In February, Shanghai-based company WinSun (盈创) made waves in global media by creating the world’s first 3D printed villa. According to WinSun, the villa was printed using a mix of “glass fiber, steel, cement hardening agents and recycled construction waste.”
The villa took just three hours to assemble, and the company believes that 3D printed buildings can reduce mining residuals and construction waste. In addition to recycled material, WinSun is exploring other eco-friendly printing materials like sand from northern China.
China’s multi-billion real estate industry is entering a new era of green building. Government policy is one factor helping to drive the green movement in China’s real estate industry. In the past decade, China has passed numerous policies to promote energy conservation and reduce air pollution, like the 2007 “Green Credit” policy, which requires banks to stop lending to companies that are on the MEP blacklist for environmental violations.
The government is also investing heavily in green technologies that impact the real estate industry like smart meters, which measure energy consumption and improve energy efficiency. Last February, China spent $4.3 billion USD on its smart grid market, with part of the investment going towards the installation of 60 million smart meters. On Tuesday, China announced at the Paris climate talks that it would commit to producing 150 to 200 gigawatts of solar energy by 2020.
“Chinese officials are adaptable,” says James Hu, a business manager at Glumac, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable design and engineering. “They welcome innovative and creative ideas.”
In particular, government entities like the China Development Bank are “leading the way” in sustainability, he says. In 2014, the China Development Bank shelled out 1.4 trillion RMB ($216.8 billion USD) in loans for “green credit projects”, according to their 2014 Sustainability Report.
“It’s all about health,” says Johnny Browaeys, co-founder and executive chairman of Seeder, a Shanghai-based startup that provides building owners with green tech solutions and financing options.
“Developers will need to meet the requirements of the masses,” he says.
Green tech solutions can help developers address changing needs from tenants, who are gradually moving towards greener buildings. For example, adding air purification systems can give developers an edge in the real estate market, as air pollution in cities like Beijing continue to draw attention and alarm.
Businesses are also seeking greener offices to boost work productivity, says Daniel Shwartzer from CBRE, a real estate service company. Air pollution can make employees sick and some multinational companies require LEED-certified offices as a company standard, he says.
“More tenants want greener buildings,” says Amy Wang from Shui On Land, a property development company that partners with consulting firms like ARUP and AECOM to build LEED-certified buildings. “And building greener is a way to differentiate from competitors,” she says.
Green technologies like solar panels and smart meters are also encouraging Chinese real estate developers to go green since they lower the cost of energy and make buildings more energy efficient. For example, building owners can enter solar power purchase agreements (PPA) with investors to save money on electricity. The investor covers the cost of buying and installing solar panels in return for a guaranteed buyer of electricity – the building owner. According to Alex Shoer, a co-founder of Seeder, the returns for investors are 10 – 12 percent.
“Buildings are looking at how to optimize,” says Mr. Shoer. “It used to be buy, sell, but people are starting to see that [they] need to become more efficient with operations and lower operating costs. You can make just as much money by spending less as you can by making more.”
In the future, Seeder will explore more cutting edge technology, like using probiotics to clean and filter air, says Mr. Browaeys. Some buildings in China, like the Glumac headquarters in Shanghai, have already implemented composting toilets and rainwater collection, and are working towards net zero energy, water, and carbon certifications.