Business Today

On the green brick road

The building blocks of the construction industry are changing; so are the job profiles.

By Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: Sept 23, 2007

A group of young professionals stands crowded around a computer. On the screen are several detailed models of a building. Opinion is divided on the simulated elevations. "If we rotate the building 10 degrees to the right, it will reduce the heat," says one group. "No, put the insulators in the ceiling and that will reduce the energy costs," says the other. The building is immediately rotated 10 degrees and the energy cost comes down a couple of notches. The insulated ceiling, too, is put in place and voila, the hunt for perfect building model is over.

If you thought it's simulated gaming we are talking about, think again. This is a regular day in the life of green architects and engineers-rotating a building by a few degrees, inserting an insulated ceiling, putting a ledge here or a window sill there-all to make it smart, green, and energy-efficient.

Ashish Rakheja, Director, Spectral Services Consultants, which designs green buildings, is one such engineer whose 15-year career has moved the green way over the last 4-5 years. "Before the green parameters of environment-friendly and smartly-designed buildings became known, we did our best with the building designs without being able to measure what impact it would have on the energy-efficiency of the building." A degree in mechanical engineering and a post-graduate degree in thermal engineering later, Rakheja is now an "electro-mechanical" cog in the green workforce.

However, these green architects and engineers are in short supply and, therefore, in great demand. The construction industry boom has added impetus to the green building drive. Says Prem C. Jain, Chairman, Indian Green Building Council, and Chairman and Managing Director, Spectral Services Consultants: "Construction, of course, is booming; but there's now demand for this new class of architects and construction manpower."

Building smart careers

There is a robust green building movement sweeping across the globe. In India, the trend, which began gaining momentum two years ago, is now at a new high-more than 100 buildings have been registered with CII-Green Business Council for the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) ratings.

A green building is one that substantially reduces environmental damage to its surroundings and provides a healthy environment for people working and living in it. Says Jain: "Green constructions 'generate' surplus power, through the deployment of renewable energy sources and lessen our dependence on the power grid that is loaded with power generated (largely) with fossil fuels."

All Indian construction companies are keen on hiring "green" architects and engineers. Major corporations having a global presence are also in the fray for talent from this pool to achieve "carbon neutralisation" goals in their offices, factories and residential complexes. The demand is for engineering and architecture graduates with relevant specialisations and the right aptitude to conceptualise and coordinate such projects. "In India, we need people to do energy simulation, not in tens but in thousands," says Prabhakar Rao, Manager, New Projects & CDM, GMR Industries.

Apart from the demand for architects and engineers, there are other specialist fields that have opened up. This industry requires commissioning agents as well as energy auditors-both these fields require electro-mechanical engineers.

Says Mili Majumdar, Fellow & Area Convenor, Green Building Rating Cell, The Energy and Resources Institute: "This green initiative needs a multi-disciplinary approach and each of the profiles requires an integrated knowledge of architecture, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, public health and indoor air quality, among others."

It's CEO, not CSR, talk

A green building is no longer something that is only fashionable or a showpiece of corporate social responsibility; it is now a requirement. Vincent Lottefier, CEO, Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj, says: "We now manage 45 million sq. ft on behalf of the investors and occupiers and the green building concept is very much a focus area. This is a very important topic for us-both as users as well as sellers."

The influx of American and British companies listed on New York Stock Exchange has helped the green building movement in India. "Very soon, these companies will begin asking: 'What is the energy saving design of your building?' At JLL Meghraj, we are certainly lobbying with developers and they are listening," says Lottefier. Green buildings can reduce operating expenses both for occupiers and developers. "It's a win-win for both," he adds.

No place for energy guzzlers

Gone are the days of energy-guzzling glass buildings popping up across the length and breadth of major cities. A flurry of green activity in construction means that India will need more than 8,000 green architects and engineers by 2012. However, industry estimates add that if you count the number of product developers, energy auditors and commissioning agents, this figure will cross the 50,000 mark.

There are openings across all levels-from senior managers to entry-level green architects and engineers. The pay packets, too, are alluring and depend on the stature of the projects, reputation of the hiring firms and their long-term perspective. A trainee takes home Rs 3-5 lakh per annum; this can rise to Rs 15-50 lakh at middle and senior levels.

Companies are scrambling to put in place greener practices, to present themselves as more eco-friendly and to develop products and services to fill a new demand for all things green. "The phenomenon is creating jobs in fields like urban planning, carbon trading, green building and environmental consulting," says Dhirendra Shantilal, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, Kelly Services. The green building space will open up careers for non-architects and non-engineers as well. "Architects and engineers need staff to research new materials as they become available," he says. Result: a rising demand for conservation biologists.

Then, there is a boom in the industries that make products for these green and smart buildings. Small plants have come up in metros and on construction sites to manufacture aerated concrete blocks and fly ash bricks for these buildings.

Going by the frenzied activity, "green" has become fashionable not only among the activists but also among hardcore professionals. Green, after all, is also known to be the colour of money.

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