Interviews: CPGreen

GB Strategy-SY

Sustainability consultancy has emerged as a new and indispensable field of specialization within the building industry in recent years, and leading universities around the world have started to offer degrees in sustainable design, sustainability management and sustainable practices. In the meantime, sustainability professionals are in short supply and highly sought after.

CPGreen is a specialised environmental design studio within CPG Consultants, consisting of architects and engineers dedicated to environmentally sustainable design, promoting environmental awareness and ensuring total building performance. Alvin Woo, who leads the CPGreen team, elaborates on the work that his team does, and some of the issues that they typically encounter on the job.

In the Singapore context, what does it take to become a sustainability consultant? 

Firstly, he or she must have a passion to be in this line of business. He should be aware of the impacts of our activities on the environment and be interested in “helping” the environment. The ideal candidate would be able to think out of the box, be willing to try out new things, dare to challenge ideas, with an outspoken personality and a high EQ.

In terms of educational background, he or she should have an M&E or Architectural background. Experience in energy audit and simulation software is a plus, and qualifications such as certified SCEM, GMM (Certified Green Mark Manager) and LEED AP help too.

How is your team at CPGreen organised, and how do they typically work with the design/project teams during the design and implementation stages ?

I have split my staff into two teams – I call them the “active” team and the “passive” team. The active team engages in “active design”, in which energy modelling is used to demonstrate the savings that can be achieved from a project. Currently, only new buildings undergo this simulation exercise. The active team is led by Alan Foo – a Mechanical Engineer by training – and it works with the M&E engineers to define savings targets and to come up with better designs to improve energy performance.

The passive team is led by Anand Parthasarathy, who is an architect by training and a LEED Accredited Professional. Anand’s team works closely with the designers and architects to review the building design, which includes the building’s orientation, daylight features, building materials, sunshading, light shelves etc. We use CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and daylight simulation to improve upon the building design together with the architects.

As for myself, I started in CPG FM (Facilities Management) as an Energy Consultant in 2001. I left for Hong Kong in 2006 and my last job was with CB Richard Ellis as a Regional Energy Director (Asia Pacific). I came back to head CPGreen in January 2011.

What is CPGreen working on at the moment?

Many of the projects that we’re working on are currently well underway – we only became involved in the later stages of the design, which means that our ability to suggest changes and improvements is more limited than if we had been involved from the start. However, we also have several new projects on hand, such as the JTC summit Refurbishment & Redecoration and the Prison HQ, where we are able to work closely with the architects and engineers to review and shape the design. Obviously, the earlier we are involved in a project, the more effective our roles as sustainability consultants will be.

We like to take a holistic approach towards the design, and will work with the design team to produce solutions that best meet client needs, as opposed to blindly pushing for a green agenda. Our studies and simulations can sometimes lead to changes in the functional requirements of the brief. Take JTC for example. The original intention was to convert the current air-conditioned atrium to a naturally ventilated space. We ran a CFD to identify the air flow within the space and to explore how we can create openings to improve the air flow. As the prevailing wind goes through the south lobby, we suggested that the space should be opened up completely to bring in the air. However, the architects were concerned about the problems of excessive noise and dust that would come with these extensive openings. We sat down together to rethink our options and to reexamine the functional requirements of the brief. Since the south entrance was seldom used, we thought that the best solution would be to convert the space into a proper office entrance lobby, which would add value to an underutilised space. The client liked the idea, and decided to go for an air-conditioned lobby – a solution that was deemed to be more practical for its usage.

What are some of the challenges and obstacles that you have encountered in trying to implement sustainable solutions?

Enhancing design is always a chicken-and-egg situation – there is always disagreement on how things should be done. Being overly practical in design can result in a lack of innovation, a less than ideal design and a weaker green story. But being innovative and trying out new design ideas that have no clear precedents also carries risks, mostly involving performance issues and maintenance problems.

In terms of working with the design team, CPGreen’s scope of work can sometimes overlap with that of the architects and M&E engineers, which creates confusion with regards to the roles and responsibility of the team members. Of course, we also face problems with the client from time to time. For example, we wanted to use an innovative dual solar system that provides both hot water and solar power in one of our projects, but because the system was relatively new and came with a high price tag, the client decided not to go ahead with it.

These challenges are part and parcel of our job as sustainability consultants, but we are always looking for ways and means to overcome them.

Are green rating systems like the Green Mark and LEED meaningful in achieving true sustainability?

In most cases, green consultants will have to provide practical, yet innovative solutions to the client. A design that is carefully thought through will deliver an efficient and sustainable green building. However, we are always mindful that a project that is over-designed can create an overly-sophisticated system that may be too complex to operate, which means that the building will not perform as efficiently as expected.

For instance, I came across a project that was equipped with a state-of-the-art BMS (Building Management System) to control the chillers. During the site assessment, I found that the two chillers were each running at less than 50% load, which essentially means that one chiller alone could do the job. I questioned the FM in charge and they said that the system was so complex that they did not dare not touch it or to make any changes, in case they mess it up.

What are some of the issues that lie ahead?

We need to continue to strengthen our position as a leading ESD (Environmentally Sustainable Design) or Green consultant in the region. We hope that in the future, all our projects will meet the Green Mark Gold Plus standard at the minimum.♦

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