I took my colleagues to a green building one day and it was difficult for me to make them understand why this building was associated to the term ‘green’.
“But it’s just another building in Gulshan with a lot of mosquitoes”, one of them said.
“Is it because there’s a lot of greenery? There’s a lot of greenery in a lot of other buildings, does that mean any building with a lot of vegetation is green?” another of them said.
I was eventually able to point out some of the observable details, such as usage of daylight, promotion of natural wind current, that explain why the building was a green building, but this quandary remained unsolved to my colleagues, as is the case with most people not working directly in a related field.
Green building construction has been on a rising trajectory for the past decade, ushering in a era of environmental sustainability that is showing a positive indicator of sustainable development in Bangladesh. There are a number of green building rating systems around the world, but the most popular certification system in Bangladesh is granted by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) under the umbrella of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Currently, Bangladesh has 551 registered buildings, of which a total of 64 buildings are LEED certified, as of February 2018, according to USGBC figures. This includes different kinds of buildings and contains a mix of commercial and industrial buildings. What is interesting in this statistic is that the highest amount of green buildings are registered in the industrial manufacturing sector – with a whopping 495 registered buildings (89.94 percent of all LEED registered buildings).
So, if you’re a LEED certified building then you are following the basic indicators of environmental sustainability, you lower your resource consumption, you are following a systematic waste management system, utilizing resources in the most efficient manner. Industries might as well try to emulate the principles of a green industry (GI) by following the green building (GB) standards as the definitions of a GI and the goals of GB rating criteria match each other. However, in the Bangladeshi context, green buildings do not focus on the process of an industry – and this is where the misperception begins.
According to United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), a green industry is defined as “a pathway of sustainable growth by undertaking green public investments and implementing public policy initiatives that encourage environmentally responsible private investments”. This concept stems from the concept of a green economy, and is widely followed by organizations such as the World Bank and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Industrial manufacturing sectors are process intensive, and resources input to the industry work in a different mechanism than that of commercial or residential purposes. For starters, the processes are complex and require different technologies to cater to the certain process, and careful care needs to be taken in order to promote a green growth in industry.
If we follow the Ready Made Garments (RMG) context in Bangladesh, it can be seen that most factories follow a green building standard set by LEED. If you have been following the news, you might even have seen news about the highest LEED rated factories being in Bangladesh.
Because of a focus on LEED certifications, different companies are trying to strive towards ‘greening’ their business, and they do actually realize that there is a market for products with this certification
When it comes to green growth in the RMG industry, the highest amount of water and energy footprint lies in the dyeing or wet processing sections, as huge amount of gas and freshwater is required. A closer inspection of the USGBC record on the LEED certified industrial factories in this industry shows that most certified ‘buildings’ are the units that contain major machineries as sewing machines and do not usually contain any dyeing units as the certified sections. In a scenario that the LEED certification is to be awarded to the dyeing unit, any energy, water or waste savings would be looked as a whole of the building, rather than from the process itself. So, if you somehow achieve the target of energy savings by reducing lights and other energy consuming devices, you wouldn’t have to pay attention to reducing the process’s energy saving mechanism. This whole scenario peddles this term to promote perceptions of an industry’s environmentally friendly status quo, without fully adhering to it.
The positive externalities cannot be overlooked, of course. Because of a focus on LEED certifications, different companies are trying to strive towards ‘greening’ their business, and they do actually realize that there is a market for products with this certification. The appreciation for environmental sustainability has grown in time, and there is a positive image for any company that strives to get this green certification. A whole industry with skilled personnel have been established, and the company undergoes savings due to green buildings.
This certification has become a basis for a green industry in Bangladesh, with professionals in the sector focusing towards gaining this certification. Even Bangladesh Bank offers loan only if an industry is willing to pursue a green certification which is internationally known, and the budget FY16-17 stated that factories that are green certified can avail lower taxation. However, getting a certification is expensive. It requires a lot of skilled personnel and initial investment, which makes users apprehensive about going green. Additionally, there are initiatives that are being taken by companies to reduce their carbon and resource footprint without adhering to a proper certification, and not eventually being called ‘green’.
If we could compare one pollutive industry in Malaysia with Bangladesh that has gone under similar scrutiny as the Bangladesh RMG industry, we would be looking at the palm oil industry in Malaysia. Major initiatives have been taken to reduce the pollution and initiatives are still being taken with international pressure to look at the overall sustainability of the industry, but there are only 10 industrial green buildings registered (as of February) under USGBC in Malaysia.
Many initiatives have been taken towards reducing pollution and adhering to the principles of environmental sustainability in Bangladesh. SREDA is working towards implementing energy efficiency, bringing in renewable energy to a focus. Work with water is being done extensivly by the Prime Minister’s office, and the government has laid out various plans to work with the sustainable development goals. Organizations are coming up with guidelines for a better chemical management plan, sludge disposal guidelines, and so on.
As with time, technologies change, our perspectives change. Now that Bangladesh is focusing on the environment, we need to figure out ways that work in a local context, and this calls for enforcing a holistic approach toward achieving a green industry. It is also necessary to have national green industry standards, which must be accredited by a national body. This standard will be accepted by buyers for export oriented industries, and for consumers for national process industries. This standard will allow the local talent pool to help implement a green industry by themselves.
Establishing a local green industry will take time, as all developments do. But how we proceed now is how we will mark the future of Bangladesh’s green revolution. Building a structured green industry will allow us to achieve the global SDGs in 2030 and allow our society to strive to live in harmony with the environment.
Raida A K Reza is working as a research engineer in the garments industry and works as an adjunct researcher at the Chemical Engineering Department, Monash University Malaysia.