Worldwide, buildings consume nearly 40 percent of annual energy produced and generate up to 30 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Around 40 percent of worldwide resource usage, including nearly 12 percent of all fresh-water use, can be attributed to the buildings sector. The sector is also responsible for up to 40% of our solid waste and employs, on average, more than 10% of the workforce.
With rapid urbanisation expected to continue in some of the world’s most populous countries (the oft-repeated statistic that two-thirds of the India of 2030 is yet to be built is an indicator of the gargantuan scale), sustainable construction practices and green structures are no longer good-to-have; they are a key lever in our global war against emissions!
In the context of India, there are three essential steps to move towards an environment-friendly, sustainable future for the built environment:
A. Moving towards a ‘green’ portfolio: Ensuring that all new buildings are certified based on existing green standards such as IGBC, GRIHA etc.
B. Identifying new materials, technologies and methods that improve the ‘green’ quotient: R&D led efforts that build on today’s basics of construction to drive improvements
C. Radically re-think the way we live: Re-defining design and the way structures interact with the environment during their construction, occupancy, renovation, repurposing and demolition.
1) Green portfolio
There are well-established norms and processes currently that measure and certify the extent of a building’s ‘green’ structure. From IGBC to GRIHA, there are multiple rating systems to guide, demonstrate and document efforts to deliver sustainable and high-performance buildings in India. Developers across categories - commercial, residential, retail and hospitality - are increasingly opting for green certification. GRIHA estimates that by 2022, registered green buildings will have a 10 billion sq. ft. footprint. However, there is significant scope for scale, as only ~7 percent of registered projects are certified per GRIHA.
Widespread adoption of green building norms can significantly reduce emissions. In fact, The Energy Resources Institute estimates that if all buildings in Urban India were to adopt green building concepts, we could reduce our power consumption by ~8,400 megawatts - enough to light 5,50,000 homes a year! Hence, there is a strong case to ensure that all future construction in the country is green – maybe even mandating through legislation.
An important aspect of green certifications is often overlooked – post-occupancy results. While the certifications process (with some exceptions) provides a framework based on theoretical benefits, the real benefits of various green features should be quantified to better understand their true impact. ‘Living Building Assessments’ are critical to demonstrate the benefits of, and put to scale, green certification adoption.
2) New materials and technologies
Even as green norms are adopted, leaders in sustainable development should invest in R&D to identify and develop materials, products and methodologies that pave the way for future improvements in resource utilization and emissions. This is especially true for India, since building guidelines are today largely based on international standards and methodology, and do not account for Indian usage and climatic conditions. For example, there has been limited work on thermal comfort, glare from daylighting & visual comfort specific to Indian circumstances. These have significant impact on cooling and artificial lighting requirements, which in turn impacts power usage and related emissions.
Given the scale and nature of this exercise combined with the fact that there is very limited R&D in the Indian construction sector, such an undertaking will necessarily have to adopt a multi-agency approach. It will need to combine the practical experience of developers with the research capabilities of educational and specialized institutes, together with inputs from construction materials manufacturers and service providers to the industry.
3) Innovation and radical design
Building construction is an ancient human activity which began with the purely functional need for a controlled environment to moderate the effects of climate. Constructed shelters were one of the means by which human beings were able to adapt themselves to a wide variety of climates and become a global species. The construction of buildings has necessitated the use of hard materials such as masonry, metals and glass, which create a barrier to the external environment. Such structures have not only impacted the way we interact with the environment, but also with each other. Most modern structures today need to use artificial means for everything - from lighting, cooling, heating, to storing and providing water, to bringing people together.
We should always be cognizant of the one stake-holder at center of all this - the home buyer or end user. While developers, contractors and manufacturers work on creating greener buildings, it is necessary to educate the larger ecosystem about the benefits of such buildings – both to the environment in the form of lower emissions and to the customers in the form of lower operating and maintenance costs. The battle will not be won until green building supply is accompanied by demand.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely of the author and may not represent 99acres.com's opinions on the subject. 99acres.com does not take responsibility for any actions taken based on the information shared by the author.