“Green buildings are a hallmark of economically sound business decisions, thoughtful environmental decisions and smart human impact decisions.” —Rick Fedrizzi, chairman, International WELL Building Institute
The present environmental conditions of major Indian cities require immediate attention. One root cause lies in most residential and commercial buildings that consume much higher resources than needed, such as water, electricity and fuel. Embracing green buildings can be a smart move forwards, as these have the capacity to preserve such resources, cut down pollutants and ensure long-term paybacks.
Right from the construction phase of conventional buildings, there is massive wastage of raw materials. It leaves a great trace of dry waste that adds to air, water and soil to pollute these. Building construction accounts for up to 40 per cent greenhouse gas emissions.
Occupied households, on the other hand, utilise electricity and water at a high rate for daily use.
In addition, use of equipment, like refrigerators and air-conditioners, adds up to another 18 per cent greenhouse gases. Other forms of waste (wastewater, solid, biodegradable wastes, etc) also factor in heavily.
On the other hand, the construction phase of green buildings is well planned, to reduce the wastage of material and resources. Green buildings can save at least 20 per cent of the materials used. In addition, many of the materials used for green building constructions can either be recycled or biodegraded, like hempcrete, bamboo, wood, straw bales, recycled plastic and so on. Lesser construction waste improves air quality and reduces carbon emissions.
Ashu Dehadani, manager, Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) Council, says, “Through the use of various energy-efficient methods, at least 15 per cent of electricity can be saved. This is a major financial saving at the end of the year for a person.”
According to Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), “Green buildings are capable of reducing 30 to 50 per cent water consumption. Further intangible benefits include highly improved indoor air quality, optimal daylighting, safety and an overall improved, healthy way of living for occupants.”
Dehadani adds, “Green buildings are more weather-resistant. Be it heavy monsoon, summer or winter, green constructions keep indoors and the whole setup well-regulated and damage-free. In many setups, these can even utilise weather conditions for further benefits. For example, excessive rainfall can be used for an occupant’s benefit through rainwater harvesting.
“Wastes are segregated at source. Biodegradable wastes are transported for bio-gas and manure creation, while non-biodegradable ones are recycled and reused. In these ways, green buildings deliver many essential benefits.”
What constitutes green buildings
A green construction is the result of an overall design approach that addresses various environmental, financial and aesthetic parameters, holistically. More importantly, it addresses the comfort and well-being of the occupants of the building without pulling any additional investments going forwards.
GRIHA Council tells us that there is a lot of emphasis on initial construction material management—how much material is being used and in what manner it is being used. There are specific choices of materials. For example, hollow bricks for walls can be used better, as these are lighter and are good insulators of external heat. This keeps the indoors cooler than outdoors.
“Solar panels are quite popular for using renewable energy and cutting down grid energy usage. These greatly save cost of electricity in the long run for the user. Collateral benefits include reduced carbon footprint.
“Water fixtures in green buildings use faucet aerators, which mix a little air in the water stream to create perceived higher pressure. This cuts the water usage down by almost one-third.
“Sensorised water taps in commercial and public buildings can prevent unmonitored open taps.
“Thermal-regulated materials like polycarbonates and hollow bricks help keep indoors cool and comfortable. This improves the living conditions as well as reduces the use of appliances like air-conditioners. This collaterally reduces energy costs and carbon emissions.
“More energy-efficient HVAC systems like variable resistant volume (VLV) or variable resistant flow (VRF) technologies are also being applied to save energy.
“The concept of radiant cooling is becoming popular for comfortable indoor temperature conditions.
“All these solutions are incorporated in buildings to make these sustainable, financially profitable and environment friendly,” Dehadani adds.
Many such solutions can also be retrofitted in existing buildings, which were initially not constructed as green architectures. With some upfront investment, these can be made environment friendly with reduced operational costs.
Investment and payback
While the cost of investment on constructions vary widely according to the scale of the project, it is estimated that a green building at present is at least three to five per cent costlier than a normal building.
Dehadani says, “When green buildings started to develop in India about 10 years ago, upfront capital for green buildings was at least 10 to 12 per cent higher as compared to conventional buildings of equivalent proportions. Now, there is a proper expanding market for these materials, and their prices are becoming reasonable. This has reduced the differential in investments, which can start from a level of five per cent price gap. If green building implementation keeps following this progressive path, the cost will be at par with regular ones.”
Various cost savings (on electricity, water, etc) and reduced maintenance hassles ensure payback on excess investments. The payback period may start from the fourth or fifth year.
It also depends on the scale of project and investment made.
Evaluating green buildings: certifying bodies
India has several councils and agencies that evaluate green buildings right from their construction phase up to the point where these are being used. Each council has its own process of registration, fee structure, evaluation parameter and rating system, all of which can be explored from their respective websites.
Usual process flow includes online registration, parameter assignment for various evaluations, document submission and on-site evaluation. Ratings can be based on stars or given as platinum, gold, silver, etc.
The major agencies are:
LEED. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Council’s prestigious certification is internationally-recognised and provides a benchmark for high-performance buildings.
IGBC. A division of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), IGBC works with the government to promote green building construction. It provides national-level ratings to registered projects. IGBC has an evaluation basis for existing building maintenance as well.
GRIHA. GRIHA is a council jointly formed by Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). It provides in-depth, phase-wise assessments of green building projects that are registered.
GRIHA has also created a free-to-refer catalogue on its website that verifies various products available in the market claiming to be green materials. This is to help consumers identify materials that are authentically environment friendly and suitable for green constructions, and make informed purchases.
As per IGBC reports, India already has more than three billion square feet (68871-acres) of registered green building footprint, which is expected to reach 10 billion by 2022. Costs of green buildings are expected to further drop in this duration, which promises mainstream green construction adaptation in the near future. These are necessary times for adopting such measures, and active cooperation can lead us to a greener tomorrow.