that the cooling features of traditional Malay houses have been forgotten over the last few decades, and need to be relearnt. That means increasing natural light and ventilation, to cut down on energy consumption, principally by reducing the need for air-con:

“We have become a society that has adopted building technologies from developed countries. That in itself is not bad, but we have not adapted them to local conditions. The design should fit a tropical climate.”

Anthony Tan says buildings cannot be seen in isolation from the communities around them. It is no good, for example, having an eco-friendly residential block which is miles away from the nearest public transport. It is equally pointless encouraging people to use low-energy lights at the same time as subsiding energy costs by billions upon billions of ringgit every year:

“The whole structure has to be changed. You have to take away energy subsidies. If people start paying the actual price for petrol, gas, electricity, you will find that public transport suddenly starts looking like a really nice option. But you cannot tell people ‘don’t use cars’ when you don’t have proper public transport.”

However heartening the move towards sustainable development is in Malaysia, environmentally friendly structures can only ever be part of the solution. The most they are able to do is enable people to leader greener lives. As Anthony Tan argues, in the end it comes down to personal moral choices:

“The fundamental issue that has to be faced by everyone in this world is making a distinction between ‘need’ and ‘want’. Everything has a price these days, but we have to have values too.”

Source: The Expat March 2012 
This article was written by Pat Fama
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