It’s a common misconception that Green Building — or to be specific about it, LEED only applies to new construction. The other misconception is that you have to renovate it according to green building standards. People think that they have to tear down the walls, repaint, replace systems etc etc — which translates to costly renovation.

This is not true.

There is a LEED rating system specific for existing buildings. It is called Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance or EBOM. It is a set of performance standards for certifying the operations and maintenance of existing commercial or institutional buildings and high rise residential buildings of all sizes. What it aims for is to promote high-performance, healthful, durable, affordable and environmentally sound practices in existing buildings. Tenant spaces are excluded.

If the project is already LEED certified, pursuing LEED EBOM is easier.
If you look at it — sustainable practices during the operations and maintenance of a building is as critical or perhaps even more critical than the design and construction itself. A very good car works best and runs efficiently if it is well maintained and it is the same for a building.

A building has a life of at least 50 years. During the course of its operation, the needs of the users might be different from the original basis of design. The equipment might not be that efficient anymore. And these inefficiencies translate to increased operating costs. The Philippines has one of the highest electricity rates in the whole region, and investments in improving efficiency be through retrofit or proper maintenance will translate to long term savings.

I am fortunate to be involved in an EBOM project. Compared to the New Construction (BD+C) and the Commercial Interiors (CI) rating systems – the EBOM is a totally different matter that requires a more comprehensive understanding of building operations. EBOM is a complex process because it touches on many aspects of building operation and maintenance.

Like the other rating systems, EBOM requires meeting the minimum program requirements, pre-requisites, and earning credits under the following topics: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation in Operations (instead of Innovation in Design), and Regional Priority. It also follows the same number of credits to be awarded to be Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

The similarities end there. Inside these topics are absolutely different requirements from LEED BD+C, and CI but similar in terms of standards. In EBOM, the management, owners and operators play a key role. They have to show that: 1) they are committed to pursue sustainable practices by having policies in place; 2) they practice these sustainable practices during the performance period; and 3) they will have the metrics to measure how well they performed according to their policies, plans and programs. One important difference from the other rating system is that the LEED EBOM certificate is only good for 5 years. The project needs to be re-certified after 5 years if it wants to maintain its LEED status.

While I was doing an EBOM project, I got to appreciate LEED more. The BD+C requires policies and management plans but there is no way of measuring the impacts of these plans and its implementation. EBOM addresses these issues and is comprehensive in its scope. Some of the policies and management plans required are on: promotion of alternative commuting transportation, hardscape and landscape management, erosion and pest control, cooling tower management, energy efficiency management, solid waste management, purchasing, green cleaning, and facility alteration and addition. Policies and management plans should include who will do it, when it will be done, what should be done, and of course, how are these monitored.

EBOM is also taking stock of what you have or an assessment of current practices. For example, in the case of solid waste management, there is a credit on waste stream audit. This means, collecting all the garbage, sorting, weighing and analyzing them to look for opportunities to divert wastes away from the landfill, and also reducing wastes in general. A plan should be developed on how to do this, and after the implementation of the plan, conduct an assessment to see which works, which didn’t.

Taking stock also includes an assessment of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. At the onset, the current performance of the building will be compared to other similar buildings using the Energy Star Portfolio. By bench marking the building’s energy consumption against the global database, we’ll know where the building’s performance stands, and how the performance can be improved. Looking for opportunities for this can include conducting energy audit and commissioning, installing sub-meters or even building automation systems. It is a systematic and practical approach in problem solving.

The Indoor Air Quality is almost similar to the Energy and Atmosphere in terms of knowing where the project stands how can it be better, and applying rectification work to make it even better to meet, at the minimum, the ASHRAE standard.

When we talked to people interested in pursuing EBOM, we suggested conducting a feasibility study first. This is for the client to know the feasibility and practicality of having a LEED EBOM building. There are cases that the buildings we looked into are so far off from international standards on fresh air requirement, or the energy performance is extremely way off the mark that it is impractical to go for LEED at that point without the conduct of major renovation work or replacement of equipment. The feasibility study will also give an estimate on how much it will cost to meet the pre-requites and earn the credits. The client will then be prepared cost-wise, and will choose, according to their sustainability goals, which credits to pursue.

When pursuing EBOM, it is then important that the management or owner provides 100% support to the project, because the credits are not the sole responsibility of the facility manager. Purchasing department is also involved, as well as the vendors/ suppliers, tenants, service providers — and to some extent, the food concessionaires and even the tenants. There must be a buy-in and participation from many players because a lot of people are involved in running and using a building.

