When Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia consolidated its China operations in the Beijing suburb of Yizhuang, the firm decided to do the environment a favor and go green.
The new headquarters is one of only a handful of buildings in Beijing and the surrounding suburbs to be certified under LEED, the US environmental standard. The building’s design cuts water consumption by 37% and energy consumption by about 20% compared to a similarly-sized “non-green” building, and 12% of the building materials used came from recyclables.
But the biggest surprise was the price tag, according to Nokia China’s President Colin Giles.
“The cost of the building was only 2% more than it would have been had it not been designed as an environmentally friendly building,” he said.
There has been hype about green buildings in Beijing since 2006 when the Ministry of Science opened the doors to its LEED-certified building. But the concept of “green” buildings has yet to really catch on, said Neville Mars, an architect with Dutch non-governmental organization Dynamic City Foundation.
“Slowly but surely in the West we’ve reached a point where there’s no distinction between sustainable architecture and good architecture,” he said. “That attitude doesn’t exist here yet.”
Michael Liao, a consulting structural engineer for Great Earth Architects in Beijing says that while green buildings are definitely a trend in Beijing, some structures claiming to be “green” don’t live up to the billing.
“There’s a whole line of concepts that have to go into the design, otherwise you’re just chanting a slogan,” he said.
Liao cites the National Stadium as an example of this. The stadium uses massive amounts of steel, a material inherently unfriendly to the environment because of its means of production.
Others in the environmental community say that Beijing has lagged behind other cities such as Shenzhen and Shanghai in their efforts to promote green buildings.