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While the world is now waking up to the impacts of unsustainable practices and development, Sachin Sandhir, MD & country head, RICS India discusses the way ahead for the industry in our country.

With increasing urbanisation, natural resources are being utilised rapidly and erratically without any planning and equivalent replenishment. If such a situation continues for long, the disparity in living conditions will create social upheaval. Future generations will not have any natural resources left.

Scientists suggest that the rise in global sea levels would be twice as fast and extreme weather events would become more frequent. The world map would change due to the vanishing of several major glaciers and rivers, and vast stretches of land, including whole countries, could go under the sea.

Developing countries like India concentrated in the tropics could be the worst hit by climate change and therefore have to start taking unilateral action out of self-nterest.

The only rule we need to follow is nature’s basic rule – ‘Reduce, reuse and recycle”, i.e., reduce the requirement, reuse the waste and recycle to use.

Real estate development uses about 40% of the energy and it is one of the prime contributors to global warming due to the emission of Green House Gas (GHG) caused by the energy used.

Overall, about 61% of India’s GHG emissions come from energy generation, and this amount is expected to grow along with future demand. However, there is some respite considering per capita annual CO2 emissions in India are approximately one tonne, compared to a world average of four tonnes.

Potential for saving TERI calculations suggest that the projected annual increase in energy demand, with no improvements in energy-efficiency, would be 5.4 billion kWh. 

The application of energy-efficient building design concepts, techniques and technologies in new construction can save about two billion kWh annually, representing an annual saving of Rs30 billion at current prices.

Therefore there is an extreme need to reduce the energy consumed by buildings or better still generate part of the energy they consume. Apart from the energy savings, there is a huge untapped potential for effective use of renewable energy.

India is the world’s fifth largest producer of wind power with over 7,000 MW of wind energy capacity.

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, until 2007, India had been able to exploit a fraction of the potential of these sources, with wind energy at 17% (7,845 MW of a potential of 45,000 MW), small hydro (up to 25 MW) at 13% (2,046 MW of a potential of 15,000 MW), and solar at 11% (2.12 MW of a capacity of 20MW/sq.km).

Meanwhile, buildings in other parts of the world have succeeded in using innovative structures to help generate part of their total energy requirements.

For example, the Bahrain World Trade Centre has three giant wind turbines linking together two identical sail shaped towers. These turbines are expected to produce between 11-15% of the building’s total electrical consumption.

Energy efficient design must evolve to a stage where buildings will generate the power they need. US experts have hinted at a future, 20 years from now, when buildings will act as power stations.

Key issues As we are yet to have extensive research available for the Indian market, the findings of a survey conducted by RICS in 2007 (based on approximately 50,000 RICS members across US, Europe and rest of the world) has some insights to offer.

Nearly 70% of respondents consider ‘lack of knowledge of available tools and techniques’ and ‘lack of expertise’ as the two most important barriers. Other important barriers cited by respondents include – cost (50%), lack of time (45%),
difficult to access (45%) and no client demand (44%).

A major issue faced by developers, is that it is hard to keep up with technology. Add to that professionals who claim to be green design professionals. Over the last few years almost all architects have wanted to become green even though they may not have the required background.

A general perception is that green buildings cost higher than similar conventional buildings, and it is difficult to get positive returns on this extra investment.

This is mainly due to the still-evolving nature of green buildings; lack of technical information; incomplete/inefficient execution of projects; short-term view on returns, instead of focusing on lifetime returns (ROI).

So far, the established cost premium for building certified green buildings is in the range of 6–18% depending on the level of rating.

However in a recent conference organised by RICS on Urban Sustainability and Green Buildings for the 21st Century, Dr Ajay Mathur, Bureau of Energy Efficiency shared that the premium has indeed come down in the last three years as the demand has increased and technology has advanced.

What would probably facilitate the sustainability movement is some substantial evidence between property value and sustainability, in terms of higher rents, attracting tenants and reducing costs.

A cost benefit analysis of US Green Office Buildings,undertaken by us, looked at the impact on the selling prices of green buildings and concluded a premium in the order of 16%, implying that upgrading the average non-‘green’ building to a ‘green’ one would increase its capital value by that much.

Imperatives A building can only be called sustainable if it is based on real savings as proven by actual operational costs and not the virtual savings predicted in design models.

For example, a building is designed for plenty of natural day light but the idea gets defeated by use of artificial lights during day time.

To create a more sustainable future, an integrated approach to sustainable development linking policy, research and practice is required.

It is critical that stakeholders come together to discuss design and implementation issues faced on the ground; research and learn from best practices and proven techniques; and equally important is for research facts to feed into government policies that will lead to enforcement in green building practices.

A start seems to have been made with the government announcing its intent to make green material mandatory by 2010. The government has decided to make it mandatory for new buildings to undertake energy efficient measures, rainwater harvesting and use recycled construction material in parts under the sustainable habitat mission of the national action plan on climate change.

The norms will also mandate minimum energy performance standards for residential and commercial buildings, which are voluntary at the moment.

The author can be contacted at ssandhir@rics.org

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June 2020
10 Jun 2020