Sustainable Habitat

Green buildings movement gains momentum but needs public awareness

India’s real estate sector is expected to contribute 13 per cent to the country’s GDP by 2025 and reach a market size of $1 trillion by 2030. However, the environmental footprint of this industry is also mounting. Buildings in India account for 40 per cent energy consumption, 30 per cent raw material use, 20 per cent water use and 20 per cent land use; they also generate 30 per cent of solid waste and 20 per cent of water effluents. The sector is responsible for around 24 per cent of India’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, contributing to global warming and poor air quality. It is therefore critical that the country adopts a holistic and sustainable approach to its real estate development.

Acknowledging this issue, over the years, green buildings have taken the front seat in many government initiatives such as the Smart Cities Mission, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. In parallel, the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) was formed by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in 2001. The council is based out of the CII Green Business Centre, Hyderabad, which is India’s first Platinum-rated green building. Over 5,000 projects have been registered with the IGBC from various parts of India and abroad, accounting for a total footprint of 4.72 billion sq. ft.

Over the years, three popular green building rating systems have evolved. The first one is the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA), which was developed by The Energy and Resources Institute and is endorsed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. It is a point-based rating system that consists of 34 criteria, categorised under various sections such as site selection and site planning, conservation and efficient utilisation of resources, building operations and maintenance and innovation. It helps with improvement in the environment by reducing  greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing energy consumption and stress on natural resources, and reducing pollution loads and waste generation. Some GRIHA-rated buildings are the (Centre of Environmental Sciences and Engineering) building of IIT Kanpur, Suzlon One Earth in Pune, and Fortis Hospital and the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi.

The second popular system is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Following the formation of the IGBC in 2001, the membership quickly realised the need for rating green buildings. The IGBC is a non-profit research institute having its offices in CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, which is a LEED-certified building. Since it achieved the LEED rating for its own centre at Hyderabad in 2003, the green building movement has gained tremendous momentum in India. Thus, the IGBC adopted the LEED for India as an Indian partner of the US Green Building Council (USGBC). It acts as a channel for the registration of Indian projects under the LEED programme. The IGBC building rating system is quite similar to that of the USGBC, but slightly modified to suit specific Indian conditions. LEED-certified buildings have 34 per cent lower CO2 emissions and consume 25 per cent less energy compared to other buildings set up in the country. Water efficiency efforts in green buildings are expected to lower water use by 15 per cent and save more than 10 per cent in operating costs. Some examples of LEED-rated buildings in India are the CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad (Platinum), ABN Amro Bank in Ahmedabad (Platinum), Anna Centenary Library Building in Chennai (Gold), American Embassy School in Delhi (Gold), Birla International School in Jaipur (Gold), ITC Green Centre in Gurugram (Platinum), Biodiversity Conservation India Limited in Bengaluru (Platinum), Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad (Silver), Suzlon Energy Limited-global headquarters in Pune (Platinum) and Olympia Technology Park in Chennai (Gold).

Besides, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) developed its own rating scale based on a 1-5-star scale. More stars mean more energy efficiency. The BEE has developed an Energy Performance Index. The unit of kWh per square metre per year is considered for rating buildings. The BEE launched the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) in February 2007. The code is set for energy efficiency standards for the design and construction of any building with a minimum conditioned area of 1,000 square metre, and a connected power demand for power of 500 kW or 600 kVA. The energy performance index of the code is set for 90-200 kWh per square metre per year. Any buildings that fall under the index can be termed as “ECBC-compliant buildings”. The Reserve Bank of India’s buildings in Delhi and Bhubaneswar, the CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad and many others have received  BEE 5-star rating.

In 2017, the BEE extensively reviewed and updated the 2007 ECBC. The updated 2017 code was eventually added as an amendment to the Energy Conservation Act. At the state level, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh implemented the mandatory ECBC for commercial buildings in 2014. Telangana was the first state with an online ECBC compliance system. Other states that have notified the code (as of June 2019) are Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh are the only two states that have amended, revised and notified the state code to adopt ECBC 2017.

In the initial stage of the green buildings movement, the incremental cost of developing these buildings was 12 and18 per cent higher than other buildings. But now, one can observe that the incremental cost has reduced to 5-8 per cent. Moreover, amid the growing demand for land, water and electricity in metros and cities, green buildings are becoming easier in terms of construction and maintenance. The real estate sector in the country has also taken note of the benefits of going green and, hence, many famous green buildings have been built in the country over the past decade. With growing awareness and government efforts, India has moved up to rank third in the world for LEED-certified buildings, with almost 900 certified projects overall.

While green building practices are increasingly being adopted in the country, there are also a few challenges and barriers. Even today, a large section of Indians is unaware of green buildings. Moreover, in India, architects, engineers, contractors and workers do not possess the requisite skills and knowledge related to the concept and construction of green buildings.

Developers often have to go through a tedious process of multiple approvals and are apprehensive of the additional burden of green compliances in the list of approvals, which can potentially cause more delays. The total lack or inadequacy of mandatory laws to enforce large-scale implementation of green building norms is not helpful. Further, there are very few incentive plans, and even those that exist vary across states and even cities, depending on different governing bodies. Finally, the initial construction cost of green buildings is definitely higher than that of conventional ones.

Summing up, while the list of green buildings in India and all the policy initiatives look promising, there is still a long way to go. While these is huge potential for green and sustainable buildings in the country, the implementation has been limited due to weak policy and poor awareness. If states across the country adopt energy saving building codes and leading developers go beyond minimum code requirements for commercial buildings, an estimated 3,453 TWH of electricity could be saved cumulatively by 2030. This is the equivalent of powering as many as 358 million Indian homes annually between 2014 and 2030. Real estate developers and consumers need to be educated about the massive benefits of green buildings. Government and regulatory bodies need to play a motivating role to enable consumers as well as developers to understand the need for green buildings in India.

By Dolly Khattar

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