[Marxism] A 'green' building rises amid Beijing smog

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Apr 4 00:24:01 MDT 2006

from the April 03, 2006 edition -

A 'green' building rises amid Beijing smog

The new structure is China's first to pass the stringent, globally
recognized LEED certification.

By Robert Marquand | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BEIJING - The gray eight-story squeezed into a row of sedate official
buildings seems innocuous. But from its radically efficient basement
generator to the light volcanic ash soil on the garden roof deck,
this is one of the cleanest and most energy efficient structures in

In a country both energy-starved and cash-conscious, the new ministry
of science building is a small wonder. It uses 70 percent less energy
than similar federal buildings, and saves 10,000 tons of water a year
through rainwater collection. Wise use of quality materials inside a
simple, plain design also make it far cheaper to build and maintain
than comparable Beijing buildings.

Last week, this building became the first in China to pass the
stringent, internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

"This is a 'living building,' that uses the flows of sun and rain,"
says the spiritual godfather of the LEED certification, Robert Watson
of the New York-based National Resources Defense Council. "It uses 40
percent less water, and passed a variety of tough tests."

Since China began seeking the Olympics and foreign investment in the
1990s, its leaders and city planners have talked a great "green" game
that has left many foreign-based environmentalists swooning. On March
7, as part of the newest five-year plan, the construction ministry
issued a new edict requiring that by June all new construction be 50
percent more energy efficient.

But the actual record on energy- and resource-friendly construction
in China remains mixed at best. The green visions of ecology-minded
policymakers vie with the realities of a nation rebuilding its urban
centers day and night, with aggressive developers, impatient
construction firms, quick money, and a floating population of as many
as 400 million workers needing housing in coming decades. Few Chinese
developers or experts feel the nation will match the March 7 edict
for energy efficiency. "We can't enforce it," explains a
knowledgeable government source in Beijing.

China has 11 "green city" projects under construction and 140
building projects. But few foreign experts feel those projects could
pass a genuine international green test - involving low energy use,
low cost, recycling water systems, and "intelligent" integrated
design and materials.

"For China to have passed the LEED test with this new building is an
achievement for China; LEEDS is a proper standard," says Neville
Mars, chairman of the Beijing-based Dynamic City Foundation, a Dutch
design NGO. "In China, we hear a lot about green standards, but
actually the local standards are very flexible and don't mean much."

Moreover, green concepts, quite unknown outside elite circles, and
not broadly promoted in the rough and tumble world of Chinese
builders, must compete against the kind of eye-catching and
unorthodox signature projects now under construction downtown, like
the new Central Chinese Television [CCTV] tower. The tower will
anchor a central business district loaded with dazzling but decidedly
un-green designs.

"The government knows that buildings like the CCTV tower are part of
the high cost economic model from a few years ago," says one leading
Tsinghua University professor. "But local governments just want fancy
post-modern designs that you can brag about."

Still, Chinese leaders at the top of the Hu Jintao government do want
change. The new March 7 standards for construction are part of a
massive new "sustainable development" policy in China aimed at
rethinking agriculture, industry, construction, education, and the
social good.

The city-first policy of former president Jiang Zemin, that focused
on the infrastructure of China's manufacturing-based east coast is
undergoing adjustment. In the area of real estate development and
construction, the new five-year plan's goal "is to build an
energy-saving, environmentally friendly, and sustainable society."

But untold layers of inertia must be faced in the daily decision
process, experts say. Despite good intentions, there is a lack of
follow through.

"There isn't much pressure for us to promote the green concept," said
science ministry official Yang Guoxiong at last week's green

"The national government has incredible intentions for a green
future." says Mr. Mars. "Really mind-boggling. But we are in an
interesting paradox, and I am asking, 'Is it better to have high
ambitions, or to be realistic?' "

The new ministry of science building offers a checklist of green
dreams: Roof-top solar panels provide 5 percent of the building's
energy. Nine percent of the energy used is recyclable. Lighting is
"intelligent," adjusting the level of artificial lighting to take
into account the amount of natural light. Some 70 percent of rain
that falls on the building is stored and used for watering and
cooling. The building uses the energy needed for more than 200 people
under the current Beijing standard, yet more than 400 work there.

Also, while federal buildings in Beijing cost $850 to $1,000 a square
meter, the green building came in at $700 per square meter, largely
by avoiding expensive marble.

Yet changing ingrained behavior is always slow. China doesn't yet
have the green supply chain of parts, materials, and knowledge
needed. The science ministry underwent three computer simulations for
energy efficiency. But when the actual building went up, numerous
assumptions didn't pan out. Some equipment didn't fit. Construction
firms and subcontractors didn't always know how to work together.

"You can't just pick up the phone and call someone and say, 'Hey, do
you have a green- standard piece of equipment,'" says one Chinese
builder. "People are used to just doing their one job, and for this
work people need to know how to cooperate."

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