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Jealously green?


Is going green the need of the hour in the real estate industry? mona mehta reviews the plans of top builders and how technology is being leveraged by them
MONA MEHTA | Issue Dated: February 10, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Greenhouse gas emissions | Green energy | Green buildings | IGBC |


The commercial and residential sectors constitute the major markets for the real estate industry in India. These sectors also consume a lot of energy and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. As per an official draft (Modern Building Bylaws for Construction of Green Buildings) by the Town and Country Planning Organisation, Government of India, "In a typical residential building in India, approximately 60 per cent of the total electricity is consumed for lights, 32 per cent for air conditioning and 8 per cent for refrigeration." Considering this, it's a no-brainer that if investment were not an issue then there's no reason that any building should shy away from the green option.

Infrastructure investors like Kruti Jain, Director, Kumar Builders, whom we talk to, tell us that the concept of green buildings is yet to take off in a big way in India. The awareness of green buildings in India is largely found in the metro cities. Rural areas are yet to wake up to the green building concept. Compared to other Asian countries such as China, Singapore and Japan or Western countries such as the US and Canada, India probably stands at the bottom rung of the ladder. Having said that, the awareness about going green is slowly but steadily increasing.

Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) is one such institution attempting to support the growth of the green building philosophy. IGBC claims that there are 307 buildings in India "certified" as being true to that philosophy. It's quite clear that the numbers we're talking about are extremely miniscule, if not close to being non-existent when one considers the cumulative number of buildings in India. Yet, it's also clear that the glass could be seen as being half full, and the potential for Indian buildings going green be perceived as huge.

So how does one go, so to say, green? Rajat Malhotra, COO, Integrated Facilities Management (West Asia), Jones Lang LaSalle India, opines, “One obvious factor is awareness. The second most important factor is aligning Corporate Sustainability Goals with real estate selection. Green spaces not only allow for 14 to 16 per cent increase in productivity but also reduce the operational cost of the building, consume less energy, water and other resources, leading to offices which are more environmentally responsible and have a lower carbon footprint."

As far as the technological challenges for setting up green buildings go, Jackbastian K Nazareth, Group CEO, Puravankara Projects Ltd agrees that the initial investment is marginally higher (5-15 per cent) than a conventional building, but that differential is apparently diminishing – what used to be a 15 per cent in 2004/05, decreased to 8 per cent in 2010 and is now around 5 per cent. So cost is not really a huge concern. “What we need is greater awareness and adoption of green building practices in construction design,” he states.

The unique features of any green building project include solid waste management, rain water harvesting, irrigation technologies, waste segregation systems, and of course, solar energy. Also, many green building projects fail to factor in many intangible green building benefits (like improved indoor environment quality, improved productivity). These should be accounted for while formulating the cost and benefit analysis.

Will the Indian government over the next few years bring in any regulation that requires mandatory green certification of all buildings in India – something like they've done with products like air conditioners, refrigerators and others? Some believe that such a regulation is just around the corner. Not many know that through an Act passed by the Indian Parliament in 2001, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Government of India, was authorised to develop the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC). The code was subsequently developed and is functional under BEE, although it is in use only on a voluntary basis. There is no doubt that the future intentions of the government would be to make it mandatory for all buildings, as the 2001 Act was originally passed with the mandatory clause (and changed subsequently). 

Notwithstanding the ECBC, there are certain top builders who believe that the process of constructing green buildings commences at the site selection and the design level itself. Reasons Boman Irani, Chairman and Managing Director, Rustomjee Developers, “The windows and the doors must be placed in the manner that they cut direct sunlight to reduce heat gain, while letting the rooms get enough air flow through cross ventilation. The site’s closeness to the public transport system too is reckoned, which helps in reducing the dependence on private vehicles that contribute to the carbon emission.” Apparently, post designing, construction material must be procured within the vicinity and must be compliant to the principles of re-use. Instead of bricks, fly-ash concrete blocks for building purposes should be used.

And the list goes on. In other words, while the cost differential for making new green buildings might be low, the cost to convert existing buildings into green ones could still be prohibitively high. Steps need to be taken to reduce an existing building’s impact on the environment without making major structural changes. 

In essence, while all the industry biggies might be quite enthusiastic about ensuring that their buildings adhere to the green concept, the fact of the matter is that it would take quite a long time, decades, for the Indian real estate sector to embrace the utopian green philosophy. But the change could be faster if being green is integrated in the positioning statements of real estate projects and directly correlated with reduced operational costs.


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017