Asian Factories Starting to go Green

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Media headlines have recently highlighted the growing air pollution crisis in Asia’s expanding cities. This is caused by a mix of factors – the growing number of vehicles, coal-powered factories, people burning dirty fuels to heat their homes, and poor enforcement of standards – and has severe consequences for human health. If it’s not tackled, more and more countries will see large rises in respiratory problems, cancers and early deaths from pollution-caused illnesses (http://www.nrdc.org/air/).

The World Health Organization (WHO) says air pollution is the world’s largest environmental health risk, killing 7 million people every year. Asia has the largest number of air pollution deaths in the world, with 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution (Clean Air Asia).

While most of the Asian countries where this is a problem are also aggressively growing their economies in order to get richer and raise living standards, there is a rising awareness of the need to balance a modern, industrial economy with human health and the environment.

One solution is to adopt green and sustainable building standards when constructing new factories. This is more than just a public relations exercise: the energy savings possible from building smart pay off in the long run. And green factories not only pollute less, they save lives and the environment.

Asia plays a critical role in producing the world’s consumer products, from the small and simple to the highly complex components used in 21st-century computing technologies.

Intel (intel.com), the manufacturer of electronic devices and the computer chips that go inside them, is trying to lead the way. It has built a US $1 billion manufacturing plant 16 kilometers outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and it is designed to exceed Vietnamese environmental and sustainability guidelines and laws.

Opened in 2010, it boasts the country’s largest solar power system. It is also currently working on a water reclamation system to reduce water consumption at the plant by 68 per cent, according to The New York Times. It is hoping to receive certification from the US Green Building Council (usgbc.org).

It is all part of a wider trend that is starting to reverse the damaging, short-termist approach of the past. More and more Western multinationals and their Asian suppliers are building environmentally sound factories in the developing world.

According to the US Green Building Council, around 300 manufacturing facilities in Asia are either certified or are awaiting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The LEED certification recognizes the building has met certain standards in becoming a ‘green’ building.

Going green is more and more part of corporate policy for companies that want to avoid the bad publicity of disasters such as the garment factory collapse that killed 1,135 people in Bangladesh in April 2013.

But it is not just driven by a desire to avoid bad publicity: large corporations that build factories in the global South are also realizing there are big financial savings to be made.

Intel has been able to reduce its global energy costs by US $111 million since 2008. It did this by investing US $59 million in 1,500 projects to boost sustainability across its facilities worldwide. The projects have reduced carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the amount produced by 126,000 American households per year.

Intel’s solar array in Vietnam, which cost US $1.1 million, offsets the equivalent of 500 pollution-belching motorbikes every day.

How effective are LEED-certified buildings? The New York Times reported that a 2011 survey compared a typical shoe factory with a LEED factory run by the American sport shoe maker Nike. It found the LEED factory used 18 per cent less electricity and fuel and 53 per cent less water.
And this trend is creating a new economy unto itself. As an example, a new marketplace for industrial efficiency upgrading is developing in India. Power outages are frequent in India, so finding a way to save electricity and alternatives to dependence on the national power grid is attractive to any economic enterprise.

Prashant Kapoor, principal industry specialist for green buildings at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), believes demand for upgrades is strong enough that various companies can specialize in this field and profit from it.

And things are also happening in the notoriously smog-choked cities of China. By the end of 2012, China had certified eight factories and 742 buildings as LEED, according to the China buildings programme at the Energy Foundation (ef.org) in San Francisco.

Damien Duhamel of Solidiance (solidiance.com), a firm that advises businesses on how to grow in Asia, believes avoiding risk caused by environmental accidents or scandals is heightened by the growing presence of social media, which amplifies negative publicity.

“The next battle will be here” for higher corporate environmental standards, Duhamel believes. “This is why some smart companies – Intel, for example – took the steps of being proactive.”

Resources

1) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. Website: http://www.usgbc.org/leed

2) US Green Building Council (USGBC): Its mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life. Website: http://www.usgbc.org/

3) Dwell: Dwell magazine is focused on demonstrating that modern design can be both functional and comfortable. Website: dwell.com

4) Inhabitat: Design for a Better World: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future. Website: inhabitat.com

5) Solidiance: Singapore-based consulting firm specializing in Asia’s green-building sector. Website: solidiance.com

6) Clean Air Asia: Clean Air Asia was established in 2001 as the premier air quality network for Asia by the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and USAID. Its mission is to promote better air quality and livable cities by translating knowledge to policies and actions that reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from transport, energy and other sectors. Website: cleanairinitiative.org

7) Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization: This issue is packed with ideas on to how make cities and urban environments greener and reduce air pollution. Website: http://www.scribd.com/doc/133622315/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-4-Cities-and-Urbanization and here: http://tinyurl.com/oc2mqgm

8) Better Air Quality Conference 2014 and 8th Regional Environmentally Sustainable Transport Forum in Asia:  From 19 to 21 November 2014 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, BAQ is the leading event on air quality in Asia, covering the key sectors of transport, energy, industry and climate change, with a particular emphasis on government policies and measures. Website: http://cleanairinitiative.org/portal/node/12274

9) Tianjin Eco-city: The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city’s vision is to be a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient. Website: tianjinecocity.gov.sg

10) Songdo: Songdo International Business District (IBD) officially opened on August 7, 2009 as a designated Free Economic Zone and the first new sustainable city in the world designed to be an international business district. Website: songdo.com

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