IT’S most heartening when a big group are gathered to discuss sustainability, not just in agriculture but in construction.
Some may regard construction as an anti-thesis to sustainability, since every structure built will most likely mean death to a piece of soil that will be cemented over. But the impact can always be minimized by working with nature instead of against it.
“To create very sustainable construction materials, you do need to take away natural resources,” Holcim Philippines chief operating officer Roland van Wijnen said in Friday’s Coffeetalks organized by Holcim at the Marco Polo Hotel, which gathered key players in the construction, property development and the business chamber.
But cement will remain as an important material in construction, thus the need not just to go for what is low cost but what will give the quality required.
Every project, van Wijnen said, should be treated as different from others. There’s no template for everything, rather, the concern should be “the right solution for specific environments.”
Green Architecture Advocates Philippines president Archt. Miguel Guerrero who was the main speaker in the forum pointed out the importance of design in the whole process of property development.
Brushing off persistent claims that green architecture requires more cost, he said, by designing with nature, even low-cost projects can be kept at low-cost.
“You can do away with drainage systems,” Guerrero pointed out, citing as example the development of Nuvali in Sta. Rosa, Laguna where there are no kerbs, just a slight indentation on the roadside that disperses rainfall into the ground and allowing those that cannot be absorbed to flow farther down, where more ground can absorb the water.
Working on a very basic geological principle where the best way to prevent flooding is to disperse the water on a wide area.
As a geologist once explained, the most common cause of flooding in fact are drainage systems because through these, water flow is sped up in volumes nature does not naturally create, whether these be in four-feet diameter culverts or huge ten-feet diameter ones.
By designing a property development such that rainwater is dispersed and also collected, the expensive drainage systems is done away with.
“When it rains, it goes down and seeps to the ground,” he said. The use of cobbestones or cement blocks shaped as cobblestones that are laid out without use of a cement base allows this to happen.
Moreso, mere proper orientation, the tweaking of site development such that houses have more windows in the north and south, where the wind flows, and more walls on the east and west to provide shade from the sun can already make a house cooler.
In the end, low-cost homeowners will also benefit as they will be consuming less electricity.
A developer, he said, should think along the line of how to do infrastructure where he can most save without compromising building standards and quality.
“Make sure that the house is green by orientation and water management,” he said.
Citing as example, he said, a site development where the roads are running from north to south will mean that houses will have no choice but to have windows facing the roads, which will be on the east and west, the hottest spots in a tropical climate like the Philippines.
“By mere tweaking the roads, you can have houses that face southwest or northeast,” he said, thus will not be as heated up as ones that have more windows where the sun rises and sets.
“Never think that I’m just the guy who will design the road,” he said.
Guerrero was reacting to a point raised by Subdivision and Housing Developers Association-Davao vice president Sol Lagmay who said that integrating green architecture concepts into development projects can entail additional costs and thus these are more appropriate in medium-high and high-cost projects.
“But of course, if your idea of green architecture is the use of solar energy, that is expensive,” Guerrero said, such that low-cost housing projects cannot possibly integrate this as a component of every unit.
There are also limitations to the use of indigenous materials, he said, as this is not allowed by existing laws.
Like using bamboo to reinforce concrete will never be given a building permit.
Still, he insists, sustainable concepts can always be integrated that will entail lower costs.
Mon Allado who is with the Philippine Contractors Association pointed out that in road rehabilitation projects in this part of the country, the layers of asphalts that are dug up are simply thrown away when there is already the technology to recycle asphalt.
“The Northern Luzon Expressway used 70-percent recycled asphalt and they earned a lot of profit because of that,” he said in the same forum.
There are also a lot of roads being demolished of late and yet only two construction companies are into recycling old cement, which he said, their company has invested in.
“It’s a matter of investing in appropriate technology,” he said.
“Sustainability involves the whole community,” Archt. Guerrero said, and the best way to start is in the basic unit of governance – the barangays.
On the sides, sustainable barangays that grow their own vegetables and livestock, contribute micro-habitats for wildlife that remain in even developed areas can create a whole community, and find ways to save from recycling creates a whole community that will be ensure a better life for everyone for years to come.
Incidentally, Holcim is helping some upland communities in the Marilog District practice sloping agriculture technology (Salt) through Kinaiyahan Foundation Inc. The progress of the projects in the uplands was presented by KFI executive director Betty Cabazares.
In this way, there are actions being done in the uplands not just to enhance productivity of the hinterland residents but also preserve the fertility and integrity of the soil.
Dr. Roberto Puentespina of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., on the other hand, presented his idea of creating micro-habitats for wildlife in urban and sub-urban settings.
Taking all these as different movements striding toward a unified direction, the Coffeetalks last Friday, which has already been launched in other areas where Holcim operates in the Philippines, also served as a venue for the soft launch of Holcim’s Sustainable Barangay Kit created by Archt. Guerrero.
There, ideas are discussed on how a community can work together to reduce their carbon footprints.
As Mr. van Wijnen said, “Ultimately, sustainability starts within ourselves.” This is also how Holcim operates, where they look at their communities and customers as partners through several generations.
Thus, by initiating the Coffeetalks here, they are looking forward as well to establish close linkages with the key stakeholders who will define how the city will develop from here.