Rub of the green

Written by Sukalp Sharma | Sukalp Sharma | Updated: Mar 31 2013, 05:01am hrs
India has seen an over four-fold increase in certified green buildings in the past five years, with a serious focus on sustainability practices. But there is a long road ahead before green design becomes a dominant trend in the building industry. Here are some roadblocks and future milestones

If you thought wearing a green badge was just about letting people know you care for the environment and sustainability, think again. Over the past five years, the number of certified green buildings in the country has seen a more than four-fold increase, and all of it cant just be about the clean and green image. Going by the latest data available with the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), which gives green ratings to buildings, including administering the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), it has 343 green rated buildings with a total green building footprint of 1.3 billion sq ft. Indias very own national rating system, the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA), which is still in its early days operationally, has an approximate green building footprint of over 107 million sq ft.

While sustainability and concerns about carbon footprint are increasing among businesses, it is also being realised that green buildings are profitable ventures over a longer duration compared to conventional buildings. The initial cost of construction may be a little higher, but the operational returns on resource savings will more than compensate over the medium- to long-term. As per industry estimates, the increase in the cost of a green building at the design and construction stage would be in the range of 5-15% more than a similar conventional construction. The key is to incorporate the green building aspect at the planning stage as a pre-requisite and going ahead with the design and construction accordingly. This is a simple and basic step which will minimise the impact on the cost, says Tanmay Tathagat, executive director, Environmental Design Solutions (EDS). Tathagat adds that operational sustainability is a major aspect that affects cost as well as returns and savings. As far as operations are concerned, there are substantial savings. But savings will happen only if a building is sustainable operationally. Otherwise, if you just design a good green building and then not focus on making it operationally sustainable, youll not get the savings, he says.

Also, the industry and businesses are now opening up to the idea of calculating the total cost of ownership of the building by taking into account operational and management costs as well in relation to time, and not just focusing on the cost of construction. This paradigm makes green buildings, with proper operational management as intended, net positive in terms of savings and return on investment. It is estimated that as much as 90% of the total cost of a building comes from its operational attributes and almost half of it is energy cost. The IGBC website says: A critical paradigm is to look at the incremental cost in relation to the life-cycle cost. This kind of an approach could be revealing. Over its life-cycle, the operating cost would work out to 80-85% of the capital cost, while the incremental cost, which is a one-time cost, is only about 8-10%. Due to substantial reductions in operational cost, the total cost of ownership of green buildings is invariably lesser than conventional buildings. And according to various market studies, the tangible benefits of a building that is green by construction, as well as operationally, include energy savings of as much as 30-50% and water savings of 20-30%, thereby drastically bringing down the cost of two extremely critical resources. Add to that the intangible qualitative impacts of sustainabilitylike cleaner indoor environment, more natural lightwhich might not directly make a difference in terms of rupees saved but are considered to have an impact on the productivity, particularly if the said building is into commercial operations. Prakash Kumar, manager, MEP Engineering at the newly inaugurated ITC Grand Chola, says, Across all ITC hotels, the average savings on energy are in the range of 30-40%, while water savings are to the tune of 40-45%. This is not an estimate, we have actually done it.

As awareness on sustainability grows in times to come, it will only be imperative of businesses to be responsible by inculcating sustainable and green practices in their operations and construction. The government has already started moving in the direction as the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) has been mandated for new construction of government buildings. Various government agencies have now started giving incentives to green rated buildings, further luring businesses to go in for ratings and certification. Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, for example, has incentives for GRIHA-compliant developers and owners. NOIDA authority has been awarding 5% extra FAR (floor area ratioextra built-up area) to projects that commit to at least a LEED Gold rating. The Ghaziabad Development Authority has announced 5% extra FAR for developers of projects that comply with a minimum three-star GRIHA rating. Almost two years ago, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) decided to give special consideration to pre-certified LEED India and GRIHA projects by having a separate queue for clearance of these projects. Even the State Bank of India (SBI), which has a loan product called SBI Green Home Loan, is offering better margin and interest rates in home loans for GRIHA certified projects.

However, the country lacks a regulatory and monitoring mechanism to check the performance of buildings which have green ratings. Pre-certification is only considered a pledge and there is no legal provision ensuring the deliverance of that commitment.

