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Buildings head for greener pastures

Sustainability and green considerations are becoming an ever more integral part of new building developments. Environmentally aware elements not only give residents a more pleasant environment, but also provide a market edge for investors.

In the past four million or so years, humanity has done its best to separate itself from nature. From rural settings, people moved to urban environments and built houses that had nothing to do with nature. Recently, people have realized they were wrong and are now doing everything they can to reverse the process.

Getting closer to nature is not that simple, though. New buildings have to meet an array of requirements to earn the official title of being green. These range from nickel-and-dime solutions to some really investment-heavy technologies. Green buildings can cost 5%-25% more than traditional ones, experts claim. Still, sustainable building is gaining ground worldwide. To be clear: investors do not invest in such projects out of a pure love for nature, they do so due to the long-term market benefits these houses offer.

“Construction may be more expensive, but it is a one-off expenditure as opposed to maintenance costs, which in the long-run are much lower for green buildings,” Adrienn Lovro, head of Ablon Hungary Kft told the Budapest Business Journal.

With utility prices soaring, lower overheads are a clear benefit for residents. ““These buildings are usually equipped with meters which allow office clients to pay only for what they actually consume, versus a pre-set tariff per square meter calculated after an average consumption,” said Zsolt Gyöngyösi, Head of Environmental Consultancy to DVM group,” Even at retail and residential projects, where green aspects are not of primary importance in general, lower overheads can be a dealmaker.

Exactly how much can be saved depends a great deal on the number of technologies used. “There are a lot of inexpensive solutions – such as using solar panels to warm running water – which it makes sense to build in,” said Tibor Tatár, managing director of Futureal Kft. Most developers aim to achieve a basic level of greenness, so as not to lose their competitive edge. But these solutions are only given a “good” or “gold” rating. To get a better grade on an international rating system, more complex and costly technologies are needed. The cost premium of constructing a top-rated building can be as much as 10%, with over a 10year return on investment, according to Gyöngyösi. A building with a green certification with a good rating differentiates it from other buildings available on the market and it demonstrates that the building is ahead of the current regulations, according to Codic Hungary, whose V48 office building on Váci ut was the first in the CEE region to have been pre-certified under the 2009 version of BREEAM Europe commercial.

Beyond marketing purposes, having a building rated also helps orientate customers. Office buildings in the downtown area, say, are very much alike. When someone has to choose between two that are similarly located, they are likely to opt for the greener one. But due to the variety of rating systems used, selection is not so easy. Creating a uniform system or enforcing an existing one as London or the state of New York does could be the state’s responsibility.

Before doing so, it should be tailored to the country’s needs. Many buildings are downgraded (or not given a high rating) because systems are tailored to the conditions of their home countries. “BREEAM sets standards regarding windows’ and embodied impact based on UK climate conditions,” Gyöngyösi, a licensed BREEAM assessor himself, explained. “The thermal conductivity of these materials used in new developments is much better in Hungary, but because their lower ratings against the British BREEAM standard they are possibly not given the relating credit.”

Non-uniform rating systems have others flaws. Different emphasis on the criteria makes a real comparison impossible, Lovro believes. “Water-saving faucets and the use of geothermal energy are given the same points,” she explained.

Not everyone regrets the lack of a uniform rating system. Dániel Barcza, head of the Design Institute at the Moholy-Nagy University of Applied Arts, thinks the sense of global systems is that they help rate buildings worldwide. “Integrating green surfaces into a building is the most cost-effective way of increasing the property’s future value. Yet most office developments in the country comply only with a minimum requirement not to decrease useful floor space.” In residential buildings, buyers demand green areas, so it is in the developers’ interest to maximize it.

Although green credentials may increase a property’s value in the future, they offer little advantage in the present. Not only because of higher building costs, but because clients won’t pay more rent for a green building. According to Gergely Pados of Cushman & Wakefield, in today’s market it is hard for the developers to achieve a premium in rents for certified buildings due to the high level of competition, which derives from the high vacancy rates.

“Today, green buildings have no marketing value,” Lovro said. “Anyway, developers build for the future, not for today.”