There are currently significant concerns among Thai property developers and investors that new projects will not be able to launch or even start the construction. This follows the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) recently asking a Bangkok district office to halt the construction of a condominium developed by a SET-listed company saying that the project did not pass Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).
ONEP issued a requirement late last year that all ‘new’ buildings, including offices, hotels and condominiums, would need one tree with a minimum height of five metres to be planted for every two tons of air conditioning emissions. In addition, allocating 50% of total open-space area, set at 30% of a land plot, to be a green area is compulsory.
The Thai Condominium Association then estimated that about 200 projects worth more than 40 billion baht were waiting for EIAs approval. The requirement also means that high-rise buildings launched after September 2007 would not receive EIAs approval.
Implications for Existing Buildings
Now that the design process for a new building is recognized as a major tool in sustainable practices for projects, perhaps we should also turn our attention to existing facilities.
EIAs were actually introduced in Thailand over 20 years ago but they have just incorporated new regulations and become stricter due to worldwide rising concerns about global warming. In the United States, the future of The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System developed by the U.S. Green Building Council is promising. Since its inception in 1998, LEED has grown to encompass over 14,000 projects in 50 US States and 30 countries covering 1.062 billion square feet of development area. LEED also incorporates a suite of standards for existing building called LEED-EB. The objective is to maximize operational efficiency and minimize environmental impacts of existing building through operations, improvements and maintenance on a consistent scale.
With many commercial buildings in Thailand, the potential for greening building stock is substantial. Though the regulation might take sometime to go into practice, no one can deny that the trend is coming. The requirement for sustainable facility management will become critical one day in the future.
Designing Sustainable Facilities
The main obstacle in planning a sustainable facility management program now remains in a gap between the design and operation. The architect and interior designer still tend to design facilities for form, and often leave function to the facility manager and building engineering staff. Management inevitably inherits some building systems that are expensive and difficult to maintain. The concept of “designing for operation and maintenance” is still not mainstream.
This also leads facility managers to face another set of problems. Shrinking operations and capital budgets make it difficult to implement sustainable practices that cost even minimally more than current practices. Replacement of some major building systems, including the roof, chiller, and windows will require permits and it is not likely that the owner is willing to replace them all at the same time.
Maintenance is a Key
How do we overcome these gaps in existing buildings? First, let’s look at the reality: if we cannot
knock it down and rebuild it, all we have to do is keep them running efficiently. And that’s where building maintenance plays its role.
Since each of those building system services are definitely not synchronized, the best practice is to take sustainability improvements one step at a time following the building maintenance program.
As good building maintenance does not limit itself to only embracing the physical but includes all areas, assets, equipment and utilities that make the building run properly, facility managers are the people who hold the key to modify their building toward more energy-efficient and high-performance operations in energy consumption, water use, indoor air quality, and waste management. These all have a huge amount of influence over the residents, business performance as well as total cost of ownership and long-term building operation.
There is a multitude of processes facility managers can undertake to improve the sustainability of their facility management. Small steps such as increasing green areas, cleaning air-conditioners properly, fixing the ventilation systems, reducing use of energy for lighting during daylight hours or changing to ‘portion control’ sensor faucets, can lead to big gains in operating costs.
In addition, most facilities managers might not be aware that in controlling the operating costs of the facility, they also have the greatest amount of influence on the productivity of the organization. Workforce costs are by far the greatest expense to an organization (Average 10 to 15 times that of the building maintenance cost). While facility professionals manage about 25 to 60 percent of an organization’s hard assets, they have a huge amount of influence over the productivity of the workforce by influencing the comfort, health, and safety of the workplace. Small improvements in workforce productivity can easily overcome the cost of building maintenance.
A carefully crafted sustainable facility management policy and good building maintenance program will eventually enable facilities managers to align themselves to the organization’s mission, vision, and custom-fit their facility management plan to the political, economic, and environmental climate.