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Green buildings will be key to ensuring urbanisation of India

December 18, 2012
By 2030, India will have 68 cities with a million-plus population. Europe today has only 35 such cities while India already has 42. And by 2030 some 590 million Indians will live in cities - twice the current population of the US. These are the estimates of a McKinsey study titled India's Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth. It predicts that the current Indian approach towards managing cities will lead to urban decay.

Space will be a constraint in India's bustling overcrowded cities and it will be necessary to build high rises that could be guzzlers of water and electricity. Green buildings, then, that optimise use of these resources will be the key to ensuring successful urbanisation of India.

In mature markets the cost premium of constructing green buildings is around one to six per cent. In India, however, it varies between six to 18 per cent, according to a report by Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj. The higher cost is due to lack of technical expertise in India. It also varies depending upon the level of certification sought from the rating agencies by a builder. With savings in electricity and water plus carbon credits earned from green buildings, there can be a three to seven year premium payback period. Carbon credits are tradable certificates awarded to groups that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. A unit of carbon credit allows the holder to emit one tonne more of carbon dioxide than it was initially permitted.

In India, the Indian Green Building Council, offers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, better known as LEED, in a partnership with the US Green Building Council. The Union Ministry of Power has also issued the Energy Conservation Building Code supported by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency. The Energy and Resources Institute has the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment also adopted by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. "The rating system enables urban designers to apply green concepts and criteria so as to reduce environmental impact which can also be measured," says S. Raghupathy, Executive Director of the CII-Godrej Green Business Centre, which offers advisory services to industry in matters relating to green buildings, energy efficiency and water management.

It is important for new buildings to set the example. The ITC Green Centre, Gurgaon, which was certified the largest green building with the highest 'Platinum' rating in 2004 while it was under construction, used fly ash bricks and appropriate technology to ensure zero water discharge. It also targeted 53 per cent energy savings over normal buildings and went for 40 per cent reduction in potable water use. The building had a cost premium of 15 per cent and a payback period of six years.

Old buildings can also be renovated to become green. Cement major ACC has renovated its headquarters, Cement House, in Mumbai to become a certified green building. Built in 1939, before air-conditioning became popular, the building has an atrium, a skylight and was designed for natural air cooling. ACC decided to do away with most internal walls - the CEO sits in an open enclosure - to reduce power consumption. Green buildings are the way forward to ensure sustainability of Indian cities, according to Raghupathy. "Green buildings also turn out to be more economic in the long run and make business sense," he says.

Suman Layak

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