According to experts, as the government starts backing voluntary ratings of buildings by policy incentives, creating a regulatory and monitoring framework would become increasingly critical. A builder comes to you pre-design, so you certify my design intent. They wont come and tell anyone three years later if they havent incorporated all the elements and measures they had promised. Default on intent and its relation with certification is something that needs to be looked at seriously, says Chandrashekar Hariharan, co-chairman, IGBC National Council for Green Landscaping, and executive chairman, Biodiversity Conservation India Ltds (BCILs) ZED Habitat.

However, under GRIHA, the operational aspect as well as the delivery on promised provisions is looked into. But again, since ratings are a voluntary exercise, the promises are not legally binding. We first do an awareness exercise with the entire team of the client who has registered for a rating once a project is registered. Eventually, when the project is completed, we visit the site and evaluate if all that has been promised has been delivered or not. Then after one year, we again evaluate the performance and carry out processes like energy audits to ascertain the actual performance of the green building, says Mili Majumdar, secretary-cum-treasurer, Association for Development and Research of Sustainable Habitats (ADaRSH), which administers the GRIHA rating system. According to a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study of 2011, For the first time in India, the voluntary rating systems are being backed by government policies and subsidies/incentives. This, therefore, demands verifiable post-construction performance, accountability and transparency to justify the investments. Also, as the business investments in green rating begin to expand, it will require close monitoring of actual performance... It is, therefore, very important to ensure that the buildings that are being rated continue to remain high-performing and without much deviation during the operational phase. Currently, India has not developed an effective institutional and regulatory system for performance monitoring of the buildings. There is no legally backed means of verifying whether the rated buildings are delivering on their intended goals.

But in terms of coverage, the green building movement in India can still be considered at the take-off stage. There is a long way to go for it to attain critical mass and become a dominant trend in the building industry. Today, under 3% of all buildings in India are certified green. The challenge is that people are not willing to pay capital costs for these measures. The consumer needs to be dictating his terms, saying he will not buy a house until and unless it is certified green. No margin for green means the builder is seeing no incentive in it. Among all the stakeholders, it is the promoters and the government that are the most important to push for green and sustainable buildings. One controls capital, the other controls policy, so the change has to come in first, most importantly, at these levels, says Hariharan. Another major hindrance is the make-and-sell principle on which a substantial part of the construction industry works. It essentially means that a builder builds a building and sells it off to the user. Now since the builder himself is not going to be running the building, he wont be reaping the operational savings of his construction. This largely negates the motivation to go for a green building in such cases, unless the builder is able to command a higher price in the market for constructing a green building. However, industry experts and officials related to the segment are pinning their hopes on the expectation that with growing awareness and governmental interest in the domain through incentives and better practices, the green building movement in India will achieve substantial traction in the time to come.

How the ratings work

Multiple green rating systems to test buildings for sustainability and green quotient have evolved across the globe. While India has a few rating systems, too, the primary ones are the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) ratings and the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA), which has been conceived by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and jointly developed by the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) as the national rating system for buildings.

The IGBC runs the LEED-India programme, which was adapted from the United States Green Building Councils (USGBCs) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), considered to be the most popular green rating globally. The IGBC is a part of the Confederation of Indian Industry-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre (CII-GBC)that has been pushing LEED in India for more than a decade now. LEED India looks at performance in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection and indoor environmental quality. The IGBC has its own set of ratings for homes, townships, SEZs, green factory buildings and green landscapes, taking the total number of rating categories to six, between the IGBCs own ratings and LEED ratings (the LEED-India programme includes LEED India for New Construction, or LEED India NC, and LEED India for Core and Shell, or LEED India CS). According to the latest data available with the IGBC, it has 1,901 buildings registered with it and has 343 green rated buildings. The total green building footprint of the IGBC is approximately 1.30 billion sq ft.

GRIHA was adopted as the National Rating System (NRS) by the MNRE in 2007. It is considered suitable for all kinds of buildings in different climatic zones. GRIHA attempts to quantify aspects such as energy consumption, waste generation, renewable energy adoption, etc, for proper management, control and optimisation. GRIHA is a 100 point system with a set of 34 criteria, some of which are mandatory. The minimum qualifying score is 50 and rating is given on a scale of one to five stars, with one star for every 10 points over 50. Currently, GRIHA has three categories of ratingsGRIHA, SVA GRIHA (for individual residences, small offices and commercial buildings) and LD GRIHA (for large developments). Apart from these, GRIHA also has a pre-certification rating with the condition that all GRIHA pre-certified projects are to register for GRIHA on receipt of environmental clearance. GRIHAs latest available data states that the rating system currently has 300 projects registered with it and has an approximate footprint of over 107 million sq ft.