Can green buildings save the planet?

Can green buildings save the planet?

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Green buildings represent a powerful opportunity to address climate change in emerging markets

According to environmentalists, the only way to stop mother earth from turning red is by going Green. Mother earth is bleeding red thanks to our habit of overconsumption. We have been exploiting resources faster than the planet can regenerate them. We are imitating a careless household person who is spending more than he is earning.  Our demand on nature has far exceeded than what nature can produce with resultant consequences like climate change, biodiversity loss, shrinking forests, soil erosion and depleting freshwater levels.

Climate change is already playing havoc with our lives and properties as the nature is using the crude way to pay us back. Fortunately, leaders around the world have realised the fact and putting in a joint effort to tackle the situation. For example, India aims to reduce the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level. To achieve this target, there needs to be substantial increase in efficiency of energy use across all sectors, especially in the building sector. “Today, the relevance of energy efficient buildings has assumed greater significance in the light of fast depleting energy resources, growing urbanization, and environmental pollution multiplying manifolds. There is an urgent need to adopt efficient and environment-friendly technologies in new and existing building,” says Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, TERI. TERI works extensively in the field of climate protection, and has set up various action programmes to combat climate change through urban planning.

Built environment is considered to be one of the main culprits in the entire episode. It should be noted that out of the total electricity consumed in the building sector, about 75% is used in residential buildings and the gross electricity consumption in residential buildings has been rising sharply over the years. For instance, the consumption figure rose from about 55 tWh in 1996-97to about 260 tWh in 2016-17 which is an increase by more than four times in 20 years. If the trend continues like this, consumption may rise to anywhere between 630 and 940 tWh by 2032. Among various reasons, increased use of decentralized room based air-conditioning units in homes for thermal comfort is an important reason contributing to this rapid increase in the electricity use in residential buildings. The demand for air-conditioning will continue its exponential growth with improvement in household incomes and will become the dominant contributor of GhG emissions nation-wide owing to increased electricity consumption. In a way we are trapped in vicious circle – increased global warming leads to increased use of air-conditioning which in turn leads to increased electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions thus adding to global warming again.

Residential building being the main factor contributing to global warming and climate change, it is felt that there is need for re-considering the way we build and maintain our buildings. In other words, going green is the only way to tackle menace and save the earth. One good thing is that at least we have recognised what exactly is our problem is and we have started acting on it. For example, last year Karnataka government announced “For the first time in Karnataka, every house is going to be a ‘building by law’ focusing on construction sustainability, water and waste management.” In one of its initiatives, TERI through Green Buildings Rating System India (GRIHA), the national rating system for green buildings in India has been training the PWD officers to provide them with an understanding of the rating system, who would then qualify to become GRIHA certified professionals and Evaluators, after clearing the GRIHA exam. The intention behind organizing these customized training and capacity building programs specifically for PWD officials to create a cadre of certified GRIHA professionals within PWD for evaluating on-going GRIHA projects.

Various municipalities and government organisations in India have adopted GRIHA rating, and are offering a range of incentives to both developers and residents to promote the adoption of green buildings. PCMC, for example, is offering 10-50% rebate to developers on premium charges for GRIHA and SVAGRIHA certified buildings (1-5 star). To owners, it offers -10% discount on property tax for (3-5 star) GRIHA finally certified buildings and 5-15% for SVAGRIHA finally rated buildings.

Still less than 5% of our buildings are green rated. And also look at future – nearly 70% of residences for the people yet to be built and will have to be built by 2030. In other words, by making all future construction green rated we can substantially meet our commitment to international agencies on GHG emissions. But the big question is – is that enough?

Despite, India ranking among the top three in green building ratings the concept is still at nascent stage in the country while rest of the world has already moved far ahead of just green rating. For example, in USA debate is now on how to achieve Zero Carbon Commercial Construction.  Trend is now towards developments that have avoided fossil fuels with all electric designs that save money and improve the comfort for occupants. Therefore, we need to bring in and up the scale for “zero energy” movement. Daylight harvesting, geothermal wells, natural ventilation, a high-performance envelope, electrochromatic glass and a building automation system should no longer be the concepts of luxury but are to be treated as the necessities for our survival.

Yes, we are living dangerously and there is urgent need for change in life style for which we need to do lot of sacrifices and come out of our comfort zones. It is humans who have brought the nature to the brink of collapse and it is only the humans who can save it too. Humans have the ability to do that and the hurdles are not the technology but the will.

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