Green Initiatives Guide to Green Building Design: 3 Case Studies

Published on by Green Initiatives

Green building design is certainly not a concept that was created in modern society. In its purest form, sustainable building began at the dawn of human civilization, as the first dwellings made by prehistoric man were composed of biodegradable, sustainable materials such as animal resources, stone, bamboo, clay, lime plaster, and more (source: Our priority at the time was the durability of building materials, and fortunately, the most durable materials were organic. As time passed and civilization progressed, another trend came to the fore: size. With necessity taken care of, man decided its next priority was to expand and build up— and the unsustainable society we live in today was born.

However, innovation has not been lost with the progression of time, as case studies around the world continuously challenge the functionality of places that we work, play, and sleep. We can look at sustainable developments around the world to see that expansion has not consistently been the sole priority. Many sites around the world have been developed with the goal to be green and we have to look no further than our own country for some exceptional models. To further investigate the world of modern day green design, we have selected three projects— a mixed use development, an industrial building, and even a bottling plant— all of which are unique to China and can be used as a precedent to future developments around the world.

Vanke One City— Shenzhen

The first project on our list is a large-scale mixed-use development in Shenzhen, China. Vanke’s One City was intentionally built to socially connect the natural aesthetics of the surrounding forest and waterfront with human activity (source:, Shenzhen). The project is certified under the 3 Star System— a ranking system established in China with a striking similarity to LEED. Namely, it assigns credits under similar major themes such as land savings and outdoor environment, energy savings, water savings, material savings, indoor environmental quality, and operations and management, as well as “preference items” that encourage innovation in the local green design industry (source: chinagreenbuildings). The rating system is managed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) and certifications by the China Green Label Office at the Green Technology Centre. Critics of the program believe that the 3 Star Program is too subjective, but since it is managed by a local institution, its popularity in China is growing faster than LEED (source:

There are only a few projects in China which have received the highest 3 Star Rating, one of which being Vanke One City, which was designed by California-based 5+Design. It boasts multiple restaurant pavilions, as well as a three-level shopping complex containing a movie theater, food court and department store (source: In terms of environmental-conscious design, its notable features include:

  • interactive play areas and parks encouraging physical activity
  • various natural facades that imitate the transition from forest to sea, including exterior wood slats that imitate a tree canopy and a boardwalk
  • three-level open air shopping center with its own distributed, vast green spaces

The project makes full use of natural elements such as the surrounding forest and natural lighting to fill up its spaces and afford occupants a more intimate relationship with nature. In the words of the project engineers: “The project’s retail components were designed to reflect their connection to the site, with building forms and materials changing between the mountains and the bay” (source: Boasting natural aesthetics and harmony, Vanke One City creates an important theme of sustainable buildings working with nature, instead of against it.

Innovative ways of incorporating buildings into the natural landscape, while accommodating the demands of an immense human population, cannot be possible without research and development, either in supply chain processes or sustainable technology itself. Research and development makes zero-energy buildings possible, such as this next example, right here in our own backyard:

 Glumac Office— Shanghai

The Glumac office in downtown Shanghai is a green office that is certified with Living Building Challenge (LBC), LEED Platinum and RESET. Not only does Glumac hold the certification of these acclaimed programs but it is also the first LBC certified project in Asia, and the first RESET certified project in the world. The Living Building Challenge was developed in response to LEED, and focuses specifically on performance, only awarding building that are both net-zero energy and water consumption (source: RESET is the certification awarded to spaces that provide a healthy air quality environment to its inhabitants (source: Glumac itself is a sustainable design consulting agency for commercial, educational, healthcare, and other institutional buildings, making it quite obvious why it chose to pursue LBC and RESET certifications (source:,

The Glumac office is highly sensitive to energy and water demand, effectively being able to power up or down according to sensory feedback on occupancy, simultaneously saving money and keeping people healthier. Arguably its most notable feature is an air quality system controlled by a dedicated BMS (building management system) that responds to CO2 sensors for controlling the HVAC equipment. Other important features that make it a green, net-zero energy and water building include (source:

