Dominic Whiting, Reuters
Hong Kong: The environment is creeping onto the agenda for property investment funds in Asia, thanks to pressure from tenants and investors, but also because turning buildings more energy efficient can lift profits.
With buildings responsible for about half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, the actions of property investors in Europe and North America have been in the spotlight for years.
But in Asia, where “green building” standards are only just emerging, landlords hanker for designs with the grandure and comfort they believe befit countries that have clambered on to the world economic stage.
Whether in Bangkok, Jakarta or Chennai, cavernous office lobbies with air conditioners set at 22 degrees C (76 F) cool sweat off workers stepping off tropical streets. During a Beijing winter, boilers blast heat uniformly into office towers, regardless of whether rooms are occupied.
However, new property funds raised for Asia are facing questions from investors about their environmental credentials.
“The discussion comes up at the table,” said David Schaefer, Asia head of Citigroup Property Investors, which raised a $1.29 billion (Rs5,261 crore) fund for India and China. “If we’re designing a luxury hotel or office park today, we look at what we can do.”
Studies show going greener can pay off quickly.
Spending $264,000 on energy-saving measures for a hypothetical 30,000 sq m top-grade Sydney office block worth $145.8 million would be paid back in cost savings in three years, say consultants Jones Lang LaSalle.
If capitalisation rates held steady, the building’s capital value would rise by $2.5 million.
World’s Greenest Skyscraper
In the battle for high-paying tenants, landlords are touting their green building features to multi-national firms keen to tick off “corporate social responsibility” check boxes.
Although 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China, the country will soon have the greenest skyscraper.
The 69-storey Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou is being built with wind turbines to fuel its air-conditioning, heating and ventilation needs.
One of Hong Kong’s newest office blocks, the AIG Tower, installed photovoltaic cells to heat water, used wood from sustainable forests for doors, and flushes toilets with seawater.
“They wanted a highly efficient building,” project architect Don Conning, of AEDAS, said of the building’s owners, American International Group Inc. and Singapore’s CapitaLand Ltd.
“In today’s market it’s a very important aspect,” he said. “The profit motive is you can attract high-profile clients, grade A clients who pay grade A rents.”
But as property investors rush into Asia, they can ill afford to be choosy because energy efficient buildings are rare.
Many try to bring in simple energy saving measures, which can deliver big cost savings, especially in China, where 80% of buildings fail government efficiency standards.
A shopping centre with 1,000 outlets in Guangzhou, for example, has cut energy costs by 20 percent through steps such as using air-conditioning only during low-tariff hours.
“A lot of people want to increase allocations to Asia, which is hard enough,” said Robert Lie, Asia head of ING Real Estate, which is raising two $1 billion funds.
“As a manager you can do some things, but you can’t be as picky, and there’s not the same pressure from the market, as in Europe or Australia,” he said “But that’s a matter of time.”
Some Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, have introduced green building ratings along the lines of systems operating in Britain and the United States, but they are catching on slowly.
But young Asian architects are starting to espouse green buildings. For example, Manit Satogi managing director of Indian architects Morphogenesis, uses traditional Asian building features for cooling.
He has designed a New Delhi office with courtyards for breeze and shade, and external walls to deflect the sun from large light-maximising windows. A Kolkata hotel, inspired by the way trees trap winds, resemble several button mushrooms fused together. And a fashion school built in a Jaipur desert is cooled by evaporating rain water stored in wells.
But developers will only build green buildings if investors pay, and investors will only pay if tenants show there is demand, Satogi says.
“The only way to crack the blame game is to make the bloody thing cheaper,” he said.