Support for ‘green building’ growing across all sectors

Green buildings use fewer resources than regular buildings while utilizing natural light and other location factors to their fullest.

December 9, 2010 03:36
Minister Gilad Erdan and MK Ze’ev Bielski

Environmental Protection Minister Erdan and MK Ze’ev Bielski. (photo credit: Yisrael Malovani)

Is Israel finally ready to embrace green building? If a meeting at the Knesset of all the relevant parties is any indication, it seems so. The Knesset Caucus for Quality headed by MK Ze’ev Bielski (Kadima) discussed green building Standard 5281 on Wednesday and efforts to update it.

Green buildings use fewer resources than regular buildings while utilizing natural light and other location factors to their fullest. Green buildings use 30 percent-50% less water than regular buildings and as much as 50% less electricity.

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As Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan pointed out during the discussion, “Green building is not just a tree huggers’ gimmick, it’s a powerful tool. Buildings use 60% of electricity and produce about a third of emissions.

Green buildings make for healthier surroundings and studies have shown that people who work in them are more productive as well.”

The government recently approved the national plan to reduce emissions. A major component of that plan is to encourage green building.

Nonetheless, until now, green building has failed to take off here. Although Standard 5281 has been in place since 2005, only seven buildings have been certified. By comparison, in the UK, 12,000 buildings have been certified by the BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) green building standard, which is still largely voluntary, while another 20,000 buildings have registered to be certified, BRE consultant Chris Scott said.

BRE developed BREEAM for the UK in 1990 and has since adapted it for Spain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and the Middle East. Scott and his colleague, Chloe Murphy, are consulting to the Standards Institution of Israel (SII) about updating 5281.

Standard 5281 is expected to be fully updated by July 2011, Environmental Protection Ministry Deputy Director-General for Planning and Sustainability Galit Cohen said. The ministry is funding the update process out of its budget and received additional funding under the recent government decision regarding the national plan to reduce emissions.

Some NIS 16 million will be used for a pilot project in 2011, NIS 7m. via the Construction and Housing Ministry for retrofitting existing buildings, another NIS 16m. for a survey of existing buildings, NIS 9m.

for training, NIS 5m. for energy audits, and NIS 2m.-NIS 3m.

for education and awareness raising, she said.

The Israeli standard is currently voluntary. There is some debate as to the best method to encourage the use of green building standards.

BREEAM, for instance, according to Scott, was promoted as a voluntary standard in close conjunction with the construction industry.

BREEAM, however, emerged in a bottom-up process whereby contractors started building green buildings in the 1980s and design teams wanted recognition of their efforts, which led to the creation of BREEAM, Scott explained.

Here, however, the process is decidedly top down.

As Erdan put it, “there’s been a market failure [regarding green building]. Those that build the buildings don’t have to live in them and pay utility bills. The contractors don’t have any vested interest in building according to the standard.

We need regulation and we need education.”

He added that he was pressing the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to adopt the standard as a mandatory one.

Association of Contractors & Builders in Israel Vice Director- General Eran Nitzan said later in the meeting, however, that his association was fully behind the new standard and wanted to see “thousands of certified buildings.”

Nitzan added that the key to success was “developing a reasonable standard.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post after the meeting, Nitzan elaborated as to why his association was suddenly in favor of a green building standard after letting 5281 languish practically unused for five years.

“Green building is a developing movement. It’s a growing trend worldwide and it’s going to be one here. In order to be a leading player in this field, we need to be involved in green building,” he said.

Scott and Murphy told the Post after the meeting as well that involving the construction industry at every stage is absolutely critical.

“It’s important to engage the industry. Otherwise there could develop a fear factor since the contractors are the ones being affected financially,” he said.

Murphy added, “Constant communication is critical. You can’t alienate the industry.”

BREEAM is routinely updated, Scott said in his presentation to the caucus, and all of the relevant players sit on the committees, including representatives from the construction industry.

Murphy also said that she thought everyone here was very enthusiastic about developing a working green building standard this time.

“This time around, everybody really seems to be behind it and they all come across as incredibly passionate,” she said.

One potential drawback to the widespread adoption of green building, nonetheless, is the added expense.

SII coordinator of environmental issues Dr. Nitzan Eyal said the added expense was just 3%. He said the standard was gaining steam and that more than 60 buildings around the country were in the process of being certified. Entire neighborhoods were being planned as green neighborhoods, he said.

However, Scott and Murphy both said that at the beginning, green building would probably be more expensive until green building materials could be certified and green consultants trained. In the UK, though, there were places where green building was found to be no more expensive than regular building, Murphy said.

During the meeting, the contractors association’s Nitzan suggested a few financial incentives.

“Financial assistance should be given to people who want to live in green buildings,” he said, “Tax breaks on development taxes for green building should also be instituted, as should a government fund to offer subsidized loans to those who buy a green apartment or house.”

He also suggested training additional agencies or companies to evaluate buildings instead of just the Standards Institution of Israel.

Erdan suggested to Bielski that he attempt to get incentives for green building included in the planning reform.

“A developer that builds according to 5281 could, for instance, be awarded more area for building,” he said.

The revision of Standard 5281 will extend beyond office buildings to residential and public buildings as well. Israel Union for Environmental Defense head Amit Bracha pointed out that the 4,200 resource-guzzling schools across the country were a prime target for retrofitting and new schools should be built using green construction.

The Israel Green Building Council, an NGO, has been working on a report highlighting incentives to encourage green building. Keren Schvets suggested tax incentives for materials, loans and consultants.

She also recommended making the lower levels of the standard mandatory.

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