What is also important to consider in EBOM is the time-sensitivity of the plans and programs, and their implementation. It has performance periods which could be a minimum of 3 months. During this period, the implementation of the plans, through various activity log sheets, purchase records, and readings of sub-meters (if going to be installed) must be continuously maintained. No break allowed. In some cases, there are credits that are related to each other, and the implementation for various credits must either be at the same time or at least ending within almost the same time frame.

This is where the feasibility study provides another advantage. The client can, at its own pace and budget, start some rectification work or prepare itself to become a green building by at least to meet international standards.

In terms of costs, it is difficult to say how much exactly it will cost to be a green building. The older the building is, the higher the chance that it’s not that efficient anymore. It also depends on the current practice and diligence of the facility manager in maintaining the building and its equipment. However, in general, many of the credits are of no-cost. That includes the alternative commuting, hardscape management plan, cooling tower management plan, sustainable purchasing- food, occupant survey. There are also credits that are practical to implement because LEED, in most cases during the performance period, only asks for 20% adoption of sustainable practices such as sustainable materials, food purchases, low-VOC materials, sustainable furniture etc. What they want to see is that there is an earnest attempt to prefer and adopt sustainable practices.

Bottomline — there will be costs involved during the process but there will also be returns in terms of measurable savings in electricity and water, and in some cases, better profit from higher rental charges. However, there are other savings that might be more difficult to measure. This includes better performance of employees, less sick time, improved recruitment rate, less loses from failing equipment, and of course, a statement of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

EBOM is a good option to guide owners, facility managers and operators to make the building green. As there are more existing buildings than new buildings being constructed, it is never too late to make a move for sustainability.


I was introduced to the Advent Calendar in 1991 in Cologne, Germany. Near the Cristkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas Market was a store displaying as an art form the different types of advent calendars  – it was love at first sight! I was reminded of my childhood Decembers, spent counting the nights until Christmas. The Advent Calendar had a different, hidden, tantalizing treat per day from the start of December until Christmas Day. What a fascinating way to count down to Christmas!

The exhibit showed something like this – elaborate and creative. I wish I can make something like this.

As a Christian, specifically, a Catholic, I am familiar with “advent” but the “advent calendar” was a new thing for me. I did some research. The Advent Calendar can be traced back to Germany in the early 19th century. The German Lutherans would count down to Christmas starting from December 1 by lighting candles. Eventually, someone came up with the idea of printing calendars with tiny windows that one opened showing a picture of inside the house and a verse from the bible. My German friend was so amused at my fascination with the advent calendar that her mom gave me one. It was an Advent Calendar with a picture of a house with small windows that you opened, and tadah – there was a chocolate inside… every single day. Ok – that was fun, but not that fun. Too predictable. Still, I gave one to each of my nephews and nieces as a present when I went home for Christmas.

My first attempt to make an Advent Calendar was for my best friend. It was an elaborate story telling of some sort. A piece of the story was told each day, and a gift related to that piece of story was wrapped in a package. It was a hit… but that was way too much work. I couldn’t do that for everyone.

When I came back to Manila to stay in 1994, I thought once again of the Advent Calendar and started making calendars for my nephews and nieces, and then for the children of my friends, and for the children of my colleagues. Knowing already that chocolates were too predictable, I made 25 gift-wrapped bags, each containing a small toy and a food item. Since my objective was to make it a fun activity, at the minimum, I made it safe by ensuring that the toys were non-hazardous, and that the treats were generally not allergenic.  The toys and food were then tailored to specific age groups, their gender, and yes, their allergens. I knew which child had allergies to nuts and food coloring.  I couldn’t bear to see the child disappointed when s/he excitedly opened a present, only to find out that s/he couldn’t eat it. At the start, I also decided that big toys were only for weekends. After some years, nah – it’s ok. Why not let them play with these anytime of the week.

Each year, I made a different style of calendar… trying to perfect it by observing how the kids used or reacted to it, and listening to their feedback. Yes, they went to me to tell me what they thought about their calendars… even made requests for more toys, more chocolates etc etc.

Through the years, my calendars evolved. My first ones were calendars printed on A3 paper, with colorfully wrapped presents that were stapled to each date.  It was fun but the kids found the chronological arrangement of dates too easy. Another year, I had the dates randomly placed. That was better – the element of “search for the hidden treasure” made it a little bit more exciting. One year, I figured it was too time consuming to be making those small paper bags; I used clear plastic bags instead. Big mistake. Since they could see what was inside, it was not exciting at all. Kids love to guess… to be pressing the bag until it’s almost torn, trying to feel what’s inside. In another year, I sewed the Advent Calendars. The calendars were in the shape of a house, with 24 windows as pockets, and the 25th as the door. I figured that I could reuse that, and hence won’t have to make one every year. Anyway, that’s the pretty usual advent calendar that’s in the market – why not use it. However, it didn’t work that well. The sizes of the pockets limited the treats that I could use, and learning from experience, I still have to gift-wrap the treats.

