Green road to Chongqing
When US President Richard Nixon made his historic trip to China on a Boeing jet in 1972, little did the Seattle-based aircraft maker know that it would soon be a key player in trade ties.
Over the years, aircraft, spacecraft and spare parts have been Seattle’s largest exports to China. But if Mike McGinn, the mayor of Seattle, has his way, the pride of place would soon be taken by the city’s green exports to China.
During a recent trip to Chongqing municipality in Southwest China, McGinn’s team inked a memorandum of understanding to enhance cooperation in the green building sector with the fastest growing city of China to promote sustainable development.
“China has been an important market for Seattle for some time. Seattle’s exports to China include airplanes from Boeing and software from Microsoft. With China’s economy developing in a more sustainable way, we hope to export our green building expertise as well,” McGinn says.
Most of the buildings in Seattle are so energy-efficient that have already exceeded the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard, a green building rating system that is considered the benchmark for energy-efficient buildings in the world.
The city’s Bullitt Center, which is under construction, has a target to become the greenest commercial building in the world when it is finished by November this year. The $30 million project promises to be a carbon-neutral energy and net-zero water building, which means it can be self-sufficient in energy.
“We call it the ‘living building’. We hope our sister city Chongqing can be the first in China to have this kind of building, which will definitely make other Chinese cities jealous,” McGinn said during a meeting with Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan.
As many as 23,000 jobs in Seattle metro area are in renewable energy, energy efficiency, environmental remediation, and recycling and waste management, according to the city government.
McGinn says two of Seattle’s largest clusters – IT and manufacturing – are closely related to the development of building energy efficient goods and services. This has helped Seattle maintain its leading position in the US green building industry.
“The US is recovering from a deep recession. Since last year, the pace of new construction has been picking up in Seattle. Even so, when you look at the size of China and the pace of the growth, the number of new buildings in China is far larger than the number of new buildings we see in the United States,” McGinn says.
The booming economic growth in China, the rapid urbanization and the large amount of construction make it the perfect place for reshaping the construction industry.
China’s commitment to cut down carbon intensity also makes it an ideal market for advanced green building technology owners, such as companies from Seattle.
As one of the fastest-growing cities in China during 2011 and a GDP growth of 16.4 percent, Chongqing is certainly the best entry point for Seattle-based companies to tap into China’s rapidly developing green building industry.
Though there are no detailed plans or proposed projects, McGinn says the potential for cooperation and energy efficiency between the two sides is huge.
“There are environmental reasons and economic reasons. The decades of practice in Seattle has shown that the cheapest energy source is to improve energy efficiency,” he says, adding there is no doubt that Chongqing can find Seattle’s expertise in green building helpful.
Eric Phillips, Asia market leader of the Seattle-based NBBJ, a leading architecture firm in the US, who was part of the 42-member delegation to Chongqing with McGinn, has similar views.
“Seattle is a leader in the US for sustainable development of a city. There is a lot that Chongqing can learn from that type of process. On the other hand, Chongqing is building the development in a scale that the city of Seattle has never done. A lot of cooperation can be done between the two sides,” Phillips says.
Though NBBJ does not have any projects in Chongqing, the company, which is one of the top three architecture firms in the US, has seen its business in China “drastically increase” after setting up a design studio in Shanghai six years ago.
Phillips describes his firm’s business in China as “wonderful” while its US business is “stable” because of the slump. As one of the top green firms in the world, NBBJ is working hard to make its clients come up with economical and ecological buildings.
Earlier media reports showed that China had five LEED certificated buildings in 2006. The number has since grown to 450, including those certificated by the Chinese Three Star Standard, China’s own green building standard.
NBBJ, which started its China business by designing green buildings for multinational companies’ China headquarters, is now seeing more demand from domestic companies.
Phillips says the company is designing corporate buildings for some of China’s leading companies. Its client list includes Suning Appliance Co Ltd, China’s largest electrical appliance retailer, and Tencent Holdings Ltd, China’s largest instant messaging service provider.
“It is not only about the economic reasons. Chinese companies are becoming more and more influential in the world. The more influential they become, the more they need to grow their enterprises to address that,” he says, adding a green corporate building shows a company’s culture, its philosophy and its commitment to be a responsible company.
He is anticipating more business growth from Chinese companies (rather than multinational companies) because of the increase in their global influence.
“With more Chinese companies investing outside China, the more they are involved in the international stage, the more the need for a good design for their building as it helps elevate the business image,” Phillips says, adding that is one of the reasons why he moved to China four years ago.
He says the number of employees in NBBJ’s Shanghai office has jumped from 19 in 2005 to 50. “The number of employees can easily reach 60 this year but that would be just enough for addressing the needs of existing clients,” he says.