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White-washing Green buildings

CSE study exposes the Great Guzzlers...

Author: Avikal Somvanshi

Never before has the country ‘constructed’ at a more furious pace as now. It seems as if bricks and mortar have taken over every piece of land available in Urban India. If the trend continues the number of buildings will swing up by a whopping 60 per cent by 2030, predict the pundits. This is bad news. Why? Because this is potent enough to drag us slowly but inexorably towards a major disaster. Of the Natural kind.

The construction sector today accounts for 40 per cent of carbon emissions, 30 per cent of solid wastes, and 20 per cent of water effluents in the country. The only way to minimise the environmental cost of the sector is by ensuring that from now on every structure that is constructed is designed to be green.Or designed to use and dispose natural resources frugally,efficiently and therefore, sustainably. With the concerned government departments and the private players agreeing on this point, various green rating systems have been crafted by professional agencies. They scrutinise the green data and award star labels to the participants.

So far so good.

Not so green,after all?

But a recent study conducted by Centre for Environment (cse) highlights that the existing green rating systems are “not transparent”. As a result, many of the so-called green rated buildings are guzzling more resources than what is permitted by government standards, according to the study. The reason: green rating agencies rate the buildings on the basis of the quality of design and construction and not on their actual performance after they are occupied and are operating.

India has two mature national-level rating systems—the LEED-India Programme by Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) by The Energy and Resources. While GRIHA has just awarded two final ratings, complete data of which is not made public, IGBC in 2012 published the data of 48 of its green buildings on its website. CSE analysed the data of the 48 buildings and found that the energy consumption of a majority of the buildings were remarkably high.

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“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). Under the BEE star labelling programme, buildings are ranked according to their energy performance index (epi) in relation to the benchmarks created for different building typologies — day use office, BPO (IT offices with extended working hours) and retail malls, and for different climatic zones,” says the report published in CSE’s book “Building Sense: Beyond the green façade of sustainable habitat.”

CSE analysed data of 19 day use office buildings and 21 IT buildings and found that about half of these rated buildings do not qualify for even one-star label under the BEE’s star labelling programme.

“Green buildings are expected to be top of the line far exceeding the minimum benchmarks in all sectors — energy, water, waste, health, pollution among others. Failing to qualify for minimum government benchmark is alarming,” the report says.

The way forward

India needs appropriate green norms to benchmark energy and water use, minimise waste, and develop monitoring and compliance strategies.

The CSE book suggests that for starters, it should be made mandatory for all new buildings to meet basic green measures. It says government incentives should be given only to those buildings that do exceptionally well. Finally, the country should make it obligatory for all buildings to disclose publicly the data on annual energy and water usage along with the built up area.

‘There is a need to white wash green buildings to ensure our future buildings are not just green on paper’, it concludes.

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White-washing Green buildings