Our air quality, in particular, has significantly improved as transportation all but halts, reducing emissions and lessening our notorious pollution problem by unheard-of levels.
By Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan
As India continues its COVD-19 pandemic lockdown – the largest in the world – it is coupled with an unexpected side effect: a dramatic decrease in pollution. Our air quality, in particular, has significantly improved as transportation all but halts, reducing emissions and lessening our notorious pollution problem by unheard-of levels. As the government begins its plans to reopen, it begs the question: is there a way to continue on the progress made with the reduction in our environmental footprint even as we attempt a return to “business as usual”?
Over the past several months of lockdown, most of the world has been confined to a major source of emissions: our buildings. They account for more than 40 percent of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UNEP Buildings and Climate Change Report. When closely associated factors like infrastructure and transportation are included, this number continues to rise. And while transportation will undoubtedly begin to increase our carbon emissions once lockdown is lifted, the infrastructure we build and invest in can make all the difference for our future.
Through green building design and construction, we have the opportunity to reduce our impact on the climate and improve the resilience of our communities against climate risk. And India is already a leader at this as the fourth largest market in the world for green building, with significant increases expected in the next three years.
Buildings experience life cycles, which take them through design, construction, maintenance and deconstruction. During these cycles, the building sector is responsible for an enormous amount of global energy use, resource consumption, waste and greenhouse gas emissions. And those cycles need to be improved upon to ensure the health of the planet – and the health of those buildings’ occupants. That’s where green building practices come in.
Green buildings do a number of important tasks, fundamentally shifting the structure into a more efficient, healthy and sustainable space, that does less harm to the planet while improving the wellbeing of its occupants through five key pillars:
Energy efficiency is prioritized through analytics-based energy centralization and efficient appliances, reducing utility costs.
Water efficiency technologies are applied at the source, reducing the strain on groundwater levels. Rainwater harvesting and water recycling strategies can further provide water independence for buildings, an invaluable resource for areas like Chennai that experience water insecurity.
Waste reduction is put into effect through multi-pronged efforts, including recycling, composting, and using more durable products, to ensure that less waste is sent to landfills.
Carbon emission reduction is enacted throughout the building’s lifecycle, from the use of lower impact construction materials to reducing the carbon costs of daily operations through efficient heating and cooling systems.
Improved human experience through higher air quality, natural lighting and a focus on healthy spaces provides a higher quality of life for occupants.
Particularly during this global pandemic, the world is seeking confidence in the spaces we are confined to. Through green building practices, we have the opportunity to reinforce the health of these spaces for occupants, while simultaneously protecting India’s natural resources and improving our own impact on the environment. As we move out of lockdown, India will have to re-envision the way society is run in ways we can’t currently imagine. But we can look to the future equipped with the knowledge that this period of dramatically reduced emissions benefitted both the planet and our health. And we know that there are ways to use this momentum. The buildings we create today will last for the next 50 to 100 years and influence the lives of everyone who occupies them. By continuing to adopt green construction, design and retrofitting, India is poised to become a global leader.
The author is Managing Director – APAC & Middle East, Green Business Certificate Institute (GBCI). Views expressed are the author’s own.