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‘Greenwashing’ becoming de rigueur in property scene?

Environmental ‘tokenism’ is beginning to plague the local property development scene. It’s gotten so bad that green technology advocates have recently stepped up warnings of slick marketing strategies for products being passed off as environment-friendly, when they are not. 

Urban planning guru Paulo Alcazaren feels local certifications and standards should be tightened up, and monitoring practices made more stringent to guide consumers on product credibility.

Market forces at work. Solar panel technology at the ADB Building in Ortigas Centre. “The ROI for solar panels have been going down in recent years.” 

Renowned property development consultant Felino Palafox, Jr. believes government regulators should consider sweetening the pot for those using green technology. One way to do this, he said, is to lower the cost of green equipment and encourage players to embrace these technologies.

‘Greenwashing’ is simply a misrepresentation that a product is environment-friendly. This is happening in the local property sector with some developers claiming their developments to be green to lure buyers and clients.

Billboards and posters of a number of ongoing projects in areas like Fort Bonifacio and the Makati and Ortigas central business districts (CBDs) claiming green participation are all over Metro Manila.

Next time you buy a condo…..

One invariably encounters claims about environmental features when shopping for a condominium unit, a townhouse or a house. Most developers and contractors will try to entice you to buy their products because they help you live a better life, and “help save the planet.” 

“Greenwashing is the term used to deceive people into purchasing a company’s products and services based on false or misleading claims regarding their environmental benefits,” said Alcazaren in an interview with The Standard at the recent Property Awards in Makati City.

“The concept of a green building has been sweeping the country for more than a decade now, he explained. “Since then many people in the building industry have been trying to cash in on the movement, offering all kinds of promises that mislead uninformed buyers simply because they are not aware of what to watch out for.”

The most common examples of greenwashing are building products that claim to be biodegradable when they are not. These products have attractive glossy brochures with eye-catching phrases, images and varying shades of green. They may even be certified by some organizations that claim to be green, but actually do not have the technical capability to scientifically evaluate and rate the product.

“Many developers and advertising agencies that promote buildings and housing units are guilty of greenwashing,” Alcazaren said. “Merely by providing landscaping and attractive façades, these structures are falsely claimed to be green. With no legitimate green certification, it’s difficult to confirm their claims.”

This is where credible certifying body organizations, like the Philippine Green Building Council (PhilGBC), should step in as they play an important role in protecting the public against deceptive claims by those pretending to construct green buildings,” said Palafox in a paper sent to The Standard..

Based on PhilGBC’s description, “green building” is the practice of designing, constructing, operating, or reusing buildings in an ecological and resource efficient manner.

The PhilGBC is an organization established by real estate stakeholders that promotes and ensures an ecologically and economically sustainable manner of a structure’s design, construction and operation in the country.

“We need certifying bodies like the PhilGBC with BERDE, and also the green eco-labeling,” Palafox said.

PhilGBC is not the only organization that provides standards for developers to adopt. The others are the US-based US Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) pushed by the US Green Building Council; the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREAM) of the UK Green Building Council; the Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method (BEAM) of the HK Beam Society; Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (CASBEE) of Japan’s Sustainable Building Consortium; Green Star by the Green Building Council Australian; Green Mark by the Singapore Building and Construction Authority; SBTool by the International Initiative for Sustainable Built Environment; and Green Globes of the Green Globes which is implemented both in Canada and in the US.

How can consumers protect themselves?

A simple definition of a green development is that it uses resources with minimal impact on the environment. Applied to buildings, a structure saves water, energy and uses sustainable materials while ensuring occupant well being.

A green building helps reduce utility costs because its design provides access to natural daylight (reduces electricity cost for lighting), natural ventilation (reduces electricity cost for air-conditioning), and the use of water-saving technology (reduces water consumption).

“Almost all Ayala luxury residential and office developments incorporate natural ventilation and lighting in its projects,” claimed Manuel Illana, senior architect and studio head of Ayala Land Premier (ALP). At the launch last week of its latest development at Bonifacio Global City called West gallery Place, he told The Standard that lifestyle changes over the past five years have affected ALP’s approach to sustainable design and construction.

“Our customers now expect green spaces and new resources-saving technology in our developments,” he said. “So while it is a good time to build, we have to innovate to be competitive in this robust market.” 

But more than just the sales pitch, green buildings cost less due to the installation of low-maintenance materials that last long. Some building materials , for example, do not require repainting (eliminating building maintenance costs).

“Everyone should be aware that greenwashing is going on and it is being advertised as a competitive advantage,” said Alcazaren. “This is even more important for prospective homeowners, many of who make the biggest investment of their lives based on perceptions of “green” without even knowing what it really means.”

He advised buyers to take advertising with a grain of salt “until you read up on the green features that are being claimed.”

“Familiarize yourself with green technology and environmental jargon,” he said. “ Ask questions and challenge the realtors.”

Green buildings on tap

An example of a green building is The Net Lima in Fort Bonifacio. It incorporates designs like sun shading and a full glass curtain wall, which reduce energy use particularly on air-conditioning and fiberglass fuel storage tanks with built-in leak detection for generators used during power outages. 

The 33-storey Zuellig building at the intersection of Makati Avenue and Paseo de Roxas, makes use of materials and operations that protect the environment, thanks to its pollution prevention features, water efficient landscaping, carbon dioxide monitoring and an indoor air quality and temperature regulator, among others. It is the first building in the Philippines that has been awarded with a certification at Gold level under the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design Core, and Shell (LEED-CS) program of the United States’ Green Building Council.

Green technologies becoming cost-effective?

Both Alcazaren and Palafox agree that adopting green technologies could be expensive, and may add up to about 10 percent to total costs compared to using conventional designs and technology.

“You have to be more informed.,” Alcazaren said. “Market forces, in a way, are doing their part as Return on Investment (ROI) for solar panels technologies, for example, have been going down in recent years. We’re getting there. Green technologies are gradually becoming more cost-effective.”

Palafox feels government regulators could do something that could lessen the cost of buying these equipment.

He noted that in countries like Singapore and Dubai, green practitioners are actually given cash incentives for developing green structures.

Despite the sudden proliferation of authentic green buildings and green projects in major CBDs, Palafox said the state of the country’s green building industry is still far behind compared to the rest of the world, saying that “we are just starting in the Philippines.”

“The advocacy for green living had been long in the Philippines, but is taking a long time to take root,” he observed.

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