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What is Green?

If there is one trend that appears throughout the consumer’s market today, it is “Green”. We live in a time when experts and non-experts alike will urge us buy green, eat green, and live green.  Consumer goods (and the cardboard they come in) may be labeled as such. Even airline tickets may be turned into green, with extra payment in exchange for a digital promise that some penance will be performed, sight unseen, and presumably having to do with tree seedlings. But what does it all really do?  

When I first moved from Italy to the Philippines, many of my family could not understand why.  They did not grasp the immense potential in this dynamic and fast-growing country.  But I made the Philippines my much loved adopted home, and founded Italpinas Development Corporation (IDC) together with my business partner, Jojo Leviste.  I have since been able to apply and build my architectural designs here, in a country where the future is bright, and where many take environmental responsibility, thankfully, seriously.

The consumer market in the Philippines is not exempt from the jumble of “green claims”. I strive to navigate all of them by asking myself the following questions:  Is the promised benefit objective and concrete? Does it extend to the processes of producing, delivering, and using the product over its lifetime?  Does the product encourage habits and behaviors that are sustainable? 

The first criterion is often fulfilled when we consume less.  A consumer product dispensed to a refillable container, for example, may save numerous plastic bottles that would otherwise have been disposed of over time.  Such a benefit, though simple, is at least concrete and measurable.  

The second criterion is perhaps not as easy to fulfill.  When offered a product that claims to be sustainable, we must also consider what it took to produce and deliver that product.  A piece of organic fruit, for example, may have been grown responsibly, but also took an unmentioned quantity shipping fuel deliver, if it is imported from abroad.  A reusable shopping bag may displace many disposable ones, unless it is itself made partly or fully from non-biodegradable material, or fabrics that have been chemically processed to be bleached and refined. 

The third question is whether the product encourages behaviors and habits that are sustainable.  Much attention is given to the green credentials of objects that we buy.  In the longer run, however, it is lifestyle that matters, and those objects are merely tools or signifiers of our lifestyles.  We may buy a larger refrigerator that promises power efficiency, and feel that we are gaining ease and convenience. But in reality, are we not only shifting our expectation of food? Relying less on the local and natural, and more on the boxed and frozen?  In terms of habit, this new appliance may influence us to alter our diet, import more from overseas, and of course, consume more electricity than before.

Together with the great Filipino architects and engineers I work with we take these matters to heart at IDC.  While there are many perspectives about what constitutes a “Green Building,” I take it upon my designs to be objectively beneficial to the environment throughout their lifespans, and conducive to a healthy and comfortable lifestyle.  

Our first project, Primavera Residences in Cagayan de Oro City, utilized the “chimney effect” to harness the subtle efficacy of warmer air rising upward through an open central courtyard; encouraging lateral ventilation through windows in both the outer and inner walls of the private apartments.  It also utilized software and parametric architecture to determine the exact dimensions of exterior features to ensure that the building’s façade would be shaded from the sun at the hottest times of the day.  These effects constitute the building’s physical performance, which in turn lessens the need for electricity in maintaining a comfortable interior climate.  When residents spend fewer Pesos on their electrical bills, while enjoying a fresh and well-ventilated environment, the benefits have been objective, measurable, consistent, and lasting.   

There is of course, an added bonus to all of this that resonates with the creative side of my work.  These design principles, while performing objectively well, also produce elegance and beauty.  There is no metric to measure the satisfaction of a freshening breeze or an unobstructed line of sight, that give a sense of lightness and wellbeing from within a beautifully designed building.  Philippine architecture, in its many forms and throughout its complex history, has been all of these things: functional, elegant, and beautiful.  To me, this is the spirit of Philippine design, and the driving force behind my creative process for IDC as an Italian-Filipino firm.

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of my moving to the Philippines.  I am now more than ever before, intrigued and engaged by the dynamism and beauty of Philippine culture, including architecture, heritage, and design.  I look forward to sharing my insights about this universe in the course of this monthly column.

(Smart Living appears once a month on this section. The author is the Chairman and CEO of ItalPilipinas Development Corporation (IDC), a design-driven developer of sustainable properties in emerging cities in the country.)

Topics: What is Green?

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