This style is pretty common in the US and Europe – calendars with pockets to insert the treat. It wasn’t available here in the Philippines so I made several to give away.

Eventually, I perfected it. Random listing of dates.  Each treat gift wrapped. The treats tailored to the child’s interest.  Include bible verses to remind them what Christmas was all about.

I’ve been doing this for 18 years. Most of the kids who received it when I first started are adults now. They still come to me saying what fun they had with the calendar. That the happy memories they had of Christmas was having the advent calendar as their count down. I’m glad they enjoyed it. Every year when I’m making one, I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” It’s extremely labor intensive, time-consuming, tiring and expensive. There was one year that after a trip to Divisoria to buy the toys, I was sick for days because of pollution. I had to cram making it in my very busy schedule of 70-hour work week.  So what was my answer? I did and I still do it because of what it means and what it does. Christmas is the best holiday for kids – and what can be more enjoyable than having fun waiting for your favorite holiday? The parents loved it too. They said that they wished that there was an “Advent Calendar” for the entire year  so that their child was always on good behavior. They used it as an incentive for the children to do their chores or schoolwork. Parents loved it so much that even when I already established my cut-off age of 11, they would beg me – “One more year, one more year! My boy only looks big, but he’s still a child!” Hahaha! Of course they had to beg – since I didn’t sell it, they couldn’t buy it.

My regret is that I didn’t make a scientific study on this. Remember the marshmallow test? I could’ve done something like that.  Small children (usually under 4-yo) have the most difficult time controlling their urge to open all the presents at once. But I saw that children could be taught to be patient and be disciplined. If the parent allows the child to open everything all in one day, the child will not really learn to be patient.  Meaning, even at the age of 9 or 10, they will still do it because they were constantly tolerated to do so. That’s what saddened me, actually. When the parents do not appreciate or understand what advent truly is – it is waiting for Christmas. It’s the anticipation; it’s the joy that comes with waiting.

Almost perfect version – I have to replace the white Bible messages with something nicer looking. The final product took years of experimentation but it’s so worth it.

This year, I decided to release the advent calendar commercially. I did the math – it’s not that financially lucrative because of the material and labor component, and I want to make it affordable to more people. When I think of the amount of time I spend on this (minus the actual labor of wrapping which I will farm out), it doesn’t even compare to my professional rate as a consultant and architect.  I had to fit it in my hectic consultancy schedule. So I asked myself again – why am I doing this? Because, through 18 years, I’ve seen how much the kids enjoyed waiting for Christmas with the advent calendar… it was one of the highlights of their childhood.  I think it’s time to share the fun with others, and remind people that the meaning of Advent is joyfully waiting for the coming of Jesus.

Advent Calendar Flyer

by: Marie Therese Santiano

Driving around Metro Manila, specifically Global City and Makati, we see more and more of the USGBC logo or some catch phrase that has LEED in it. LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a rating system developed by the US Green Build Council (USGBC) in 2000 to “provide building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.” The rating system has been developed and tailored for different scale and uses. There is the New Construction, Core and Shell, Commercial Interiors, Retail, Health Care, Neighborhood Development, Homes, and even for buildings that are already operational — Existing Building Operations and Maintenance.

During the design or construction phase, the building owner or its representative will register the project. It means, there is the intent of using the rating system to achieve high performance in the identified key areas of human and environmental health, sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection and indoor environment quality. Registration of a building doesn’t make it LEED. It needs to be certified — which means, meeting and complying with the standards set by USGBC. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) is the third-party institute that verifies, and awards the points/ credits based on the performance and documentation submitted during the course of certification.

If it is developed by U.S., can it work here in the Philippines? A lot of people are saying that since we are in the tropics, then it is not applicable and appropriate here. However, if you look at the United States, there’s Hawaii, Florida, California that have similarities to our climate. The LEED rating system is broad and covers a lot areas. It puts a lot of importance on sustainable sites. It discourages the development in previously undeveloped lands, encourages native landscaping, rewards use of public transportation or other alternative transport system, controls water runoff, promotes the reduction of erosion, light pollution, heat island, and construction related pollution.

