2020 year in review: GBCI Northeast Asia

Andy To

I am sure I am not the first person to describe the Year 2020 as a very challenging year which was full of uncertainties. We all learned to live, work and cope with uncertainty in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. I am grateful that the organization prioritized stability and safety which was much needed considering all that was happening around us.

As everyone knows, China experienced the impact of COVID-19 earlier than the rest of the world, with the first diagnosed cases in December of 2019 and our lockdown starting in late January.

While much about how the virus spread was still unknown, as soon as the pandemic started, our president & CEO Mahesh Ramanujam made it clear that the China team needed to focus first and foremost on prioritizing the safety of our staff, families and loved ones, and I am grateful that we were all able to both stay safe and adapt our business operations to cope with the situation.

Much like our global staff would eventually do, we shifted to working from home, virtual meetings, trainings and webinars during the first half of the year to remain connected and engaged with our stakeholders—and then unlike many places in the world, gradually resumed our in-person interactions in the second half of 2020.

Overall, 2020 LEED commercial market development in China was not bad considering the context of what was happening in the region and the world around us.

We have recorded 1,190 registrations and 873 certifications in 2020, which are respectively 50% and 125% higher than the previous year.

Here are some key highlights:

  1. LEED Volume of McDonald’s China: Thanks to the support of Mahesh and GBCI’s team of certification reviewers, we kicked off the McDonald’s China Volume program in late 2018. While we had some initial certifications in 2019, the real story is 2020, when more than 400 restaurants in China achieved certification! And we anticipate another 1,000 plus to get certified over the course of the next two years. This is exciting and will be a game changer in the retail sector for the region. And McDonald’s isn’t the only one! Other big-name retailers, such as Uniqlo in Japan and others, are following their path. To further increase the momentum in the retail sector, we co-authored two green retailing reports with Savills, a leading global real estate advisor, that were released in October during the China International Import Expo.
  2. If the story of McDonald’s is about bringing in more retail building portfolios, then LEED for Cities, Plan & Design is about bringing in more cities and people. I fondly remember the moment when Mahesh kicked off the first LEED for Cities project with the developer, Beijing New Airport Business Zone, during the first Greenbuild China in 2017. It took two years to complete the first project. Mahesh presented the plaque, the first LEED for Cities Plan and Design, to the developer in October 2019 in Beijing, just a couple of months before the outbreak of the pandemic. Riding on the experience and outright success of this project, we managed to introduce this new program to other key stakeholders in the region. And at the end of 2020, we have recorded twp certified projects, eight pre-certified and six registered projects in China. This will help improve the living standard of millions of people who live, work and learn in these cities.
  3. Industrial, Logistics and Warehouses are our top focus sectors. Driven by ESG mandates, international players, such as Goodman, are focused on LEED certification of their warehouses. While there are not many international data center operators in China yet, we have been encouraging local operators to participate in LEED certification for a couple of years. In 2020, we managed to have Tencent, a Chinese multinational technology conglomerate holding company, certify one of their biggest data centers under the LEED for existing buildings program.
  4. The biggest pandemic impact for us in 2020 in terms of the LEED commercial market was on the LEED for existing buildings sector. LEED O+M certification and re-certification were one of the 2020 priorities set by Mahesh for our China team. To my disappointment, we recorded only 63 registration and 50 certifications and re-certifications. This was 34% and 12% less than the previous year. This is due to the pandemic, as asset managers were rightfully busy focusing on immediate hygiene management needs rather than the more comprehensive LEED O+M certification. We remain optimistic about this year’s market growth as we continue to make advances despite COVID-19. In addition, the Chinese government’s commitment to realize carbon neutrality by 2060 will inject much needed momentum into LEED O+M certification in the coming years.
  5. Until 2030, China is expected to build 1.2 billion square meters of new residential buildings every year. Mahesh’s instinct to introduce LEED v4.1 for Residential in 2019, with required China adaptations, is not only timely but will help us to establish LEED as a consumer brand. In 2020, through a series of webinars, we were able to deliver close to 800 hours of education and reach over 1,500 practitioners from about 150 companies. Four developers in three cities have registered 11 projects totaling 1.5 million square feet of space, which was a pretty good start during a pandemic. As a team, we are committed to transforming every Chinese home to be sustainable and healthy for its residents.

And last but not least, on behalf of the North Asia team based in China, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our members, partners, Mahesh and our teammates in the U.S. and India, for your guidance, support and encouragement in 2020.

Thank you very much and wish you all a happy, and productive new year.

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