Designing sustainable cities and towns of the future

According to a recent World Economic Forum research report, buildings, along with deforestation and the depletion of raw materials, are responsible for 40 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Designing sustainable cities and towns of the future
As with real estate buyers and consumers, environmental sustainability has become the cornerstone for developers too. Image: Bloomberg

– By Ramesh Ranganathan

Slow living, eco-friendly processes, environmental consciousness! These aren’t just taglines in an advertising campaign, but values that people are looking to weave into their lives – every part of it. The clothes one wears, the vehicle one drives, the home one lives in are all viewed from a lens of reducing one’s carbon footprint. We have seen this transition come into effect gradually over the past decade, and the events of the past two years have only accelerated awareness and adoption. As with real estate buyers and consumers, environmental sustainability has become the cornerstone for developers too. For an industry that understands the importance of truly building for the future, sustainability is woven in right from a design and conception phase, to the construction and execution process.

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Better RoI through sustainability

According to a recent World Economic Forum research report, buildings, along with deforestation and the depletion of raw materials, are responsible for 40 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Countries and companies are seeking to address this urgently. For instance, trends suggest that international institutional investors are including green certifications as a mandate and have made it a part of their investment DNA. This sends a clear message that, in the next five years, if a building – whether commercial or residential – does not adhere to the principles of sustainability, they will find it difficult to attract the right set of investors over the long term.

This is being undertaken by setting clearly defined energy efficiency targets, wide-scale transition to renewable energy and working on architecture and design, material efficiency, and circularity. Some important aspects of wellness include monitoring indoor air quality, eliminating airborne contaminants, enhancing lighting levels that have a direct impact on mood, energy, and productivity, and optimizing water quality while promoting its accessibility. A ‘green home’ may cost up to 4 per cent more initially, but it will pay for itself in the long run, saving up to 40 per cent on electricity bills and 20 per cent on water bills. This can be achieved with some intelligent designing, optimizing light and ventilation, rainwater harvesting, and more. Landscaping and green zones in the design also help improve indoor air quality, which our lungs will be eternally grateful for, and are designed to ensure reduced maintenance costs.

Impactful public private partnerships

While conscientious consumers undoubtedly play a significant role in this shift toward sustainability, the State and Central Government incentives in the form of tax benefits and concessions have contributed immensely towards the uptick in responsible real estate development. Environmental regulations stipulate basic minimum standards such as rainwater harvesting, organic waste converters, solar heating, lighting, and so on, making it more the norm of how future developments will take shape. Conscientious reputed developers have taken it upon themselves to go a step further, concentrating not only on their own developments but also proactively launching programs that have an influence on the community as a whole. Some of these initiatives include afforestation in surrounding areas, lake rejuvenation, river and water channel desilting, beach clean-up drives and other initiatives that truly drive the sustainable development goal.

Building for the future

While first-world countries and their cities such as London, New York, and Paris are aggressively working towards retro-fitting their existing infrastructure with friendlier measures, India has a huge advantage over them. We are at the cusp of a real estate revolution that is flowing into smaller cities and towns. This wave, powered as much by industry as the residential sector, can be traversed more responsibly by designing infrastructure from the ground up, that will include these measures and be upgradable in the future. Not only is it the right step to take, but environmentally friendly building methods also improves the chances of getting higher rents and rates for the structure.

Following the onset of the pandemic, homebuyers are increasingly looking for a healthier lifestyle, with relevant spaces not only inside the home but also in its surroundings – teaming with amenities and safe, accessible community areas. And this is a thought that has taken root beyond the metros, as the populace looks to go back to their hometowns and leverage the new hybrid workstyles that are emerging. There is a sense of satisfaction in owning a space that is healthy not just for them but also for their future generations. Well-travelled, highly educated and environmentally concerned consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly real estate solutions and purposefully ‘choosing green homes’. All these factors work together in building sustainable towns and cities, with homes not just of, but also for the future.

(Ramesh Ranganathan is the CEO of K Raheja Corp Homes)

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