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Urban Magazine Article

  1. 1. Features FEATURES Edited by Alex Pasternack features@urbanechina.com 22 Chasing the Green Dragon 26 Live Light 29 Air Supply 33 The Weather Report 38 Ticket to RideSteve Webel www.urbanechina.com march 2008 urbane 21
  2. 2. FEATURESCHASINGTHEGREENDRAGONA new documentaryand multimediaproject shedslight on greenconstruction – oneof the biggest untoldstories of China’senvironmentalchallenge. AngelaLewis interviewsthe filmmakersT he trials involved in sustainable building in China are cap- obstacles on the road to sustainable development. The team has launched tured in a revealing new documentary called Green Dragon, a multimedia website to share what they’ve learned, and Perelman is in which construction, environmental and government planning on following up by using his knowledge to assist construction spokespeople give the lowdown on the green building companies in green techniques. The two spoke with Urbane about their debate. The figures behind the film are Max Perelman, a journey, the film and, ultimately, finding some convenient truths. Photos courtesy Green Dragon Media Project sustainable construction consultant currently completingan MBA at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and Caroline Urbane: How did this documentary happen?Campbell, a former producer for the BBC. Caroline Campbell: Fate. Little did we know that when we innocently Together with translator River Lu, the team traveled around China began talking over a glass of wine and a large plate of cheese at a locallast summer to capture the opinions of local officials, building firms, and green cafe in Monterey, that three weeks later we’d be embarking onenvironmental professionals, resulting in a behind-the-headlines look one of the most intensely tiring and rewarding journeys of our lives.at how various parties involved in real estate are trying to overcome the I have been making films for 14 years, and had found myself traveling22 Urbane march 2008 www.urbanechina.com
  3. 3. FEATURESfrom my home in London to work on a National of the damage we are causing to the planet’sGeographic series in Monterey. That job had just fundamental balance. From the Filmcome to an end, but as I’d fallen in love with Key voices give their opinions on– and was engaged to – an American, I wasn’t Urbane: When you began, did you have a model China’s green building landscapeabout to return to Europe. As I was looking for in mind? What sort of a film were you hopingthe next project, this Max character seemed to make? Jason Hurather well informed about China. As he spoke, I CC: Essentially we geared it to be of interest to China Merchants Development Group Csaw the potential of his project being a fantastic the general public, but of specific relevance to hinese culture contains manyfilm. That was enough. Within a week we had the international green building professional original concepts of what is nowproposals set up, and not long after we had our community. That allowed us to “drill down” and called sustainability. However, sincefirst lump of funding. But let’s not forget our reveal depth to the discussion. People can watch the industrial revolution, we have begun tothird team member, River. She had everything it three times and still be learning. disregard these sustainable concepts andwe didn’t have – an in-depth understanding of MP: We set out to make a film that was posi- ways of living. We need to go back intoChina and its people, and the ability to charm tive and actionable. We know China has 16 of history and retrieve these.the socks off just about anybody. the world’s 20 most polluted cities, is arguably [along with the US] the largest GHG (Green- Ken LangerUrbane: What was it about this issue that made house Gas) emitter, and is the source of 25 per- EMSI, a green building consultancy Iit so compelling to you – as opposed to other cent of global airborne mercury pollution. We think the rapid development of China’senvironmental topics, for instance? wanted to identify the issues, but frame them green building movement, from nothingMax Perelman: Many environmentalists as opportunities. We wanted to tell the story in 2000 to what is now approximately 4establish “protected areas,” focused on protect- of the Chinese government officials and pro- million sqm of green building constructioning threatened biodiversity hotspots around fessionals working to green the construction [not including sustainable developments], isthe world. But global climate change knows industry, and paving the way for sustainable a story worth telling ... and for reference,no boundaries. What will happen to these Chinese development. They are out there and the US now has 12.5 million sqm after 30parks when climate change fundamentally they are true heroes, but they need help. years of a green building movementalters the habitats? Other environmentalistsare concerned with air, water, and land-based Urbane: There’s a sense that a lot of green Xu Weipollution. When I mention to Chinese that I building in China is fake, a kind of “green Certification Department of the Chinesecome from Pittsburgh, they always exclaim, washing.” How cynical should we be, and what Academy of Building Research I“Oh! Steel!” Yes, Pittsburgh is famous for steel, reasons are there for hope? ’ve been doing thisbut there is none there today – only beautiful MP: Cynicism rarely helps – we launched Green work for many years,blue skies, green parks and three relatively Dragon in a response to the enormous amount but only now is itclean rivers. of unconstructive negative stories about China getting more attention. All the mass steel production has gone in the US media. Let’s stick to the facts. Accord- In the past, complianceoverseas and, with it, the pollution. In the ing to the engineering firm EMSI, there are 4 rates for energy19th