Deconstructing carbon

Environmentally-conscious architecture is crucial to a sustainable future

Beyond attractive and functional design, making sure properties are friendly to both people and planet is now a common goal of the real estate sector. Operating with environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices in mind is today's pressing agenda and also the way of the future.

Frasers Property is one such company that has been putting sustainability at the forefront of its operation. With its business spanning the industrial, residential and commercial sectors, Frasers' sustainable growth strategy focuses on progressing innovatively, supporting responsible consumption and connecting with the surrounding communities.

"It's our purpose. It's a part of what we stand for as a company in inspiring experiences and creating places for good," said Prasnee Surastian, EVP in Governance, Risk Management and Sustainable Development at Frasers Property.

"In the past, our focus may have been largely on making profits and generating high returns. But now, our top priority is what we stand for in terms of sustainability and doing good. We have allocated resources and paid greater attention to doing good, and I believe the process has uplifted everything. Focusing on returns alone can limit our ideas and potential. But once we're open to the possibilities that sustainability brings, our people feel happier and become more passionate in the work they do."

Frasers Property also received a green loan from UOB Thailand for one of its industrial projects.

Doing good doesn't have to be just about one-sided giving, but it can bring about mutual benefits as well. Prasnee recalled Samyan Mitrtown, one of Frasers' properties in the heart of Bangkok, that has since become a mixed-use complex favoured by university students and the general public alike. The project was awarded the Gold Level certification by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Concerns over potential effects and how the mall's presence can improve the neighbourhood's livelihood has been on the team's mind from the beginning. Incorporating the views of surrounding communities of Samyan people and students of nearby institutions, Samyan Mitrtown has become a hub for both food and learning, with a 24-hour zone serving as a space for all to study and peruse. A tunnel was also constructed to connect the place to MRT Samyan station for people's wellbeing and safety, especially for students as there have been several road accidents around the area. These concerns over the community's well-being have in turn drawn traffic into the mall, thus benefitting the tenants and occupancy rate.

"Sustainability is the trend the world is moving with. But at the same time, it's also simply your own conscience to do something good for both the environment and the society. And in return, our good intention comes back and benefits us too," said Prasnee.

Sustainable architecture, to Prasnee, can be both tangible and intangible.

"The tangibles are pretty obvious. They're the buildings -- the standards we comply with. But it's not just about the hardware. It's also the software. It's the people and their awareness. It's everything that has to move as one entirety."

According to the company's sustainability report in 2020, eight of Frasers' buildings have received the Green Building Standard. All of its employees have also been trained in sustainability awareness and waste management.

As one of the top real estate developers in Thailand, Frasers finds itself among the leaders who can bring about a sizeable change to the society -- both at a domestic and international level -- and the team is dedicating efforts to make sure they achieve their goals. By 2024, it aims to make all its assets worldwide climate resilient, with 80% of that to be green-certified. It also intends for the majority of the portfolio to be green financing. By 2050, Frasers has planned for all its real estate to achieve net-zero carbon.

Also moving forward with sustainability in their core values is Asia Capital Real Estate (ACRE) and its development of the environmentally-friendly residential rental apartment complex HOMA Phuket Town. The 505-unit rental housing development features solar panels, advanced air quality monitoring and efficient air conditioning among many attributes. The project aims to achieve more than 40% reduction in energy and water usage compared to a conventional building. In a year, HOMA Phuket Town is set to help reduce around 325 tonnes of CO2-equivalent in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is equivalent to having about 5,370 new tree seedlings grown over 10 years or taking around 70 cars off the road for a year.

The project became the first residential rental property in Thailand to obtain a LEED certification upon completion in October this year.

Environmentally-conscious architecture is crucial to a sustainable future, said Blake Olafson, founder and managing director of ACRE and HOMA.

"The built environment produces 40% of annual CO2 emissions globally and the trend of sustainable construction is just emerging in the Southeast Asian real estate market. Because of this, education and awareness will play a crucial role in reducing our carbon footprint in the region. Environmentally-friendly architecture helps us create a more sustainable future by shrinking our carbon footprint and lowering the levels of embodied carbon typical of the real estate and construction industries.

"In recent years, Thailand and especially Phuket's hotel industry has made great strides in collaboration and communication among industry leaders and the community. We believe this movement towards environmentally conscious development is going to become significantly more important as time goes on."

Olafson elaborated that sustainable building expands the traditional building concerns to include the "triple bottom line": planet, people and profit. Green architecture means more than just the appearance of a building; it's the goal to reduce human impact on Earth and providing a healthy space for people while still yielding profits over a building's lifespan.

Recently, ACRE received a 675 million baht green loan from UOB Thailand to develop HOMA Phuket Town. The loan was approved under the UOB Real Estate Sustainable Finance Framework, the first lending framework by a Singapore-headquartered bank dedicated to supporting sustainability-related projects in Asia's real estate sector. Under the framework, the bank will record and monitor the borrower's management of loan proceeds, as well as track the sustainability metrics as agreed with the company. Eligibility criteria includes sustainability strategy, objectives, ratings and performance targets.

Financial support from UOB Thailand to ACRE reflects the bank's commitment to forging a sustainable future with its clients, through its involvement in the country's real estate development. Local communities will benefit from facilities that are environmentally friendly and which promote the well-being of residents.

In the future, HOMA plans to continue pursuing globally-recognised certifications while also working within communities to both educate and empower tenants, neighbours and fellow hoteliers to take steps to adopt more environmentally-conscious practices to make Phuket and Thailand a sustainable destination.

"Currently, we are collaborating with a carbon offset provider to develop a software designed for hotels to accurately calculate and offset the carbon of a guest's hotel stay specific to each guest's stay. At HOMA, we are consistently trying to find more ways to get involved in all facets of sustainability from eliminating single use plastics in our properties to taking the net zero carbon by 2050 pledge."

Building Sustainable Cities is a 13-part series that explores essential elements & insights on how individuals and businesses can take action to forge a cleaner, greener tomorrow in collaboration with UOB Thailand. You can view the whole series here

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