World Environment Day 2019: Why business leaders should turn their focus to green buildings

June 5, 2019 1:04 PM

This World Environment Day, business leaders should consider their companies’ impact on the environment and how their buildings affect the health and wellbeing of their employees and occupants.

World Environment Day 2019, green building, green buildings in India, business leaders, Infosys, tata housing, Green Business Certificate InstituteIndia is a leader in green building, but we still have miles to go to combat air pollution and climate change on a large scale.

5.6 million square feet. That is larger than Vatican City. It is also the amount of space that 15 of Infosys’ buildings in India already occupy, and which are certified to comply with global green building practices. That number not only demonstrates the commitment to sustainable business of this multinational corporation, but also their commitment to working toward a healthier, cleaner and safer future for their employees and the communities in their buildings’ surrounding areas. And they are already pursuing certification for an additional 13 buildings in India.

This year’s World Environment Day theme is “beat air pollution.” This is especially important in India. A recent study found that 95 percent of the world’s population is breathing dangerously polluted air. Exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 6 million deaths worldwide in 2017, and the problem is particularly acute in India and China, which accounted for more than half of the death toll. Added to this is the fact that India is rapidly urbanizing on a breathtaking scale. We are on a trajectory of growth, and construction is one of our largest economic activities. While urbanization is driving a tremendous amount of economic development, it has also created serious challenges including energy shortages, water scarcity, waste accumulation — and an air quality crisis.

Climate-related risks have consequences on communities and populations, but specifically businesses, employees, customers and their larger communities. For business leaders, that’s why a commitment to sustainable business practice is no longer a nice to have goal, it is part of core business. Be it a building, factory, office or residential development, independent of what your business case says about sustainability, businesses must embrace it. For CEOs, a focus on sustainability can help differentiate their company’s brand, performance and strategy. Sustainability represents the largest and simplest opportunity for a business to enhance its triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

India has been a longtime leader in green building, and over the last several years, green building in India has seen a dramatic increase. Businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits and government leaders across India understand the value of green building and are transforming the market by choosing to certify their buildings to green building standards. This includes leaders like Tata Housing who have committed to certifying 20 million square feet of residential space to LEED and the WELL building standard. In fact, India is the fourth largest market in the world for green building with more than 2,900 registered and certified commercial projects participating in LEED, totaling more than 1.39 billion square feet. And green building’s growth rate is only expected to grow over the next 10 years.

Green buildings help improve indoor environmental quality, which is important because we spend roughly 90 percent of our time indoors. High-quality indoor environments help protect the health and comfort of building occupants, enhance employee productivity and decrease absenteeism. They are also an asset for businesses because they can improve a building’s value and reduce liability for building designers and owners. Strategies businesses can employ to improve air quality in their buildings include using low-emitting materials with no VOCs, establishing minimum standards for indoor air quality as per ASHRAE 62.1-2010, naturally ventilating spaces, monitoring outdoor air intake flow and prohibiting smoking inside a building, among others.

Installing plants is one of the easiest ways to help filter air. Leaves, roots and stems take in polluants like excess carbon dioxide, ammonium fumes and benzene and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. Kamal Meattle, the CEO of the Paharpur Business Centre, experienced this first-hand. Twenty-five years ago, doctors informed Kamal that he had become allergric to Delhi’s polluted air, and that his lung capacity was diminished by 30 percent. They urged him to leave for the sake of his health, but rather than abandon his hometown and uproot his business and employees – he decided to grow his own clean air.

Kamal discovered there are three common plants that produce all the fresh air we need to stay healthy indoors, so he began growing them inside his office building. Today, there are more than 1,200 individual plants – about four for every employee. And it’s making a profound difference in their lives. Reported respiratory illnesses have dropped 34 percent, headaches and eye irritation are down and employee productivity is up. Thanks to Kamal’s vision, Paharpur Business Centre became India’s first LEED Platinum office building and is now one of the healthiest indoor environments in Delhi. It stands as a model for what is possible – the notion a building can contribute to health and happiness.

This World Environment Day, business leaders should consider their companies’ impact on the environment and how their buildings affect the health and wellbeing of their employees and occupants. India is a leader in green building, but we still have miles to go to combat air pollution and climate change on a large scale.

Because the thing is, once people take small steps in their daily lives — like recycling, using less water or monitoring indoor air quality — they become more cognizant of a building’s health impacts; and the more we talk about those health impacts, the more others become aware and are willing to take those steps as well — ultimately resulting in bigger steps and leaps toward a more sustainable environment for our future.

(By Gopalakrishnan Padmanabhan, Managing Director – APAC & Middle East, Green Business Certificate Institute (GBCI)

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