Sustainable realty

Tags: Real Estate

In developing countries like India, building energy-efficient green homes is still an expensive proposition, more so because developers do not get any significant incentives for that

Sustainable realty
A discussion on the economics of going green with sustainable, energy-efficient real estate projects is on right now, with the cost-benefit equation increasingly favouring sustainability. At a time when India is all set to usher in a new National Building Code, with a special sustainability code attached to it, the discussion is paving way for real implementation of such projects across the country.

When it comes to sustainability, in many developed countries, environmentally-conscious consumers can build green, energy-efficient homes without burning huge holes in their pockets. But in India, the most pertinent question is – Is that a practical option? The primary reason being that in a country like India, building energy-efficient green homes or sustainable buildings is still an expensive proposition, and more so because developers do not get any significant incentives for that.

“It has taken less than a decade for green building or sustainability movement to gather significant momentum across the country. This phase has been largely characterised by commercial buildings being registered for green building status under various rating systems, be it, commercial offices, hotels or institutional buildings. With most such projects, over the years the economics of going green has become quite compelling, with the cost-benefit equation increasingly favouring sustainability, given long-term energy savings,” Tanaji Chakravorty, a Delhi-based urban economist, told FC Build.

He, however, admitted that the green movement in the residential sector is yet to become a widespread phenomenon, even though the process has started with certain residential projects and individual houses already doing sustainable development. “Also, there is growing institutional capacity building for support of sustainable developments in the affordable income residential segment. However, it is imperative that awareness and knowledge of sustainability practices, technologies and processes is shared on much larger scale with individuals and the development sector in order to enable robust growth in green homes,” he said.

A large number of builders have also started to believe that the future belongs to environmental-positive spaces. There are also developers who think that the incremental cost of developing a green building gets compensated by way of a much lesser recurring cost once such a building is built.

“The people of India are also getting educated about the benefits of having spaces in an environmental-positive building and at times are ready to pay the extra cost to get such spaces. However, these people are mostly companies and/or high-income group residents,” said Akshay Pasari, director, Pasari Group.

He, however, acknowledged the fact that India being such a large country, a handful of projects would not suffice. The scarcity of all important resources like water and electricity can be taken care to some extent, if the government gives incentives to developers building environmentally-positive buildings. In that case, cost may come down drastically, which will help developers make green buildings for the masses.

While advocating the need for making such buildings available at subsidised rates, some developers across the country think it’s not so expensive (not more than 15 per cent on an average) to put up a green building that the cost cannot be recovered.

Take for instance Varasiidhi Infrastructure’ project — Crosswind at Bhandup, Mumbai, which consists of a rehab wing of 18 storeys and a free sale wing of 23 storeys. Both the wings are gold-rated LEED certified by IGBC. In the rehab wing, the developers have used aerated cement concrete blocks for walls, aluminum window panel in blue tinted glass, which is as per green norms, low-flow sanitary fixtures, energy saving device at metering level for common area lighting. For other buildings, they have additionally LED lighting in common areas. Sewage treatment plant (STP) is introduced for recycling of water, which can be used for purposes like flushing. Roof-top terraces will be applied with reflective paint.

“All these did not cost us more than additional 15 to 20 per cent, which is not too high for the long-term returns one gets due to reduction in operational costs. It’s not that impractical or difficult either,” said Amit Kulkarni, director of Mumbai-headquartered Varasiidhi Infrastructure.

Suresh Gogia, managing director, Ascent Buildtech, agrees. “It is a delusion that embracing green norms increases the capital expenditure of a project or is not practical in the Indian context. Buildings annually consume more than 20 per cent of electricity used in India and account for 30-40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Energy-efficient green buildings on the other hand are 25–30 per cent more energy efficient. Also, over a period of few years, the actual investment goes down and in most cases, cost is recovered within four to five years of initial investment. The operational cost is substantially reduced due to measures such as rainwater harvesting. Construction of buildings with green features is slowly becoming the norm and developers across India are readily adopting measures that conserve resources and reduce the overall cost of living,” said Gogia.

Pankaj Bajaj, managing director, Eldeco Infrastructure and Properties, and president, CREDAI NCR, is also of the view that building energy-efficient and green homes is absolutely possible in India and many developers are already doing it.

“In fact, most big projects when going for environment clearance undertake to adhere to green design and a concern for the environment. This includes using fly ash bricks, solar energy in buildings, rainwater harvesting and re-using dirty water after treatment. From taking the environment clearance to making a green building, is a short step that many developers are taking. Development authorities like Noida give extra FAR (floor area ratio) to buildings that are accredited as green,” said Bajaj.

Therefore, there seems to be a growing sentiment among developers in favour of dispelling the myth that green buildings are not for India and that projects incorporating green practices, such as solar and wind energy, are expensive.

“It is indeed a practical idea. Even if the initial cost of such buildings seems to be at the higher end, one can’t overlook the fact that the cost pays off in between due to drop in energy consumption, making the project cost-effective in the long run. Also, apart from being highly effective and practical, green homes help in the conservation of depleting natural resources to a great deal,” said Tanuj Goel, executive director, Noida-based KDP Infrastructure.

“Apart from over-dependence on power grids, buildings in India are also hugely dependent on diesel generator sets to provide power for day-to-day working. The rising cost of diesel and the increasing pollution caused by its consumption, create a need for a more stable and environment-friendly alternative. Energy efficient green buildings in this scenario can play a vital role as it presents us with an opportunity to adopt renewable source of energy and cuts down the cost in the long run,” said Shubhra Mohanka, director, Solid Solar, justifying the need for going green.

So, what is to be expected of the new National Building Code, which is likely to be a reality by March, 2013?

The draft of the code having special sustainability code attached to it, is almost ready and is being circulated to all state governments, various civic authorities, like municipalities, and other stakeholders for their suggestions and objections. The National Building Code is a model code that sets a benchmark for construction by setting acceptable minimum design and construction requirements for new buildings based on current approved technology and practices. The code lays down a set of norms that are designed to protect the safety of the people with regard to structural sufficiency, fire hazards and health aspects of buildings. All in all, it is a model code that addresses many aspects of construction and lays down rules and regulations for designers, developers, departments, municipal, administrations and public bodies to follow. Being a live document, the code is updated from time to time and has already been revised thrice since its inception in the 1960s. The code is continuously evolving and the proposed revision will make it more relevant in today’s context where there is an urgent need to conserve resources and follow practices in conformity with nature. Developers think that sustainability document should not only specify the parameters of a green building, but should also provide varied solutions towards the same.

“Adoption of green building in the new code can play a catalytic role in addressing environmental issues and concerns, of which, energy conservation is of foremost importance. There is a lot of scope in this sector in the Indian context that may be overshadowed by the challenges that the realtor might face in terms of the reluctance of buyers in paying a premium for the same,” said OP Agarwal, chairman, Lotus Group.

As such, the state should be proactive and come up with an incentive or a combination of incentive and specification to escalate demand and buyer motivation, he adds.


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