Green Buildings: How to Grade Sustainability for Eco-Friendly Architecture

February 5, 2024

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By 

Albert Aycardo

Construction is one of the most resource-intensive industries in the world. As climate change continues to escalate, designing for sustainability is fast-becoming a standard requirement rather than an additional feature. The green building represents an architectural commitment to improving environmental stewardship.

Understanding our sustainability ratings can reveal how various aspects of our lives connect to nature. Architects have to be considerate in how their creations expend resources. Furthermore, designers must develop innovative solutions that contribute positively rather than simply consume resources.

The Worldwide Mission for Sustainability

Everyone benefits from a healthier environment.  And spearheading the global effort towards an eco-friendlier world are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, provide a framework in tackling major social, economic, and environmental problems. Having a shared outlook helps governments, allied professionals, and stakeholders work together toward harmonious solutions. Furthermore, goals can give designers a better picture of what their projects should aim to achieve. You can find a total list of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals on their website here.

Our social landscape has to conform to the needs of our environment. Certain communities are more vulnerable to the impacts that climate change brings. Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative approach.

The cultural values of the Filipino in terms of “Malasakit” (Compassion) relates to this need for unity. The Design Center of the Philippines explored how designers across different creative fields can implement a philosophy that includes compassion as a design component. The projects presented include reusing agricultural waste to produce viable products, new materials that leave a smaller carbon footprint, and place making structures in public spaces.

With that, Filipino designers also developed a comprehensive method to determine if a building design is actually good for the planet. Beyond the physical, other factors such as how the structure enables good practices or the involvement of the community throughout its planning is also checked.

Getting to World Class Sustainability 

YY house, a modern home with an off white facade and geometric lines.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system used across the globe to grade green buildings.  The principles of this system are rooted in decarbonization, resilience, health, equitable outcomes, and ecosystems. The revised LEED is anticipated to cover additional goals such as climate action, quality of life, and ecological conservation and restoration. 

Furthermore, LEED mainly covers concepts that relate to energy, materials and resources, site selection, location, transportation, integration, environmental quality, and water. These can be widely applied to different aspects of a building’s life. For example, it assesses how a building sources or manages its utility consumption or how it impacts its local neighborhood. Again, it scrutinizes factors that allow the building to contribute to its context to promote architecture that is altruistic in nature.

The main caveat with subscribing to the LEED rating system is that it uses a US Standard in a Philippine context. Firstly, there is a night-and-day difference between the design objectives and building makeup. In terms of local climate, we do not build for insulation in the same way that western countries do. Regions that experience lower temperatures are constructed to keep heat in while tropical areas focus on keeping cool. Furthermore, there are cultural and economic differences between material choices, forms, social engagements, and the like. 

Regardless, it is possible to obtain a LEED certification here in the Philippines. The YY House by FMK3 Architects is the first residential home to attain accreditation and was awarded as an outstanding single family project. They designed a self-sustaining home with solar energy for electricity, minimized energy consumption, and prioritized indoor air quality with specialized filters. Additionally, the structure addresses environmental impact through DarkSky Certified outdoor lighting and a smart irrigation system for optimal water usage.

The Philippines’ Standard for Green Building 

In line with these global efforts, the Philippines has its own approach towards sustainability. Building For Ecologically Responsive Design Excellence (BERDE) is the local rating system for green buildings. It is based on international standards for quality assurance and its framework includes aspects ranging from building management to community engagement. Furthermore, certification is only good for 5 years to ensure buildings maintain their green practices.

The scope of the rating system and how it applies is based on 11 factors;  management, land use and ecology, water, energy, transportation, indoor environment quality, materials, emissions, waste management, heritage conservation, and innovation. This approach to grading tackles nearly all components of the building design on multiple fronts. Enabling green practices ensures the building completely encapsulates what it takes to be labeled as sustainable.

You can read and learn more about BERDE in this article: The 11 Core Frameworks of a BERDE Certification

Implementing BERDE

The Net Metropolis was the project that heralded BERDE, being the first building complex in the country to receive certification. Although implementing green design features came at an additional cost, this feature ended up attracting major companies. Furthermore, research indicates that green features lead to an increase in productivity and wellbeing, which then leads to increased profitability.

On a larger scale, Mandaue City adopted an ordinance that implements the BERDE rating system as a standard component. The LGU’s act aims to make both building and infrastructure greener in line with creating a cleaner environment for all. The city incentives compliance by offering additional allowable floor areas and tax rebates for developers. 

Additionally, a restructuring of government institutions sets the tone for the level of commitment towards this initiative. They even rebranded the Office of the Building Official to the Green Building Office. The local government trained a total of 34 employees as Certified Green Building Professionals. The landmark projects target to be BERDE Certified such as socialized housing.

True sustainability is a holistic system that achieves balance by matching output with production. Green building ratings provide a framework for how buildings can be an instrumental good for the environment.  The goal is to sustain the present natural resources and environment that we enjoy today for future generations ahead. 

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