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Green buildings gain momentum in India

An R&D centre gives back more power than it takes; a residential complex and a hospital have cut power and water consumption by 40-60 per cent. Green buildings are gaining momentum and could account for 20 per cent of all construction by 2030.

To get a taste of the green building movement in India, there are plenty of interesting places to visit in cities. ZedEarth, a residential enclave being developed about 20 km from the heart of Bangalore, is as good a place as any for those interested in green homes.

This 20-acre enclave is being developed for around 130 villas that do not rely on the external world for basic needs, barring 15 per cent of its power requirements. It does not use deep bore wells but would have sufficient fresh water. No sewage or water or waste is let out of the enclave, except things like old electronic equipment or some recyclable items.

Zed Earth is not sold at a premium. It does not use sophisticated technology either. It uses instead a sophisticated mindset to analyse the finer points of living and save resources. Most of its electricity needs are met by solar panels, and unused electricity is given to the grid.

All the water is recycled, bio waste composted, and clinical waste used in ‘scientific landfills’ inside the enclave. Recycling agencies take care of the rest of the waste. The villas themselves are marvels of low-footprint design, bringing nature inside as much as possible. It restricts water and energy use by nearly 60 per cent of non-green homes.

ZedEarth is built by Biodiversity Conservation India Ltd (BCIL), which had built India’s first platinum-rated green home in the city. Set up in 1995, BCIL has remained small and has focused on developing deeply researched and intensely-specific homes for different locations. “We consider ourselves pioneers rather than leaders,” says its founder-chairman Chandrashekar Hariharan. This is because BCIL’s efforts are increasingly being muffled by the din of larger and more ambitious projects now sprouting around the country.

According to theIndia Green Building Council (IGBC), 450 million square feet of green homes have come up in India now. This is apart from the green homes certified by Griha, the agency managed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

The Indian green building movement is now so deep and vast that it promises to change the course of its construction industry. The country has 1.2 billion square feet of green buildings being built or ready, and pre-certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), of which IGBC is the representative in India. It has another 105 million square feet of Griha-certified buildings ready or being built. India’s total built-up space is 25 billion square feet, and it is expected to increase to 80 billion by 2030.

The share of green buildings in this construction boom could be as high as 20 per cent. New cities, such as those coming up along the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), would have a substantially higher green building component.

“Since 60 per cent of the buildings that would exist in 2030 are yet to be built, we have a big opportunity to develop environment-friendly cities in the country.” says Prem Jain, chairman of IGBC.

IGBC estimates that green building products provide a $100-billion opportunity by 2015.

The country’s green buildings span a large variety. They include corporate campuses, residential complexes, R&D units, commercial complexes, universities, hospitals, factories, schools, hotels and so on. The truly environment-conscious aim for nothing less than a platinum rating, and sometimes exceed even all LEED requirements.

The government, aided by the National Building Code and energy efficiency laws, has been pushing all builders to confirm to minimum standards in cities and towns. Some municipalities (Pimpri in Maharashtra is an example), seeing the reduced need for services in green buildings, now offer incentives in the form of lower taxes.

New campuses of the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) are being developed as zero waste campuses. The green building movement has penetrated even slums, as is evident from the slum rehabilitation at Lonar in Maharashtra. Says Priyanka Kochhar, programme manager of Griha: “We develop ratings for green buildings right from slums to large multistoried complexes.”

Noida near Delhi is one of the nodes of the green building movement. The builder 3C was an early mover. 3C built what was the country’s largest green apartment complex. Called Lotus Boulevard, this was planned as a 500-unit complex, but all of it was immediately sold out and the enclave ended with 3000 units. The success of this project and some incentives by the Uttar Pradesh government have led to a rush of green building development in Noida. None of them is probably more impressive than the Bayer ECB Centre of Excellence. It claims to have bagged highest number of points in its LEED certification process, making it the greenest LEED certified building in the world.

The building is the R&D centre of Bayer Material Science. It is inside a larger campus of Bayer, with buildings that are attached to it electrically. The R&D centre, which has solar panels, draws power from the other building at night but gives it back during the day. Last year it gave back more than it took, thus making it a net-positive energy building, but Bayer claims it to be only a net-zero energy building. “We have ensured that we get segment-wise energy consumption data from each part of the building,” says Ram Sai Yelaminchili, head of the centre. “That helps us monitor and control energy consumption efficiently.”

