TAIPEI, Taiwan (TheStreet) -- China is constructing environmentally friendly buildings at a torrid pace, and that's good news for foreign companies doing business in the notoriously smoggy country.
As of April, there were 320 million square meters of green building space in the country, more than 154 times that in 2008, when the green initiative began, according to real estate-services firm CBRE China. Among other features, the buildings use materials that save energy, come from recycled stock and emit few toxins into the air.
The capital Beijing, Chinese financial hub Shanghai and the cities of Shenzhen and Wuhan rank among the world's top 10 green building centers as the industry "has stepped onto a fast track towards large-scale development," CBRE says.
Green buildings are earning commercial or office rents of up to 25% more than comparable uncertified structures. They particularly appeal to multinationals with corporate environmental responsibility policies, according to industry analysts.
China subsidizes some of its green buildings to control urban air pollution that's widely considered a health hazard. The smog-weary Beijing government also encourages low-polluting motor vehicles and clean-burning factories, adding expenses for some of the operators.
China's eco-friendly high rises are expected to keep blooming. In most of China, green space comes to just one square meter per capita, which is behind the U.S. average, CBRE says.
"The momentum has been a growing trend and is intended to be a permanent feature in the industry," said Stephen Tam, senior director of asset services at CBRE China. "No matter which sector or background, it is recommended for most, or even all, enterprises to pursue this direction of developing green buildings."
The trend offers business leads to listed architects, contractors, financiers and environmental control system providers.
"We expect most of the design work will be going to foreign architects, though traditional industries such as cement, electric, electronics, lighting, hardware and building materials will no doubt be going to local providers to keep costs low," said Matthieu David-Experton, founder of Daxue Consulting in Beijing and Shanghai.
Foreign companies with a footprint in China now would have the crucially important connections and skills in arranging permits for construction contracts, which are held by major Chinese developers such as China Vanke (CVKEF).
Honeywell (HON - Get Report), for example, stands to win bids for thermostats and energy-management systems after investing about $1 billion in China to date. Half of Honeywell's products and services are "energy efficient" and could reduce energy demand by double digits if "comprehensively" adopted, the company's China CEO, Stephen Shang, told TheStreet.
German engineering company Siemens (SIEGY) has developed green building technologies and works extensively in China.
China-based Suntech Power (STPFG) , the world's largest solar-panel maker, also stands to increase its business.
Another kind of investment opportunity may emerge from completed buildings. Some developers are retaining green structures to spin off into real-estate investment trusts, said James MacDonald, head of China research at London-based property broker Savills.
Overseas-traded China property funds such as the China Real Estate ETF (TAO - Get Report) might be able to tap into those. Another stock to watch is Singapore-based CapitaLand (CLLDY), which manages 16 real-estate private-equity funds, some covering China.
"Cost savings related to installing energy-saving approaches during the construction phase are better understood and appreciated by the developer holding a property for lease or (for) an institutional investor," MacDonald said.