Without serious government support or new incentives like in Singapore, Thailand's ambitious effort to promote green buildings is unlikely to get off the ground in the near term.
The Thai Green Building Institute (TGBI), the organisation that evaluates and certifies environmentally friendly buildings, said Thailand is still stuck in an early stage of green building development although the TGBI has been in existence for four years, said secretary Winyou Wanichsiriroj.
"Most progress here involves public relations and corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns. But to be fair, we're new in this area with little support from the government."
Fortunately, the future is not so bleak after the new Bangkok city plan that took effect in May gave developers a "bonus" in the form of extra floor space on top of amount normally allowed under the floor-to-area ratio (FAR) if they agree to go green.
FAR is the ratio of a building's total floor area to the size of the parcel of land upon which it is built. It varies depending on the width of the roads on which the plots are _ the wider the road, the taller a building can be. It also depends on location.
With the bonus, the owner can build a taller building with more sellable or rentable space if he agrees to construct using green concepts when applying for the construction permit.
The bonus, however, is capped at 20%.
But specialists say the new city plan's green-area rule is unlikely to help much since there is no penalty for developers who fail to keep their promises.
The most glaring weakness of the new city plan is the wrong order of the process, said Mr Winyou.
"Green building certification and bonus approval are in reverse order," he said. "The bonus is given before the buildings are evaluated and certified."
The TGBI is in talks with the City Planning Department of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration on how to address this issue so the bonus serves its intended purposes. "We have yet to conclude on the appropriate penalty for developers who apply for a bonus but fail to meet the criteria," he said.
If a green building receives a platinum certificate by the TGBI, it qualifies for up to a 20% increase in the floor space allowed under FAR. Buildings rated gold receive a 15% increase, silver qualifies for a 10% bump, while basic buildings earns a 5% boost.
The 20% bonus will be offered to residential buildings focusing mainly on low-income earners or residents in existing project areas or buildings in a brown zone (high-density area) or red zone (commercial areas) which provide public areas or public parking space, buildings near mass transit lines that provide car parking for the general public; and buildings that provide a water-retention area of more than one cubic metre per 50 sq m of its plot size.
According to Mr Winyou, Singapore's green building initiative was pioneered by the government while in Thailand it is the private sector which takes the lead.
The TGBI was established by the Association of Siamese Architects and Engineering Institute of Thailand. While Singapore's green building plans are financed by the government, the TGBI has to seek its own funding sources.
Like in Singapore, the TGBI evaluates and certifies green buildings in four levels: platinum, gold, silver and certified. The rating is called Thai's Rating of Energy and Environmental Sustainability (TREES).
There are currently 17 projects registered with the TGBI for evaluation. Most of them are car showrooms and office buildings. There is only one condominium project _ the Ideo developed by Ananda Development Plc.
Recently, the TGBI has just finished rating for Toyota Nakhon Ratchasima (Thai Yen) which will get the silver label and will be the first project rated with TREE.
In Singapore, green building plans have been promoted for a long time through public sector-led initiatives. The incentives offered are cash, research and development funds and extra construction areas.
The city state's government also provides training, raises public awareness and applies legislative approach. All of these measures have shown how effective and successful a government push can be in turning the financial city-state into the region's green hub.
Singapore's push for sustainable development and green buildings has continued to grow from strength to strength since the release of the first green building master plan in 2006, said Koh Lin Ji, international development director of the Building & Construction Authority of Singapore (BCA), a government agency that develops and regulates Singapore's building and construction industry.
"The country's green consciousness started in the 80's with only energy conservation. From 2001-05, we gave energy-efficient awards to qualified buildings," he said. "The focus was only on saving electricity."
The true green building concept was developed in 2005 when the BCA Green Mark was awarded to green buildings. The focus later expanded to include water conservation and clean air.
The first 2006-07 green building master plan started with the policy to turn all public-sector structures into green buildings. It also set up research and development funds, with S$50 million dedicated to green building study.
The government also set up the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Sustainable Development in 2008 to formulate a national strategy for sustainable development.
In 2009, the committee announced the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2030, with seven goals to be achieved by 2030. The objectives are energy, waste, air, water, physical environment, capacity building and community engagement.
It aims to improve the energy efficiency rate by 35% from 2005's levels and recycling rate by 70% while reducing ambient particulate matter (an airborne mixture of particles) by 25%.
For water, a crucial resource in Singapore, it targets to reduce daily water consumption per person by 10% to 140 litres.
It also targets to increase reservoirs, parks, waterways and skyrise greenery.
In 2008, the government enforced a regulation requiring all new buildings to be green. Four years later, it required all building owners to report energy use at their buildings and to change air-conditioning systems to green ones.
"Our target is for 80% of all buildings in Singapore to be green by 2030," said Mr Koh. As of May 2013, there were 1,574 Green Mark buildings, with total floor space of 46.9 million sq m, accounting for 20% of the total.
The second master plan was announced in 2009 to promote green buildings among the private sector with an offer of S$6 per sq m to developers who built green buildings. New structures built to the green criteria would also get a 2% bonus in gross floor area.
The government also granted S$300,000 per project to consultants and designers whose projects are designed to be environmentally friendly.
The third master plan to be announced in September this year will focus on building users and tenants.
The BCA will host the International Green Building Conference and the Build Eco Xpo Asia during Sept 9-13 at Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre, one of the green buildings.
About the author
- Writer: Kanana Katharangsiporn
Position: Business Reporter