Environment

Seeing red about going green

Print edition : November 28, 2014

Eros Corporate Tower, a certified green building at Nehru Place in New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

WHEN the idea of “green” architecture was introduced some years ago, the construction industry viewed it with resentment and scorn. But with public appreciation growing for environmental concerns, builders and architects have been quick to post their structures as environment-friendly. Many new buildings have been built with some respect for the environment, but the “green” tag is more often misrepresented than truly understood and applied.

In a new report titled “Building Sense: Beyond the Green Façade of Sustainable Habitat”, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, exposed the complexity of regulations that surround such buildings and demystified the idea of green structures. The study essentially says that many green buildings are not necessarily energy efficient and some are actually more polluting than conventional buildings. This is because the existing green rating systems lack transparency.

There are two rating systems in India: the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED)-India Programme, which was managed by the Indian Green Building Council until June this year, and the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). In 2012, LEED had published data on its website of 50 green-rated buildings. GRIHA has not made its performance data public. Using data from LEED-certified buildings, the CSE explained: “The objective of this analysis has been to assess if the rated buildings, once they are operational, meet the benchmark of the official star labelling programme of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE).” The report essentially found that the energy consumption of many of them was very high. The government’s BEE star-labelling programme ranks buildings according to their energy performance index in relation to the benchmarks created for different climate zones and for different building typologies, that is, day-use offices, offices with extended working hours such as BPOs and IT offices, and malls.

The CSE study analysed data of 19 day-use office buildings and 21 BPO/IT buildings and found that 47 per cent of them did not meet the BEE star rating. Of the day-use office buildings, nine did not meet the standards, while 10 of the BPO/IT buildings failed to get a rating. Criticising the report, the construction industry said it was unfair to compare normal eight-hour office buildings with those with extended hours. The study also warned that though many State governments were giving developers sops on account of them going green, there was a “lack of stringent and transparent monitoring of actual energy and resource use during building operation [that] can seriously compromise resource savings”. Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra give developers monetary incentives to persuade them to get their buildings rated under the rating systems. In spite of this, many fail to meet even the minimum standards of green construction.

Currently, efficient design need not translate into efficient performance since there is no way to control how people use the building. To ensure this, the CSE suggested that India should introduce mandatory energy and water audits and use-based energy and water billing. If a legally drawn up framework was instituted for post-construction performance, accountability and transparency, buildings would probably be used more efficiently. The study also said it should be obligatory for all buildings to make public their built-up area and their annual energy and water usage. The construction sector accounts for 40 per cent of carbon emissions, 30 per cent of solid wastes, and 20 per cent of water effluents in the country. At the current rate of development, India will have 60 per cent more buildings by 2030. One way to minimise the destructive footprint of the construction boom is to construct eco-friendly structures.

Lyla Bavadam

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