Foreign Tools to Judge Local Sustainability

Author: Aiman Elahi, Architect, Member of the Institute of Architects Bangladesh (E-015), B.Arch (BRACU), Masters of Environmental Science and Management (NSU), Masters of Science in Disaster Management (Dhaka University)

LEED certification is the most popular green building certification opted by Bangladeshi Industries and commercial buildings. It was introduced by the US Green building council-USGBC and had arrived in Bangladesh in around 2002. With the booming garment industry, buyers were being attracted by certifications such as LEED. The certification thus started being adopted voluntarily by various export oriented industries in Bangladesh. Then gradually towards 2016, commercial high end buildings in the capital started acquiring LEED certification to raise buyer standards and asset value. Till now there have been over 500 LEED registered buildings in Bangladesh under specific categories, of which about two-thirds are under the LEED new construction category.

In addition, The Sustainable Built Environment Initiative was founded in Bangladesh in 2008, which is now called the Bangladesh Green Building Council. The organization works in unity with all relevant stakeholders. Currently they have been working to form a board under which LEED certification could be monitored and awarded in Bangladesh. Moreover Bangladesh is on its way to producing its own rating system as well called BEEER (Building Energy Efficiency & Environment Rating), by SREDA (Sustainable and renewable energy Authority).

On the contrary to the many possible advantages of LEED, it may be mainly being used for the purpose of increasing value, despite associated costs. This increased value and the added bonus of tax incentives usually drive owners towards acquiring such certifications. Even though the certifications are being popularly adopted due to these incentives, it still needs to be analyzed how much it is actually contributing to socioeconomic and environmental factors in our country or if they are indeed bringing sustainable changes in our context. If so then these certifications could in fact be the key to influencing mass voluntary movement towards sustainability.

On the other hand adoption of LEED has been considered as a CSR responsibility by many companies. But while LEED certified buildings are claimed to be having cleaner air and better psychological and physical health of occupants, they also have steep registration fees. This fee excludes costs associated to installation of specific green products and the costs of hiring an audit-staff. Furthermore any site with an average EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), could achieve a LEED certification, giving the project a green badge of approval, which is good for marketing. Consequently, as large companies may afford this badge, other smaller companies may not be able to afford the costs of LEED certification.

Moreover LEED specifically grants buildings and its operations the appropriate guidelines to achieve sustainable building design or construction and maintenance solutions. But After the construction phase, maintenance and operation guidelines are often not considered and the certification is often not renewed after its validity period ends. In addition certain points listed in LEED may not serve to be sustainable in the context of Bangladesh.

In fact, when acquiring a LEED certification the fees paid, are to USGBC (US Green Building Council). Even when earning a LEED credential of expertise, by an individual, via passing the LEED professional exams, fees for registration are paid to USGBC. According to the LEED website, currently there are more than 200,000 professionals with a LEED credential around the world. Thus it is important to realize how much of sustainability we are actually achieving by buying a LEED badge and how much LEED accredited professionals are contributing to achieving sustainability in our country.

As well as LEED, there are other certifications in the Garment sector, focused on the environment and health of workers, which become mandatory to meet compliance standards set by foreign buyers. Now while an industry or factory has already obtained certification for LEED, a new client may require another certification. Here it is important to consider that each certification is costly and requires hiring an audit staff. On the contrary this has led to the development of many audit companies in Bangladesh. These companies in turn each have their own audit staff trained specific to each certification.

Moreover, industries in Bangladesh usually acquire specialized certifications to meet buyer requirements, unlike LEED which is voluntary and is usually opted to increase value of property assets. Also, LEED does not cover all the factors included in specific Social and Environmental audits. Auditors working in Bangladesh, helping companies to achieve the required compliance factors include TÜV, Control Union and Bureau Veritas. Certifications are usually used as tools by these companies. A few such tools used to validate social factors include BSCI, ICS, SEDEX, WRAP and SLCP. Some tools used to validate environmental factors include, HIGG, ICS, BEPI, DETOX and Blue Sign. Likewise Materials sustainability are validated by OCS, GOTS, RCS, GRS and others. Each of these tools address very specific sustainability concerns.

Furthermore, LEED is not one of a kind, but one of the most popular green building certifications, being used across the world. These certifications, such as LEED are most effective if made more climate or context specific. Thus many countries around the world have developed their own green building rating system such as Pearl in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Green Star in Australia and New Zealand, GBI in Malaysia, Green Mark in Singapore and GRIHA in India.

Overall certifications for sustainability are of many types, but those being adopted in Bangladesh are all foreign and we urgently need to institutionalize these certifications and also introduce our own national rating system at the earliest. On the other hand from a global perspective for certifications covering similar issues, a point’s wavier system could be introduced for companies needed to acquire more than one certification.