Recently, one of my friends asked for advice on the subject of property, he was looking to buy an environment-friendly apartment.
From my limited knowledge of this subject, I told him to buy the apartment from a builder or in an apartment society that focuses on energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, higher use of renewable energy, and use of sustainable materials.
After the conversation, I did additional research on this subject and got to know about green buildings.
Green buildings are the ones that focus on eliminating the negative impacts on the environment in their design, construction, or operation and instead create a favorable impact on nature.
Advantages of Green Buildings
Green buildings offer a number of benefits over conventional buildings, apart from lowering or eliminating carbon emissions, they also reduce water consumption and provide energy savings.
As per World Green Building Council, green buildings result in energy savings of 40-50% and water savings of 20-30% compared to conventional buildings in India, thereby driving costs lower.
If managed well, green buildings can generate their own energy and surplus energy can be transferred to the grid for additional income.
Most importantly, a conducive setup like well-ventilated rooms and surrounding with clean air helps the habitants live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.
Why do we need green buildings?
As countries push towards net-zero emissions targets, construction and real estate development have come into the sustainability ambit.
Moreover, home buyers like my friend have become conscious of environment-friendly homes and have started demanding that from their developers and building contractors.
Whether the building is to be used for residential purposes or non-residential purposes (office, school, hospital, community center, etc) the place would need
- resources for construction and building
- energy to power its lights, appliances, air-conditioning, etc
- management of waste generated
According to a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction report, the residential, non-residential, and building construction industry accounted for 36% of the global energy consumption and 37% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. The level of emissions within the sector is 10% lower than in 2019, due to pandemic induced slow down in economic activities.
As per the International Energy Agency (IEA) “The buildings sector accounts for 28% of total energy-related emissions including emissions from electricity use. When energy from materials used for buildings construction and renovation is included, the share of energy-related CO2 emissions from buildings jumps to just under 40%.”
Therefore it is imperative that we control building emissions to not only address climate change but also create sustainable communities.
What needs to be done?
If a serious dent is to be made in the emissions generated by the building sector, major actions are required.
Countries would need policies, technical assistance, financial incentives, and large-scale investments in the green buildings sector.
In 2019, United Nations Secretary-General announced Zero Carbon Buildings for All—a multi-partner global initiative that includes national and local policies to make new buildings 100% zero carbon by 2030 and existing ones by 2050. The initiative plans to bring policymakers, industry, and civil society to both secure commitments to decarbonize buildings by 2030 and mobilize significant funding.
In addition, to ensure that a building is fulfilling the criteria of zero emissions, frameworks and processes need to be implemented in respective countries.
Currently, Green building certifications are usually voluntary and delivered by various organizations, and they generally classify buildings into Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platinum or 1/2/3/4 stars based on the criteria achieved.
Leed, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building certification system. Leed recognizes whole building sustainable design by identifying key areas of excellence e.g. sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, locations & linkages, awareness and education, innovation in design, and regional priority. In order for a building to become Leed-certified sustainability needs to be prioritized in design, construction, and use. Most credits are rewarded for optimizing energy performance. This promotes innovative thinking about alternative forms of energy and encourages increased efficiency.
In India, there are three primary rating systems that are applied to assess buildings – IGBC (Indian Green Building Council), GRIHA (green rating for integrated habitat assessment), and Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED). The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) launched a Star Rating program in 2009, for office buildings in order to accelerate the energy efficiency activities in commercial buildings.
Considering the concept of green buildings is relatively new, hence standardization of the rating process with monitoring and control would help the industry. The systems should reflect the construction and energy performance needs of low-carbon strategies.
Incentives and Concessions:
The development and maintenance of green buildings is not an easy task. Sourcing energy from renewable sources like solar plus other sustainable investments to construct a green building pushes the upfront costs manifold compared to a conventional building.
Higher capital costs translate to higher property prices, which discourage buyers. Hence for green buildings to be lucrative, additional incentives need to be in place.
The financial institutions need to chip in with lower interest rates and additional concessions for buildings that have achieved green certification. Government can also subsidize building materials and offer concessions and tax breaks to buyers of such homes and buildings.
The incentives can be tapered after a few years, as the costs of operation and maintenance will go down over the years.
Real estate needs many players and stakeholders, from architects and engineers to construction workers and utility agents.
The current ecosystem is not equipped with the skills that are needed to build and construct green infrastructure. Hence there is an urgent need to put systems in place to impart skills and training to everyone involved.
Leveraging from Startups & MSME sector:
Real-estate development needs many players and we have seen many startups and small companies coming out with some interesting and innovative building products that have many benefits over traditional products, especially in the environmental aspects. Therefore it is highly pertinent that infra companies and builders leverage the startups working in the green building segment.
Here is a compilation of some of the Indian startups working on sustainable construction.
It will be interesting to see how this segment pans out, but it is clear that controlling building emissions can help the environment, create sustainable communities, and ensure economic prosperity.