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Call grows for green designers

With carbon footprint minimisation the prevailing trend in Hong Kong’s construction sector, demand is set to rise for professionals accredited with international and locally recognised sustainable buildings standards qualifications.

The Hong Kong Government implemented its “green buildings” policy in April 2011. This features a series of building practice notes covering sustainable building design guidelines, requirements and guidance for the granting of gross floor area (GFA) concessions for green and amenity features, and energy efficiency.

Compliance with the Building Environmental Assessment Method (BEAM Plus) standard is among the prerequisites for new buildings to obtain GFA concessions for certain green features in their developments, says Professor KS Wong, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC). “Hence, it has gradually become a basic requirement for professionals in the city’s construction industry to attain the BEAM Pro qualification,” he adds.

BEAM Plus is the locally developed mechanism for comprehensive green building appraisal and certification. Around 1,400 professionals in Hong Kong have acquired the BEAM Pro qualification. Most are architects, electrical and mechanical engineers, and environmental engineers, Wong says.

Other sustainable building standard professional qualifications include the United States’ Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design System Authorized Person (LEED AP) and the China Green Building Council’s GBL Manager. 

Ken Wai, Aedas’ managing director in Greater China, says demand in Hong Kong is on an upward trend for professionals who have attained these green building standard qualifications. “These standards have become an integral part of Aedas’ green DNA, starting from the architectural design conceptualisation for any projects. They are ingrained into our approach to our daily operation and design,” Wai notes.

“As the world’s largest architectural firm, Aedas aims to get the best talent, including those with green building design qualifications,” he adds.

Thirty architects at the Aedas Hong Kong office have earned the LEEP AP qualification, while 18 are BEAM Pro-certified and 25 have become GBL Managers, Wai says.

Green building design credentials are also increasingly vital for professionals aiming for a career in the construction sector on the mainland. “China is a major market for Aedas. We support the China Green Building Label and need to involve more certified green-minded professionals in our projects in the country,” Wai says.

Wong, who is also the director of sustainable design at architectural firm Ronald Lu & Partners, says the company gives preference to job candidates who have acquired green building standard qualifications.

Kim Cheung, a consultant at construction-focused recruitment agency Redpath Partners, agrees. 

“In general, there is increased demand for talents with these [green building standards] qualifications. Local companies are seeking qualified architects and project managers with 10-plus years of experience,” Cheung says. “Requirements for LEED AP or BEAM Pro qualifications are complementary.”

There has been robust activity in the local construction sector as many old commercial buildings have been undergoing renovation to comply with BEAM Plus. In the residential sector, the Urban Renewal Authority is involved in several re-development projects that will meet the BEAM Plus standard, Cheung adds.

In terms of working experience for seasoned architects and electrical and mechanical engineers, Cheung says experience in overseas projects counts for those with the LEED AP qualification. “But project managers need solid working experience in local developments.”

Salary levels for professionals with green-building qualifications are likely to be stable, he adds. “Hong Kong is in a slight economic downturn. The current salary levels for registered architects and project managers have already exceeded those prior to the financial crisis in 2008,” Cheung says.

To prepare individuals for the qualifying exams for BEAM Pro, HKGBC annually conducts eight training sessions, jointly developed by the council and the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority, Wong notes. Each session admits 150 individuals. In addition, renewal of the qualification requires 15 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) credits a year.

Meanwhile, individual companies have developed staff development programmes to enhance their green-building knowledge and skills in practical applications. Ronald Lu sponsors its staff to attend the BEAM Pro training and sit the exams. “We also sponsor qualified employees to participate in the CPD programme,” Wong says.

Ronald Lu’s sustainable design committee organises in-house training by liaising with different departments to hold relevant CPD events, which include site visits and talks hosted by specialists, he adds.

At Aedas, the staff’s green-building design development training programmes are on a voluntary basis, Wai notes. Aedas has eco-green building research and application and design development programmes led by Dr Benny Chow, the company’s director of sustainability.

“Newly recruited architects are encouraged to join the sustainability interest group to further their pursuit of sustainable green-building design development,” Wai says.