  • thorough indoor air quality monitoring as required for RESET certification
  • fin tubes that counter heat loss through exterior windows; grills that cover the tubes also trap contaminants
  • solar panels with efficiency 17.12% higher than common PV panels
  • fixtures that respond to daylight levels in adjusting energy output
  • water meters that track water consumption throughout the office
  • condensate water that is collected in small tanks used for irrigation and general office cleaning
  • rainwater that is collected and treated for use by high efficiency water fixtures
  • operable windows that allow more control over indoor working environment
  • integrated sustainable materials including timber from salvaged sources, as well as rice board and strawboard for cabinetry and cladding

What exactly is the significance of a building that responds to its own feedback in terms of sustainability? Being a green building goes beyond the use of sustainable materials; it also refers to the daily operations of a building that may extend well into a building’s future. A building that is capable of monitoring itself effectively relaxes the load placed on the mechanical system that is otherwise worked to maintain a certain level of output even when it is not needed. Ample research was dedicated to the refinement of such feedback mechanisms in conserving energy and water. Evidently, technology enables innovation—innovation cannot occur without first developing the tools that are then employed in creative new ways. Investment in this research is likely more useful than in revising point systems.

Swire (Coca-Cola) Bottling Plant— Luohe

Perhaps the most shocking project on this list is the LEED Platinum Certified bottling plant of Swire Beverages in Luohe, Henan province. LEED Platinum certification acknowledges the plant for meeting the world’s highest performance standards in the following areas: building energy saving and human and environmental health protection. To demonstrate the environmental impact of this bottling plant quantitatively, on an annual basis, CO2 emissions are reduced by 1,200-1,500 tonnes and 25,000 tonnes of water are saved. Other notable features of the facility include:

  • Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP)
  • Thermal Wall Insulation
  • Lighting Efficiencies
  • Methane Gas for Power

The company claims that sustainable production practices was their core value when constructing this facility which let to 49 environmental, health & safety features in order to reduce energy and water consumption. While many opposing arguments can be made towards the sustainability of a bottling plant, we can appreciate a major corporation such as Coca Cola for making a major effort to mitigate their negative impact. It can be agreed upon at minimum, that this project can be seen as a positive influence on future industrial facilities to be designed sustainably to benefit their own employees in addition to the environment for everyone.


Buildings are often the center of human activity, and will likely continue to increase in size and quantity. Thus, the way we design and construct buildings can become an extreme source of environmental damage. Buildings should be viewed more as extensions of the natural landscape, built to complement the natural environment, not to show off man’s dominance of it. Furthermore, buildings shouldn’t be thought of in the context of generating profit, but how they function to enrich the community. Developing green buildings with a focus on indoor and outdoor environmental quality not only improves the environment, but improves the life of its users, thereby increasing satisfaction and productivity, and enabling greater profits.

The current trajectory of green buildings places a heavy focus on how they affect the wellness of its occupants. In particular, China’s 13th Five-Year plan provides a timely opportunity to reverse the environmental damage of previous decades, and aim to set another world standard. However, with more ambitious goals than ever before, the government must pay careful attention to ensure all policies work alongside each other. Harboring such a huge population, China’s policy mistakes could cause exponentially more problems than otherwise anticipated. Sustainable design and client demands are not mutually exclusive, but they do require careful planning.

  • GIGA ( is a sustainable materials consulting firm in the field of architecture. Based in Shanghai, it can serve as a stimulating source of knowledge on how to create a healthier environment for the users.
  • BEE ( addresses the current gap between the engineering/design sector and the construction team that form the building unit. Without this synergy, sustainable solutions may not be satisfactorily achieved. As a LEED provider, BEE can help create your green building.
  • ULI ( is a global organization with a strong presence in Asia relying heavily on membership involvement to explore best land development practices and advance said policies. Become a member to join the dialogue.
  • Urban Language ( gives advice on urban planning and design issues, with special attention paid to the multitude of factors that impact public space including: increasing globalization, economic development, and changing climatic conditions. The website hosts various works that can initiate action for the advancement of green landscapes.