What interests me most in this area is the construction-related pollution. It is bothersome to see construction sites that have dust all over, no protective cover to prevent silt in going to the drain, soil eroding to nearby lot, and massive areas of land stripped of top soil. At present, there is no requirement for construction sites to control and prevent stormwater and soil erosion.  This then results in siltation of bodies of water such as Pasig River, consequently contributing to flooding. 

Many people who have heard of or are familiar with Green Building would know that water and energy efficiency are important. If one claims that their building is energy-efficient, can we compare the energy and water performance between  “normal” and “green” so that we can learn from that project? Do we just focus on a piece of a puzzle like air-conditioning system instead of looking at the performance of the whole building envelope — the walls, the insulation, the windows, the shading devices, and the roof? LEED also promotes the use of natural ventilation. The end goal is energy reduction and efficiency. The more one saves on energy, the more points one can get. The use of renewable energy such as solar panels is a separate credit called On-Site Renewable Energy. Having solar panels without energy efficiency is not LEED because it requires a minimum of 10% energy savings.  Contrary to what others are saying, pursuing energy efficiency is something that we should really practice. We can’t give it lower importance just because the Philippines use less energy compared to the U.S. We need to veer away from fossil fuels regardless of how much we consume.

There had been some questions on the credibility of the certification process. To address this, LEED requires submission of energy and water consumption for the first 5 years of operation to validate the assumption that there is really savings on those aspects. Any LEED-certified building can be audited and stripped of its certification if found to be not truthful to its submissions and performance. 

The other key area of LEED is Materials and Resources. LEED looks into reduction of construction wastes by promoting re-use of buildings or even parts of it. It requires projects to divert construction wastes from landfills. It rewards the reduction of waste at a product’s source. It also encourages the use of sustainably grown, harvested, produced and transported products and materials.  At first, I thought that this can be a challenge here in the Philippines. Many of our construction materials are imported from China or some other countries . Few suppliers can provide documentation as to the material composition, in terms of how much of its content is recycled material. However, when I went to Worldbex 2012, I’ve met a few suppliers who boast of their products that have high recycled content, and are almost 100% extracted and manufactured in the Philippines. Sadly, when I asked some suppliers if there’s recycled content in their product, they immediately assured me that it has no recycled content. Apparently, there is still the misconception that the use of recycled content makes the product inferior.  

In the area of Indoor Environment Quality, LEED promotes strategies to improve indoor air as well as that provide natural daylight and views. Indoor air quality means using materials that have low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) content or other harmful emissions.  While at Worldbex, some paint and sealants, and  flooring suppliers asked about LEED and how to make their products compliant – they didn’t know what the standards are. Very few products have the Green Seal, Green Guard,  and Carpet Rug Institute labels. These are the organizations that conduct tests to determine if  the limits were met. There is still hope, however, for local suppliers. If they can have an independent third party that will test it according testing protocols recommended by GBCI, then the materials may be considered.  With the growing number of LEED projects outside U.S., GBCI has been working with practitioners by getting their feedback to enhance the guidelines and take into consideration other standards developed by other countries as well as conditions that are unique locally.

With just a few LEED buildings already certified in the Philippines, and a dozen or so in the process of certification, there is still a lot of challenges and limitations that we have to face and overcome.  However, we cannot just write-off LEED just because it is a standard developed by some other country. Many projects in Europe, Middle East and Asia are going for LEED certification. Not because it is a marketing tool to make the building owner look environmentally responsible, but because it is a standard that is known to and accepted by many. According to USGBC, 40% of LEED projects are outside the US. It can’t be that bad, right? 

LEED professionals here in the Philippines face the daunting task of making LEED certification a tad easier. We have to scour discussion groups, review various credit interpretations, and develop our database of suppliers and allied professionals.  We need to find specialists and like-minded people who can help in this endeavor. There’s a need for commissioning agents, DENR certified waste haulers who really divert construction wastes away from landfills, and suppliers who are willing to have their products tested and certified. More than these, we need the right mindset from architects, interior designers, landscape architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners — that we need to work together from the start. It is important and practical to have an integrated design process at the start of the design phase wherein everyone will contribute to the goal of having a high performance, environmentally sustainable, and healthy building. We can’t just play catch up when the building is already being constructed. It is more costly and time-consuming. 

I’m happy that there’s a growing interest in LEED. I do wish that more people will look into LEED in its entirety and see its merits, before they start writing it off. It is not a perfect system, that’s why they keep enhancing it to respond to different applications, conditions and situations. If we look at it closely, we can also see how we can also develop and improve our laws and policies on the environment and green build. In the meantime, maybe for starters we can institute, apply and implement the new ideas it presented in our daily lives and in our work.