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Green Washing Green Buildings

When one decides to buy a condominium unit, a townhouse or a house, one is most likely to confront several claims about the environmental features of the project. Most developers and contractors will try to entice you to buy their products because they help you live a better life and they help save the planet. In reality, are they telling the truth or are they practicing greenwashing?

What is greenwashing? 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.

The concept of a green building has been sweeping the country for more than a decade now. 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.

Most common examples

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 also guilty of greenwashing.  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.

Some appliances used in homes and offices are advertised with a lot of environmental imagery. When evaluated based on their energy-efficiency rating there are other more energy-efficient alternatives with less misleading advertising.

Just exactly what is green?

A very simple definition is that green uses resources with minimal impact on the environment. Applied to buildings, a green building saves water, energy and uses sustainable materials while ensuring occupant wellbeing.

A green building helps reduce utility costs because of good design that 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).

Green buildings cost less in the long run due to the installation of low-maintenance materials that last long. For example, some building materials 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. 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.

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. Ask questions and challenge the realtors.

Quantitative comparisons

One must be able to make quantitative comparisons before making decisions to purchase. A simple example is selecting a refrigerator, which contributes up to 8 percent of most energy bills and considered to be the biggest power consumer in households. Manual-defrost models use about 50 percent less energy than automatic defrost models do. Chest (top-loading) freezers are generally 10-15 percent more efficient than upright (front-loading) freezers.

When comparing costs of air-conditioning units, choose the one with the highest Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) 10.0 or higher, as shown in the Energy Guide label.

For buildings, the quantitative comparison is based on the number of kilowatt hours per square meter per year. For example, the Asean Energy Awards use an energy-efficiency index of 200 kWh/sq m/year for offices and libraries. Ask neighbors, previous owners and other unit owners how much the monthly cost of electricity is.

For bigger buildings, ask for green building certification from a credible rating body.  These organizations provide verifiable, quantifiable measures that show the true picture of the building you are considering.

Be sure of hiring green building rating organizations that are objective and have the technical capability to give these ratings and  use standards applicable to Philippine climate conditions.

In the Philippines, the building professional organizations of architects, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, interior designers and conservationists have formed the Philippine Green Building Initiative (PGBI). These organizations are accredited by the Professional Regulatory Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The PGBI has developed locally-adoptable building rating standards and is currently working as local consultant on the green building program of the International Finance Corp. in partnership with the Mandaluyong City government and the Department of Public Works and Highways to develop mandatory green building measures. 




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