Real estate can lead conservation efforts in environmental sustainability, writes Sanjay Dutt

Updated: April 26, 2019 2:15:41 AM

Real estate can lead conservation efforts in environmental sustainability

Real estate, environmental sustainability, Urban areas, Groundwater tables, surface water bodies, NITI Aayog, GDP, CWMI, rainwater harvesting systemsThe second largest employer in the economy is real estate.

By Sanjay Dutt

Urban areas globally are reeling under a severe water crisis, the recent example of Cape Town being the extreme case. Groundwater tables are falling, and surface water bodies are disappearing either due to extreme temperatures or disruption in surface flow patterns. Freshwater is scarcer than ever before, also due to the burgeoning population with first-world needs and requirements.

India, with 1.32 billion people, is facing the worst water crisis in recorded history. NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report pointed out that the country’s water demand is predicted to be twice the supply available, implying a subsequent 6% loss in GDP.

Also read: Empowering women through safe water

The second largest employer in the economy is real estate. A CREDAI-JLL report noted that India’s real estate sector is expected to reach $180 billion and the contribution of the residential segment to GDP would almost double to 11% by 2020. Real estate is, therefore, uniquely positioned to lead conservation efforts in environmental sustainability.
Water is used in real estate in two cycles: construction cycles wherein developers build in features and technologies to reduce, reuse and recycle water, and operational cycles where they facilitate, educate and incentivise end users to practise sustainable use of water.

Reduce, reuse and recycle are the mantras for environmentalists, be it waste, energy or water—the key factors to ‘development’. Real estate developers, in particular, have the opportunity to ensure sustainable use of water, by employing efficient water management practices in their projects.

Water-efficient plumbing fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems, water meters, etc, all contribute to water management. Utilising a well-designed plumbing system in a building can save gallons of water per day. Rainwater harvesting systems are an effective method of water conservation and are mandated by both municipal authorities and the ministry of environment, forest and climate change. This method holds enough water for a day’s or two’s requirements and the excess water is percolated into the soil using rainwater harvesting pits. In the absence of a storm-water system in the locality, efforts can be taken to have a zero discharge system where the geology of the site is conducive to the objective. If geology and site gradients do not permit the same, then the excess storm water can be channelled into natural swales.

Waste-water treatment and reuse for flushing and landscaping are also implemented. The real estate industry is moving towards these not only as a matter of environmental responsibility, but also as a means to provide financial benefits to end users. Some developers are installing water metering devices to ensure not only pure billing of the supply used, but to also monitor supply units through meters, thereby helping curb unnecessary use of water.
Certain real estate developers are taking water management efforts a step further. For example, some developers are looking at reducing water demand for irrigation through water-efficient management and techniques. For example, automated irrigation systems help in landscaping, minimising water requirements for plants, and ensuring greenery. This, in turn, can bring down microclimate temperatures in a project by almost 2° Celsius.

With growing awareness, water management practices are becoming an influential factor in investing in a home. Competent water management helps address one’s social responsibility while also bringing down water bills. This ultimately drives developers to pay attention to the overall sustainability aspect of their projects.

It goes without saying that some real estate developers are driving measures to build structures innovatively to be able to maintain a sustainable environmental balance. In order to conserve the available freshwater and groundwater reservoirs, adopting a combined suite of measures is a must.

The author is MD & CEO, Tata Realt

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