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Going Green: What Gets Measured, Gets Managed

Why robust, continuous monitoring is so crucial to keeping Asia’s green buildings sustainable long-term


Conjure up an image of an environmenta lly-friendly building, and you may think of a gleaming new skyscraper packed with green features. But don't be fooled by appearances; sustainability extends to older buildings as well. Developers and occupiers need to make a long-term commitment to step up the tracking of energy usage, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to make their buildings truly sustainable.

"A lot of the focus on green buildings in Asia is still on new space, new design, new construction, new fit-outs, not necessarily on those projects that have been around for four or five years," says Matthew Clifford, JLL's Head of Energy and Sustainability Services, North Asia. 

Unlike more mature markets in the United States and Australia, performance ratings are fairly new in Asia. Most green certifications, like LEED from the US and Hong Kong's BEAM, are applied as design certifications only. They promise that a building has been designed in a particular way, or verify that certain sustainable features have been installed. They don't extend into the operations phase – at least, not by default.

Now developers and occupiers are looking to close that loop. Companies with buildings that have been around for several years are starting to revisit their designs and ask questions about how sustainable their spaces really are. They are questioning whether their performance is tracking where it ought to be, if they are getting value for money from the green feature investments they made up front, and if not, what do they need to do differently.

The answer to these questions can be found by carrying out regular performance tracking in a "more robust way," Clifford emphasises.

"You want to look into ways you can automate the process," he explains. "Instead of spending 80 per cent of your time capturing data, automate as much as possible, then spend 80 per cent of your time acting on that data."

Once companies have collated their numbers, the real work begins. "You might find that you're using your building differently, compared to two or three years ago, and that you need to tweak your operations strategy to bring it in line with your business goals and current practices," adds Clifford.  

Similarly, decisions made during the design phase may not reflect the realities of daily operations, so changes may also need to be made to underlying building designs.

While tracking energy consumption remains at the heart of much of the work around sustainable buildings, Clifford has also witnessed an uptick in consumer interest in air quality. This can be tracked by monitors installed in strategic places throughout offices, retail outlets and hotels. 

Air quality is a huge issue in China, to the extent that employees are using mobile apps to test air quality from their desks. Some companies have come under fire from employees for not publishing the results of their indoor air quality monitoring, with staff often assuming that 'no news equals bad news'. 

That doesn't mean businesses should just publish the bad results and be done with it, however.  "If indoor air quality isn't up to scratch, companies need to start developing a comprehensive action plan and decide how best to communicate it. This may include implementing improvement measures, then publishing results; or publishing the results as they are, but with a clear plan attached," suggests Clifford. "Bring people into the discussion about how to improve." 

With more and more demand for people-centric workplaces and leisure spaces, green building certifications are now increasingly taking the lifestyle of occupiers into account. New tools like the WELL Building Standard are focusing on health and wellness, and how buildings can play a part in improving that – something that a lot of companies haven't looked at before, according to Clifford.

"An energy efficient building is great for the company and for the bottom line, but when you shift to look at issues like air quality, food, health, and wellbeing, that's when it becomes about the majority of people who are using that place," he explains, citing the campus environment provided by Internet giant Google as a good example.

Companies having problems attracting and retaining talent could consider offering staff access to healthy food, a gym membership, lunchtime yoga classes or childcare facilities on site. "These are some of the non-financial levers that companies can pull, to provide a more holistic package of benefits to their employees and raise themselves above their competitors" says Clifford. 

He anticipates that the region's ratings systems will become more specialised in future. "I think we'll move from importing rating schemes from elsewhere to having Asia-specific or China-specific ratings. There will be more focus on performance ratings, and the health and wellness aspect will continue to take off." 

"We'll probably see the rise of air quality monitoring as a stand-alone element – in fact, tools like RESET are already going down that path," he concludes. "If you think about LEED, it covers a lot of different aspects, so stand-alone tools allow organisations to really address particular topics or problem areas. There are a couple that are already starting to gain traction and they'll probably ramp up." 

Find out more about JLL's Energy and Sustainability Services on our dedicated webpage, or contact Matthew Clifford.

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