In his role in charge of energy and sustainability services at JLL, Matthew Clifford talks to Perspective about how Hong Kong can plan for a healthier future Responsible for JLL Energy and Sustainability Services (ESS) division across Asia, Matthew Clifford works alongside more than 50 full time ESS personnel across the region on topics from energy efficiency, green building design and operations, to greenhouse gas management and reporting, and more. We sat down with him to find out more.
Tell us a little about your role at JLL? I am responsible for JLL's Energy and Sustainability Services (ESS) division across Asia. This includes everything from China in the north to Indonesia in the south, Japan in the east and Thailand in the west. We've also got large ESS teams in India and Australia. Altogether, we have over 50 full time ESS personnel across Asia-Pacific working with our clients on topics from energy efficiency, green building design and operations, to greenhouse gas management and reporting, asset upgrades and more. Do you think there has been much change/improvement in green building techniques in Hong Kong and China in recent years? Absolutely. The market in this part of the world moves really fast. Often people focus on the relative maturity of one market compared to another, but I prefer to focus on the speed of change. Although Hong Kong and China may have joined green building initiatives later than other countries, they are no slouches in catching up. How big a part do the large-scale buildings that we see throughout Hong Kong and China play in greenhouse gas emissions? In an average country, buildings are responsible for perhaps 30 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, but in highly urbanised Hong Kong, that figure is closer to 90 per cent. That fact alone makes it very clear that any solution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change must have buildings at its core. China isn't as highly urbanised as Hong Kong, but it's certainly moving in that direction as people continue to move from the countryside to cities, and our cities continue to expand.
In that case, what major strategies do you think developers, designers and architects can employ to help make new builds more eco-friendly? One area that can yield great results is focusing holistically on the design and thinking long-term about operations. That sounds obvious, but often the design teams are many steps removed from the end-users of the building, so they're forced to make certain assumptions about what features to add and how the building will be operated, which can result in some unintended consequences or a building which never really lives up to its design objectives. What strategies do JLL employ? Can you give us examples throughout Hong Kong? One of JLL's key strengths is that we manage a huge number of buildings across Asia-Pacific approximately 1.5 billion square feet — so we've got great insight into what works and doesn't work in terms of building operations. This includes the design features, as well as the operating practices. Recently, we helped JP Morgan Chase achieve LEED Gold (Commercial Interiors) for its new office in Hong Kong. By working with the designers and architects, and alongside our project management team, we were able to make design improvements which lowered construction costs, and will deliver energy savings from lighting of approximately 24 per cent over the life of the project. We're working on similar projects for Wells Fargo, Prudential and others. While it's clear that outdoor air quality in China and Hong Kong is hazardous, what about indoor air quality? JLL recently released a research paper on this topic titled Every breath we take – transforming the health of China's office space. The paper looked at over 100 data points from 50 buildings across China, and the findings were pretty shocking. Unless the building had in place a detailed plan to address this issue, indoor air quality was only marginally better than outdoor air quality. In fact, in some cases, indoor air quality was worse! This is even scarier when we think about how much time we spend inside these days, and the fact that solving outdoor air quality is complex and likely to take a long time.
What are the greatest challenges that Hong Kong and China face as they move forward and try to improve the sustainability of their developments? This isn't unique to China or Hong Kong, but one of the biggest challenges in promoting green buildings is encouraging developers to take a long-term view, and not just rushing through a quick fix or tick-box solution to their buildings. Some developers view sustainability as just another marketing angle to help promote sales — on one hand, there is nothing wrong with leveraging the green features to help promote sales or leasing, but on the other hand, if the building hasn't got a cohesive design, and these features are simply thrown together as a sort of green-washing exercise, the end-user tends to lose out, while the developer makes money and moves on. The issue then is how to educate end users to ask the right questions about the buildings they are buying or leasing, and what role governments should play in continuing to raise the minimum standards. Personally, I think governments can play a really useful role in raising the bar for minimum standards, but then letting the market determine the top end, rather than the government being overly prescriptive. Governments can also play a very positive role in setting standards around the types of buildings they own or occupy. Given their huge footprint across various departments, state-owned entities (SOEs) and so on, setting a line in the sand around sustainable design could play a dramatic role in pushing developers to do more. This strategy has been used to great effect in places like Australia, and it raises the game for everyone. You've previously mentioned that there is great opportunity to go in and get existing buildings up to standard, rather than completely rebuild them. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Although China is developing a huge array of new buildings each year, there are an even greater number of buildings which were developed over the past 10-20 years, well before sustainable design was given much attention. So when we approach these existing buildings, although they may not be super-efficient or sustainable, they are already built, and all the embodied energy and greenhouse gas emissions that goes into excavation, concrete, steel, glass, and so on is already locked in. Rather than knocking the building down – an act which itself generates a lot of environmental impact — and starting again, there is often an opportunity to breathe new life into these existing facilities. Any idea of what kind of sustainable building trends we could look to see more of in the future? We've already spoken about indoor air quality, and I see that really taking off, particularly in polluted markets like China. Already we're advising clients to see this not as a 'nice to have', but as an absolute 'must have' to help protect the health of their staff, but also to achieve increased productivity. On a slightly different topic, I expect to see a continued shift away from fossil fuels, and more towards cleaner energy sources such as solar. This is critical to address climate change, but it doesn't mean we can ignore energy efficiency — you can have a building running 100 per cent on solar, but it could still be very inefficient and costing you more than it should. In fact, this trend is already underway. China is constantly breaking records for being the biggest investor in renewable energy, the fastest growing and so on. But this trend isn't isolated to China. In the US, a market where politics often dominates long-term planning around renewable energy, we've seen new solar installations outpace natural gas installations. Certainly there is a long way to go in China, and worldwide, but constantly improving technology, ongoing reductions in price, and the arrival of commercially available (and affordable) battery technology is a huge shot in the arm for renewable energy. Where this is combined with sensible, predictable policies from Government to promote a shift towards lower emissions energy sources, we are really seeing rapid change.