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Viet Nam's ‘green revolution' underway

Update: August, 06/2012 - 09:22

Designing and building sustainable, or green, homes, office buildings and other structures to capitalise on natural energy sources wherever possible is slowly catching on in Viet Nam.

The knowledge has been accruing for thousands of years, ever since cave men sought out shelters with the greatest protection from the wind and rain, but with the greatest exposure to the winter sun. Their knowledge may have been primitive, but it was certainly sustainable, meaning that it did not deplete the earth's natural resources or otherwise harm the environment in any significant way.

However, only in the past few decades have architects begun to seriously incorporate so-called green designs into private and public buildings. Green architecture is starting to bring these energy-conserving values to modern buildings. This will not only reduce the amount of of the world's limited natural resources and man-made energy required to build and operate a structure, but create a healthier environment.

But the really good news is that less artificial energy and resources wasted can mean big savings in gasses that pollute the atmosphere and cause global warming. Several experts share their views with Viet Nam News reporter Ta Thu Giang about the development of energy-saving buildings in Viet Nam.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of green buildings?

Melissa Merryweather, director, Green Consult-Asia; southern regional co-ordinator, Viet Nam Green Building Council

The green trend has no disadvantages. It is essential that, in the future, all buildings in Viet Nam be built sustainably. Viet Nam has issues with energy, climate change, pollution, storm-water management, all of them critical, and we need buildings here that are resilient, energy-conscious and use fewer resources. It's just the smart way to build.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia


Vo Trong Nghia
Green buildings are a vital feature in the fight against climate change. Building them is not a fashion statement, but as vital as eating and drinking well. Our planet has seven billion people and is growing rapidly, but energy resources to power industry and housing is rapidly declining.

Green, or sustainable, designs save energy and do less harm to the environment. Every architect, every investor has a responsibility to learn about sustainable architecture and in an effort to rescue our living environment before it is too late.

Pieter Keppens, technical marketing manager, Holcim Viet Nam Ltd.

I am positive about the trend. It takes time to create public awareness about a more green way of living. In the four years that I lived in Viet Nam, I see a lot of positive signs. For example, the use of the sun to heat hot water in private houses, the introduction of energy-labelling of washing machines, refrigerators and power-saving lamps.

The development of green architecture is similar in all countries. First, show-case projects are built, and then step-by-step, more and more projects adopt the principles. Even in Singapore, the number of green projects was limited at first, but now it has really taken off.

What will Viet Nam gain from the development of green buildings?

Melissa Merryweather:


Melissa Merryweather
Saving energy will save the owner of a building money in the long run. Creating less toxic, more comfortable buildings will attract tenants and keep them longer, and they'll pay more for their higher-quality space.

For example, designing buildings to resist flooding can be considered "green" but it is also good risk management. Smart developers in Viet Nam are starting to pay attention to the benefits. Green builders will also have an easier time meeting new energy regulations being introduced by the Government. Reducing individual building energy-use reduces the strain on Viet Nam's overall energy resources. Recycling (re-using) treated waste-water from buildings and landscaping is a big saving environmentally and financially. Better storm-water management also reduces local flooding. And ultimately, using local products and materials saves costly and power-wasting transport and packaging – and helps fight climate change.

Vo Trong Nghia: Viet Nam is already starting to experience the severe problems of climate change. Cultivation areas will start to shrink as sea-water levels rise, covering low lying farm land and interfering with the age-old tidal-powered irrigation systems in the north.

I am obsessed by so-called tube houses in Viet Nam – long, narrow (4m) stuffy dwellings with wet and mouldy walls. My colleagues and I have come up with many new design features to rebuild dwellings in this crammed space, but also offer residents plenty of sunlight, greenery and space. One of our designs recently won the International Architecture Award awarded by the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and the US Green Good Design Award 2012. My colleagues are aiming for a "green revolution" in Viet Nam.

What is the Lotus rating tool?

Melissa Merryweather: Lotus was developed by the Viet Nam Green Building Council in response to the World Green Building Council's advice that countries develop their own building certification systems to suit existing building regulations, climate zones and specific concerns. Certification requires benchmarks defining a green building that can be rated on overall sustainability. Points are awarded for sustainable features.

The projects are reviewed by an independent panel. There are an increasing number of pilot projects undergoing Lotus certification, including some that are quite significant. Since being launched in 2010, seven projects have been registered, including Viet Nam Moc Bai office and factory in Tay Ninh Province, the United Nations "One Green House" in Ha Noi to house many departments, the Vietinbank headquarters (Ha Noi) and Pou Chen kindergarten (HCM City).

It is important that investors have their buildings officially certified since some developers will make all sorts of claims. Certification is a like a green map for good design, a manual for sustainability.

Pieter Keppens: Cement manufacturer Holcim has developed innovative products and techniques for green buildings. The company supported the Green Building Council in developing the local Lotus system.

Holcim offers cement and ready-mix concrete that not only complies with Vietnamese Lotus standards, but also those in the United States and Singapore. The energy required to produce our products can be cut by 25 per cent or more, but the strength and quality is the same.

Why have green building projects attracted few investors?

Melissa Merryweather: Because of the amount of misinformation about the cost of green buildings. I've seen 20 per cent additional costs reported in Vietnamese media, but there is no basis for this.

Projects with international certification in Viet Nam cost about 1-2.5 per cent more, but there are good returns on investment. The best way to make a cost-effective green project is to plan green at the design stage where the biggest energy-saving changes are actually free of cost. The later you start incorporating green principles into the design, the more it will cost.

Green design requires knowledge. If no one in the team understands how to create a green building, they are bound to make expensive mistakes. It's important to have knowledgeable leadership.

For instance, many people assume solar panels are a must for a building to be sustainable, which is simply not true. Putting solar panels on a building is expensive and not so effective in the current energy market, although it is a great strategy for the future. But right now, there are strategies that can save 20-30 per cent of energy with little added cost.

Pieter Keppens: The property market has slowed, so many green projects on the drawing board have not yet been implemented. As the sector revives, I am convinced they will increase.

What should the Government develop to encourage green building?

Melissa Merryweather: The Government has been working on a new energy-efficiency law, but there is some way to go before it can be put into action. It's great to see that is happening.

There has been confirmation that energy prices will be allowed to reach a market rate. This is important, because if energy is too cheap, there is no reason to save money by saving energy. I realise it may sound harsh, but there won't be investment in alternative energy sources without a fair energy price and more competitive market.

And finally there could be some incentives, however modest, to show that the Government values investment in green building. Signals mean a lot. However, I believe that smart investors in Viet Nam are going to move to sustainable building even without incentives.

Vo Trong Nghia: Many investors think that green buildings are costly and require a large land area. I think developers are willing to invest in green building if they received Government support. Low bank interest, for example, would attract more investment.

Pieter Keppens: The Government can take two actions to encourage a greener society. The first one is to raise and enforce the minimum quality level of each new building, through the building codes. As I understand, the Government is preparing to do just that.

The second action would be to encourage projects to aim for higher quality. It could, for instance, lead by applying green principles to its own new buildings. In general, rising costs for electricity, water and other type of utilities will create awareness that we all need to use these resources more effectively. This would reduce not only the operational costs of a building, but also the costs to society as well. We would need to invest less money in power plants and water storages. — VNS

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