and early 20th century, Pittsburgh’s air million sqm of LEED-certified green building efficiency standardspollution was so bad that they had to keep the area in China (versus 12.5 million in the US) were not high – aroundstreetlights on all day, and all the stone build- and annual growth from 2006 has been over five percent. But today in large- anding facades were caked black with soot. But the 130 percent. In 2000, Accord 21 launched in medium-sized cities you see more and moreearth has recovered from the horrible mess we Beijing and was the first truly green building. compliance. People have a sense of urgencycaused. This takes time, but it is on the order I am hopeful because I see the Chinese gov- now. There’s growing consciousness aboutof decades or centuries. Climate change works ernment recognizing the crisis and acting to energy conservation, and the government ison the order of tens of thousands of years. partner with international specialists and local really emphasizing regulations.I am concerned by the relative permanence green building leaders in a way that will turn » www.urbanechina.com march 2008 urbane 23
  4. 4. FEATURES “What can we do? We can raise consumer demand – Chinese developers are extremely savvy and will build green if consumers include environmental factors in their purchase decisions”these environmental issues into opportunities city being built on an island near Shanghai, has Charles R. McElweefor international collaboration and sustainable been heralded for its innovation – but it’s also Squire, Sanders & Dempsey Idevelopment. As far as people go, Jason Hu been called unrealistic as a model. What do you think market-based initiatives are thegives me hope. He’s one of the country’s larg- make of that project? way China is ultimately going to tackleest developers, but he knows the issues, can CC: What [engineering firm] ARUP is attempt- this problem. China has the most efficienttalk the environmental talk, and is taking the ing to do with Dongtan is extraordinarily brave. recycling system ininitiative to transform the industry. I had the good fortune to interview and spend the world. Does it time with their lead architect, Shanfeng Dong, have strict recyclingUrbane: So what’s preventing good green a softly spoken yet deeply insightful man who laws? No. Does itbuilding from happening in China? Is it much is leading his team to really understand the have strict recyclinglike the challenges to green building that exist social implications and goals of this city. With regulations? No. Doeseverywhere else? a project as large as this, it was a surprise to it enforce recycling?MP: The barriers are fundamentally the same discover their team eagerly investigating the No. It is a purelybut with a Chinese twist. Many issues are aspects of Chinese culture that will make in- private enterprise-typical to a growing industry, such as a lack habitants content, talking it over with experts, driven system.of third party trade organizations, an uneven looking around the world to see what otherdistribution of information across industry models they could learn from and really tak- Hannah Routhstakeholders, insufficient product standards ing the time to identify and prioritize design ESD Sinosphere Wand certifications, poor market demand, and features for the people who will live there. But hen you think about the amounta lack of pilot projects. But then there’s this this is still an experiment and I came away hop- of construction that is goingChina twist. ing that the international media will have the on in China – half the world’s The government is short of resources to patience to let the experiment evolve in its own construction before 2015 will be hereenforce regulations that would open the door time before jumping to too many conclusions – it’s important that there is a mechanismto market-based incentives. China is looking about what Dongtan is. flexible and immediate enough that can beto international expertise on how best to de- applied straight away, and that people willsign these mechanisms. Also, waste disposal, Urbane: What can those of us who are not in undertake unquestioningly. Where you havewater, electricity and fossil fuel prices are kept the building industry do? a policy environment,artificially low by the government. This reduces MP: The leaders we interviewed and the profes- you also have bigincentives to increase efficiency, and makes it sionals who see our film will take care of many questions related todifficult for renewable energy to compete. What of the market fundamentals. We can raise enforcement. You canChina lacks in technical expertise or quality consumer demand – Chinese developers are have all the policiesassurance, it makes up for in the enormous extremely savvy and will build green if con- you like, but unlessamount of labor it can allocate to a project, the sumers include environmental factors in their they are enforced,speed with which it can build, and the uncanny purchase decisions. We also need to put a focus you’re not going toskill for mass-replicating new innovations. on the mayors. These local government leaders see a result. Ethnocentrics are crucial to steering China along a sustainableUrbane: Speaking of which, Dongtan, the eco- development path. And it’s important to be con-24 Urbane march 2008 www.urbanechina.com
