Waste not, want not

Tags: Real Estate

A green home doesn’t only mean eco-friendly construction, it means an efficient space that reduces dependence on government infrastructure for water, energy and waste

Waste not, want not
Let's first make the distinction, for the sake of convenience and clarity, between an ecologically sustainable home and a green home. The former is something that you build with materials that make for the least use of exhaustible natural resources — a typical farmer's house is the best example, with a combination of clay walls, cowdung surfaces, thatch roofs, limestone-coated walls. There have been homes in the urban context that have attempted to use some ‘traditional’ elements but not always with success on reducing use of natural resources.

What is labelled in current times as a ‘green home’ is what you ‘architect’ and ‘engineer’ in terms of solutions for a regular urban home, taking into account use of building materials for floors, walls, roofs and windows, the use of systems and technologies that reduce consumption of water and energy without compromising comfort or convenience the way you define them as a dweller. If you are willing to spend a little more as capital cost at the start, you can secure savings into the future that can help you recoup your additional capital cost over five to seven or 10 years, depending on what the feature is that you are adding to your ‘green home’.

Green homes can help you save as much 30 to 50 per cent in your energy bills. With the right elements in place, you can rely less on fresh water and therefore increase water security. Beyond such savings, green homes can help you generate some wealth from waste, by managing its conversion into either manure or compost, or even energy for your kitchen. The important thing is that a ‘green home’ in the urban context will help and enable you to reduce your dependence on government infrastructure for water, energy and waste.

The current green market for buildings is focusing on rainwater harvesting for every building, waste water treatment plants that offer 100 per cent recycled water for use, and introducing energy efficiency in the use of pumps and heavy-duty electrical equipment in buildings.

Builders should take practical positions. They should not adopt a textbook approach to sustainability. It has to be replicable, and sometimes scalable. We address the low-hanging fruits that are easier to pick both on demand-side and supply-side management of aspects of water, energy, waste: rainwater harvesting, solar water heating, ‘Grow Our Own Water’ plans that ensure independence from municipal water supply, use deep aquifer water, natural air-conditioning systems are a few examples of such strategic approaches.

We should look for upstream carbon-effectiveness — use of non-river sand based concrete, triple blend concrete, lighter building blocks, debris used for road subgrades, optimising structural inputs for framed structures, establishing micro-climate right at the stage of design and not as an afterthought.... the list is truly long.

The vision is simple: every building must drop demand for freshwater by 40 per cent by voluntary compliance, or by law. The same holds good for power. We should have a drop in demand by at least 40 per cent, with investments made by the building industry for energy generation on their own without dependence on the grid for such local power. All industries should reduce their demand by a minimum 40 per cent for power from governments and local bodies. And they should voluntarily install recharge wells for every borewell that draws from deep aquifers.

Governments don’t offer solutions that are creative. They destroy resources that have been built by earth over many thousand millennia — indiscriminate extraction is only one example of such acts. Governments, as they are structured in India, are simply not equipped to offer solutions into this future before us for these resources and their sensitive management.

At the core, there is only one challenge: consumer behaviour and human behaviour. Can this change? We must not just buy what we need, we have to “buy into” what we need. This means that we as citizens who can afford a certain lifestyle, must bring unto ourselves the joy of responsible buying, and consuming. We have to realise that less than 10 per cent of India’s and the world’s population actually consumes 80 per cent of the world’s natural resources. The poor do not have the money to fulfill their want to consume — not that their aspirations are any different from those of the urban rich. So the single challenge is in bringing about this joy of responsible buying and knowing the significance of what we are buying into.

However, there’s a silver lining. Over just the last four years, the 12-year-old CII Indian Green Building Council alone has managed to certify over 500 million sq ft of commercial spaces. This figure is set to touch the one billion mark (for commercial buildings alone) by 2015. This is because of the clear advantage that commercial builders see in sharp reduction [over 30 per cent] in post-occupancy costs of such green buildings. This is a major draw among B2B tenants that such buildings attract as clients.

The performance has been even more encouraging on the residential sector front, with over 800 million sq ft of IGBC-green-rated buildings coming up across India. Between the GOI’s GRIHA certification and the Pune-based EcoHousing Rating System, there is another 100 million sq ft of such residential and commercial buildings that have been certified over the same period of four years. The downside is that this accounts for less than two per cent of the entire building/construction industry total footprint of buildings in India. There is a very long way to go.

The green market for home appliances and consumer durables is going to see a major and dramatic shift in the near future. All air-conditioners in the Indian and the world market will shift to inverter-based ACs, which will drop energy consumption by 30 to 70 per cent! The current market for ACs is at about 3-3.5 million per annum. This is set to rise to 6.5 million by 2015. The drop in energy demand therefore will be significant in the decade ahead. Wireless energy — like wireless telephony that came in the mid-90s — is the next big game-changer in green development.

If you step back to discern the longer-term trend, you will see green and energy-efficient buildings are here to stay. zz

(The writer is executive chairman and co-founder of BCIL Zed Homes)

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