For a greener world
Traditionally, the real estate and construction industry has been a major contributor to environmental degradation. However, with growing awareness of how this harms not just our present but our future too, the move towards sustainable practices is growing in the industry. Taking the lead in adopting innovative and sustainable practices in India, Tata Housing Development Company has launched a concerted drive to build eco-friendly and green buildings. Brotin Banerjee, managing director and CEO of the company, says, “We were among the first few companies in India to construct green buildings and we did it because we believed that it was the right thing to do. We believe that sustainability in business is the only way forward.”
Today, the company has the largest number of green buildings and all its projects follow the guidelines of the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). When Tata Housing first thought of going green, the IGBC had not come into existence. So for the first green project that the company took up — Xylem, a commercial building in Bengaluru — it followed the norms set up by the Green Building Council of the US, The Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED), guidelines. “We applied and got gold rating,” explains Banerjee.
Xylem IT Park has an ergonomic design and architecture which has the occupants’ health as its chief focus. The design boosts employee productivity as well as helps reduce the operational cost of the building. This is one of the most environmentally friendly buildings of its size in the entire country.
Banerjee says, “We actively measure carbon emissions at all our projects. In addition, we are looking at how we can achieve higher levels of afforestation at our projects. Our target is to see how we can reduce our carbon footprint on a per square foot basis.”
But constructing eco-friendly buildings has its own challenges. While businesses are realising the benefits of investing in green buildings, in the residential segment the response is lukewarm. The average home buyer is primarily driven by factors such as location, affordability, quality and reputation of the builder; the eco-friendliness of a building does not figure as an important consideration, especially if it adds to the cost. “In our Xylem project, buyers paid a premium as it was easy to demonstrate performance metrics,” notes Banerjee. “But in housing complexes, the benefits accrue over a period of time so it takes longer to realise the benefits of green housing projects.” The capital cost for designing a building rated by IGBC as platinum or gold is comparatively higher than for non-rated one because there are several criteria to be met, including the kind of glass, water flow features, air conditioning, lighting, the raw materials and other equipment.
“Double-coated, UV-protected glasses are far more expensive than normal ones,” observes Banerjee. “There are more than 50 points under IGBC norms that green projects have to meet and the rating is given on the basis of these points. The higher the rating, the more your capital expenditure would be.”
To tackle this lack of awareness of environmental issues in housing, the company is trying to advocate environmental sustainability among customers and tell them about the benefits of green buildings that will prove profitable in the form of water and energy savings and reduction in wastage of resources.
Unfortunately, the government and financial institutions don’t offer incentives which might motivate developers and customers to go in for green buildings. “In the light of the sustainability crisis looming over the world, we have to realise that it is no longer an option – we have no choice but to go for green buildings,” says Banerjee. “In fact it is the right and responsible way to do business and it needs to be incentivised. No state in India has a dedicated agenda for green buildings. A policy framework will be very helpful and go a long way in encouraging this very desirable development.”
“In some projects, we have used landscaping as a differentiator,” points out Banerjee.
For example, it has used biophilic (biophilia is the instinctive bond between humans and other living systems) landscape designs in one of its projects, the Myst in Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh. Through its subsidiary, Tata Value Homes, the company has a sizeable presence in the affordable housing segment.
“Even here the company is offering thematic projects with mixed-use development, where you have different components which are synergistic in the sense that they feed off each other,” explains Banerjee. “So you have a ‘work, live, play’ kind of an environment. Many people now choose to live in such townships as opposed to individual buildings because they foster a sharing of resources and that itself is a sustainable way of living.”
Among its forays into new areas is Tata Housing’s project Riva in Bengaluru, which has homes designed for senior citizens; Prive in Lonavala, which is a smart homes project integrating technology with day-to-day living; and international mixed-use projects.
In the competitive environment the company operates in, it is important to have a pipeline of creative and innovative ideas. To ensure this happens, the company has created an innovation council, a cross-functional team made up of middle and senior management leaders.
In a quarterly programme, all employees have participate in an intense debate and discussion with their bosses and colleagues on new ideas for three hours. The ideas are sent to the council which then deliberates on them; funds are allocated for those that are accepted.
“The idea is to build a model that encourages employees to participate and take a risk,” points out Banerjee. “We want to do things differently. As a practice, we aim to challenge people to think differently. In a brick and mortar industry, this brings a whiff of fresh air. We also seek out customer feedback which we can incorporate in the projects.”