  5. 5. FEATURES structive and think in terms of opportunities for Urbane: What’s next for the two of you?Benjamin Christensen CC: We launched our multimedia website toJones Lang LaSalle collaboration. China will go green eventually.I But how much damage will be done until then, accompany the film in February [see below] and ts applicability in China is limited, are selling copies of the DVD in order to fund a because the current standard of and will the West lose global market leadership in the process? second film project. There is a huge amount of construction is far below the LEED level. potential to serve and educate high-level play-There is no system designed to encourage ers in China through the networks we have laiddevelopers focused on middle-end projects Urbane: What differences did you find between first-tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai and Shen- down. It is most likely that we will be creatingto build more sustainable buildings. a series of films about some really extraordi-Hopefully the Ministry of Construction zhen) and second- and third-tier cities? MP: It was very hard for us to get access to nary projects taking place in China within thesystem will achieve this by having green building movement – enormous projectscertification levels set somewhere between government officials – mainly because they were concerned we would just produce another involving true Chinese visionaries. The planthe previous China standard, and the is to create a version of these films for publicstandard set forth by international systems China-bashing video. The first-tier cities are largely built up and the mayors are already on broadcast over there [in China], and then re-such as LEED. It is unrealistic to expect version them for use in sustainability-focusedChinese developers to suddenly jump from board with the idea of sustainable development. But in the smaller cities they are still thinking mayoral training programs.a very low energy efficiency standard toLEED certification. the path to premier [league status] is by building little Manhattans in their new “CBDs” [central Urbane: What has the reception been like? business districts]. The smaller cities are less Have you seen a change in the way people areJin Ruidong thinking?National Resources Defense Council built up, so there is more opportunity to createR public transit-based, mixed residential and com- CC: We have had an extraordinary response ight now, I believe – much more than I ever imagined. People the main obstacle mercial communities, as well as “eco-industrial parks.” watching [the documentary] have already had of green building a varied experience of China, but I think invari-promotion in China is ably they come away enlightened about China’slack of market incentive Urbane: What are the chances an international green building certification standard like the context, and encouraged momentum is buildingpolicies. There need to be so rapidly around this industry there.detailed market incentives US’s LEED will take hold in China?to accelerate the MP: I pressed a lot of people in China on the certification topic. In general, they were non- Urbane: Is this film, to you, An Inconvenientmarket in land planning, Truth for green building in China?tax benefit and construction inspection committal, but many thought there was a place for both government and non-government MP: Despite numerous reports warning theprocedure. Especially for residential world, few people cared about, or believed in,building developers, costs and profits are certifications. While I believe China will develop its own localized system of labels and certifica- climate change until the film An Inconvenientalways their concerns. They cannot get Truth. We need high-impact films to move mindsbenefits from a green building when the tions, and this is the way it should be, I think the general pattern will follow how the US market and drive change, but they need to be followedbuilding is completed. For commercial up with resources for people once they are onbuildings, developers like to build green is playing out, so we may be able to glimpse aspects of China’s future by looking at current board – detailed data, text reports, lists ofif the costs don’t rise much. The green contacts and projects.building label system is designed to enforce US trends. Some local form of LEED will, at the very least, be the standard for international CC: An Inconvenient Truth dealt with a long-the standard implementation, but it is still standing scientific debate. It addressed a seri-voluntary for the market. As the China [building] projects. Interviewees mentioned that LEED’s com- ously harrowing possibility. Our film does notreal estate market is currently driven by address China’s role within that. Instead, it ad-sales, I don’t think the system will be widely petitive advantage was its commercialization – it is easy to follow, and there is a support dresses the extraordinary complexity of settingadopted in a short time, unless there are a new approach to building into motion at a timemarket incentive policies or government structure of branding, information materials, training and an entire consulting industry cen- when the country is already in “all systems go”enforcement. development mode. But how could we tell that tered around it. While some might believe other standards (like the UK’s and Japan’s) are better, story without touching on the incredible wis-Linda Zhu dom that the ancient Chinese culture still holdsAdventist Development and Relief Agency LEED is easiest to implement, and the brandF recognition is high. The next step for LEED in when it comes to living in harmony with the rom what I learned from construction environment? I hope that the film at least does professionals, they need help in China will be the translation and localization of the LEED rating system, and the establishment some justice in portraying the Chinese way of the areas of green technology doing things. It is a way that could well becomedevelopment, as well of a local USGBC (US Green Building Council) body to oversee local marketing, training, and truly convenient for the rest of us.as to understand whatgreen building is. They certification. To view the Green Dragon Media Project or toneed information from donate, visit www.greendragonfilm.comprofessionals in othercountries that have moregreen building than China. www.urbanechina.com march 2008 urbane 25