Gargi Gupta in New Delhi
May 27, 2006
Green is in. The real-estate industry in India, in the midst of a sustained boom, is turning eco-friendly. The country got its first green building, the CII-Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad (also the "greenest" building in the world till date), in 2003.
A year later there were five projects registered and today there are 28 projects, totalling 7 million square feet of built space, dotting the country which have either been certified as green buildings or are working towards that distinction. Most of these are IT parks, but there are also a few offices of companies like ONGC, ITC, Grunfos Pumps and NEG Mincon.
Clearly, a green-building movement of sorts is under way that may well end up transforming the built landscape in India and the way Indians live.
The LEED-India ratings, which is almost ready and will come into force by mid-year, is an important aspect of this development. India is the only country, other than Canada, to have licenced its green-building ratings programme from LEED US, developed by the United States Green Building Council.
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is not the only rating system in the world. Australia follows a system named Green Star, the Brits have BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environment Assesment Method) which is even older than LEED, Japan has CASBEE (Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environment Efficiency), and so on.
Clearly, a ratings standard is important as it helps quantify the efforts of real-estate developers to incorporate environment-friendly material and methods in their constructions.
So points are assigned for rain-water harvesting and waste-water recycling, or for reduction of construction waste and use of locally available materials, or a more energy-efficient air-conditioning system.
LEED-India, which has been developed by the Indian Green Building Council and is now being assessed by American reviewers, follows LEED-US closely. With a few exceptions.
S Srinivas, senior counsellor at the CII-Godrej GBC who has been working on the Indian ratings, enumerates: "A few changes have been made especially for water savings and emissions from captive power generators."
Since more buildings in India have gensets to provide back-up power, LEED-India makes adherence to pollution-control norms a pre-requisite if a building is to be pronounced green.
Also, with groundwater being such a scarce resource in India and the construction industry accounting for 10 per cent of water consumption, saving water is imperative and LEED-India proposes several new credits for doing so.
Thus if LEED-US awards one point for reduction in water-use by 20 per cent and two points for 30 per cent reduction, LEED-India would award an additional point if a building saves 40 per cent water or more. Points will also be awarded if recycled waste-water is used for the cooling tower in the air-conditioning system.
Also, since two-wheelers are more eco-friendly than cars, LEED-India proposes to award points for projects that include parking facilities for alternative-fuel vehicles and 2-stroke engine operated two-wheelers.
The other major concern in India, where construction workers falling off scaffoldings to their death is so regular that it does not even make it to the media, is safety.
Thus LEED-India has a new pre-requisite for safety, says Scot Hurst, chairman of the LEED steering committee, which will award points for the safety of both construction employees and building occupants.
An indigenised ratings-system might be a necessary condition to set off the green-building revolution in India but it is hardly sufficient. For that, the IGBC will have to tackle the perception that going green is expensive, and show Indian developers that the costs incurred in special fittings can be more than recovered in the savings in energy.
Two, India will need more LEED-accredited professionals to catalyse local projects - it has five at present. But most important, what India needs is manufacturers and suppliers of green-building materials - fly-ash cement, recycled steel and tiles, low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and adhesives and the like.
Srinivas recalls a conversation with a vendor who, when asked what was the percentage of recyclable material in his products, answered that his products were not recylced at all!It will take a long time to change perceptions like those of this vendor, but if the IGBC and LEED-India succeed in sensitising real-estate developers to the environment then they will have made our cities better places to live in.