The R&D centre becomes a net zero energy building not by generating a lot of electricity but by incorporating features that are now becoming common in many platinum-rated green buildings in the country. It uses natural light during the day, and through good design - that uses a mixture of wall and glass - and orientation ensure that light gets through without heat. High quality foams insulate the building, making sure that heat is not let in during summer and not let out during winter. “It does not need very high technology to make a building energy efficient,” says Jain. But high technology helps sometimes, and ingenuity helps even more than technology.

Take the Beary Golden Research Triangle (BGRT) in Bangalore, a name inspired by both the triangular nature of the land and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. This building, when ready for occupation in four months, would be let out mostly to R&D units of companies. Two major multinational companies have taken up space for global R&D centres. BGRT has been pre-certified as a platinum-rated building - the final certification is usually given after the construction is complete and occupants have moved in - and it has design features that will become common in many large buildings across the country.

Visitors would note from a distance the unusual alignment of the building. It slopes on one side, thus keeping out direct sunlight till late afternoon. The glazing lets light through but not heat. The air-conditioning is extremely efficient; the outgoing air partly cools the incoming air without mixing, and water cools it further and minimizes the energy consumption. It is designed to use air from outside for cooling when outside temperature is below a certain level, a feature that is very useful in the salubrious climate of Bangalore. Says Syed Mohammed Beary, chairman of the Beary Group: “This is the first time a private developer has built a platinum-certified commercial R&D space.”

Such features are part of many buildings certified by LEED or Griha. Technology comes in handy too, especially in large corporate offices. You could have the most energy-efficient lighting in the world, but leaving the lights on all the time defeats the original purpose. In the year 2008, a study commissioned by the US non-profit New Buildings Institute showed that some green buildings do not save energy as much as planned. Many green buildings now avoid this problem by becoming smart. “Smart technologies are necessary to minimise energy consumption,” says Sandeep Dave, principal of Booz & Company, who studies smart buildings in the country.

Many green buildings now use Intelligent Building Management Systems (IBMS) to optimise energy consumption. “IBMS is not just about controlling the entry and exit of people,” says Srimanikandan Ramamoorthy, assistant vice-president of administration at Cognizant, who is overseeing the development of a large green campus in Chennai. In three other gold-rated campuses in the country, Cognizant has reduced per capita carbon dioxide emissions by 35 per cent and energy use by 34 per cent. “Many buildings are over-optimised,” says Honeywell Automation India managing director Anant Maheswari. “IBMS can save 20-30 per cent of energy used.” Honeywell and other IBMS companies have been involved in a large number of green buildings in the country.

While smart technologies are useful, smart strategy works even well after certification. That is how Kohinoor Hospital in Mumbai, Asia’s only LEED-certified and platinum-rated hospital, slashed its electricity bills by a third, its water taxes by a fourth and substantially increased patient footfall after certification. “When we save on water and electricity costs, these benefits get passed on to patients who pay less for their treatment,” says Rajeev Boudhankar, vice president of Kohinoor Hospital. Because of the nature of their business, which requires round-the-clock operation, hospitals find it hard to get LEED certifications.

“You are open day and night, running facilities that are highly energy-consuming,” says Sandeep Shikre of SSA Architects and IGBC member. This puts tremendous pressure on your power resources.” The IGBC also awarded points to the hospital for some of its human resource initiatives, like encouraging employees to car-pool to work and limiting the total parking area to only 10 per cent of the plan.

Such extensions of the green concept are not uncommon in other green buildings. Wipro, which has the largest number of LEED-certified office campuses in the world, has now started looking 20 years ahead and merge its building futures with the master plan of the area. Its aim is to build an ecological plan that fits with the master plan. “We are linking sustainability across the supply chain,” says Hari Hegde, Wipro’s global head of operations. It is now studying the impact on the surroundings of a Bangalore campus that is being built. Companies now want to see how their campuses influence the life around them. Being green is acquiring a new meaning, which will drive the growth of sustainable cities.

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