Sustainability and innovation in Philippine real estate

The Outlook 2018 recently held its second and final installment of media roundtable talks where panelists included some of the leading thought leaders in the real estate sector, as well as key voices in pushing for a green and sustainable Philippines. Prof. Felipe Calderon, assistant professor at the Asian Institute of Management, Department of Finance, Accounting and Economics and head of Washington SyCip Graduate School of Business moderated the event.

Observed trends for 2018

More initiatives are geared toward green building efforts in the country — which are not being concentrated in Metro Manila — but also all over the country. Delfin Wenceslao, national chairman of the Urban Land Institute of the Philippines and CEO of D.M. Wenceslao and Associates Inc., commented on how he saw more townships being developed with an emphasis on urban mobility. He noted that “Developers are spending a lot on public space.”

Sidewalks are being given much attention in order to make the projects more walkable. He notes that this is largely influenced by what is happening around the world. This has even spilled over to the local government where he observed sidewalk widening initiatives being implemented in Makati. The improvement of mobility, due in large part to Metro Manila’s infamous traffic situation, is also a motivating factor.

Group president and CEO of Imperial Homes Group of Companies Emma Imperial provided a statistics by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which noted that 54 percent of businesses are already adopting innovations for sustainability, her company, Imperial Homes, included.

Prof. Felipe Calderon offered his take on the subject. According to him, “Sustainability is fast becoming the lens through which a business is judged by its customers, workforce, society, governments and even its investors.”

Sustainable mobility efforts

BGC is one such area in the Philippines that is considered walkable. There needs to be public clamor, however, to increase walkability in other locations. To Wenceslao, there needs to be a great deal of government involvement. He added that at the outset, private developers can introduce these changes. Eventually, the rest could adapt over time.

Atty. Angela Ibay, head of Climate and Energy Programme of WWF-Philippines, offered to charge facilities for electric vehicles to be integrated into buildings or car parks. It is a sustainable mobility aspect which could be a service which a real estate developer could provide, calling it “an innovation that we can look into.”

Chairman and CEO of Italpinas Development Corp. Romolo Nati agreed that the sustainable mobility aspect of electric vehicles is good. He was more inclined, however, toward having improved planning and public transportation. He observed that existing private cars, even if replaced by electric private cars, is still a large number of vehicles. For the public to make the transition to public transportation, it has to be easy to use. He also says that it should be made into a status symbol.

Slowly incorporating sustainability

The country’s air quality would greatly benefit from having more people on bicycles, as well as more users of electric vehicles. Ibay, however, cited that the concern among buyers is, “If I buy an electric vehicle, where do I charge it?”

The introduction of charging facilities into developments could be a good solution to encourage wider use and can be done by developers as a service. This is something to be thought about and is actually being done in other countries.

In addition to this, more solutions should be introduced. Wenceslao indicated that there should be a sustainable master plan that should not be affected by changes in the country’s political landscape. Imperial also agreed that government regulation is necessary to make sustainability efforts easier to attain.

She added that there should be one policy for sustainable communities that waives certain fees charged by the local government. At the same time, however, she admits it would involve hard work to accomplish it.

For her part, Ibay cited barriers existing in three areas. Economics, meaning that some companies believe that it would take away from its bottom line when in fact it could contribute to it. Institutional, which again needs better policies along with regulation and implementation. She focused however on the social aspect, underlining the need of people to understand what sustainability is.

Nati offered a more practical take on the matter. He posed the question on how to sell a green building project while making it profitable for the market. This is the challenge. If not, nothing will change. People will still buy what suits them. They have to see what the financial benefits are for purchasing a sustainable product.

Developers view on the immediate future

Imperial’s vision for Imperial Homes is to share her company’s know-how with other developers in order to promote green building. Her belief is that Connovate technology will significantly reduce the use of cement. It is a building panel solution which uses only 40-percent cement. She also aims to make the Philippines the solar capital of mass housing communities in Asia.

Imperial Homes is well on its way towards this initiative. It previously looked into how its target market used household appliances. From there, they created their own solar and lithium batteries, which are integrated into their real estate products, providing homeowners with 35 to 45 percent in energy cost savings. Her company also tied up with the Pag-IBIG Fund for financing to make projects more affordable for prospective buyers. Each home is able to contribute to CO2 reduction.

For Italpinas, it wants to bring sustainable properties to emerging cities all over the country. His vision is the complete and advanced integration between green features and design. In the future, he hopes that they will be one and the same. People should not be able to tell that a beautiful building is a green building. He says that “I hope this will become mainstream.” 

Innovative contributions

Imperial Homes also helped further innovation in the country by using Connovate technology in their products. This resulted in each home contributing a reduction of 1.2 tons of CO2. It also dispensed the need for scaffolding for construction workers resulting in an increase in workplace safety.

D.M. Wenceslao and Associates Inc. partnered up with the DENR to help limit the waste that is expelled into Manila Bay. Their developments currently are focused on this area, going so far as to install eco-barriers to help manage garbage. The company actively monitors the concerned waterways and performs regular clean-up efforts in coordination with the MMDA.

The WWF regards sustainability as One Planet Cities. Whatever is done in one city, impacts another. The WWF works with cities to have their action plans integrated with sustainability. These are observed in terms of urban planning, green spaces, construction materials as well as the things that are individually used and consumed.

Italpinas Development Corp. added that to make sustainability affordable in real estate, the focus should not only be on materials but also design.

The company, according to Nati, has been creating buildings that save on energy without making the construction cost higher. Nati mentioned that such concepts have long existed, even in ancient history.

Immediate innovative moves to tackle the issue of housing

“Small cities actually becoming grids themselves to be able to provide enough energy to power not only themselves but perhaps the neighboring areas,” is one solution according to Ibay. This will allow communities to be more sustainable and actually reduce power costs in their areas.

Imperial, on the other hand, was firm about the reduction in the use of cement. She claims that it is one of the largest CO2 contributors in the world. The Danish government is even coming up with a new policy it is studying to discontinue the use of heavy cement in their panels. This will be replaced by lighter cement use.

The Outlook 2018 will have a gala awarding ceremony on Nov. 15, 2018 at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel. The event will cite excellence in selected categories of the real estate industry. It will include a Special Award for Best Green Project of the Year 2018.

(From left) Alejandro Mañalac, chairman and co-founder of Havitas Developments; Prof. Felipe Calderon, assistant professor at the Asian Institute of Management, Department of Finance, Accounting and Economics and head of Washington SyCip Graduate School of Business; Jean de Castro, CEO of ESCA Inc.; Bhavna Suresh, CEO of Lamudi; Atty. Angela Ibay, head of Climate and Energy Programme of WWF-Philippines; Emma Imperial, group president and CEO of Imperial Homes Group of Companies; Romolo Nati, chairman and CEO of Italpinas Development Corp.; and Delfin Wenceslao, national chairman of the Urban Land Institute of the Philippines and CEO of D.M. Wenceslao and Associates Inc.