Over the past few decades, fast-paced economic development coupled with rapid population growth and urbanization has led to a rapid depletion of natural resources. The accelerated rate of resource consumption and rise in greenhouse gases' emission has resulted in significant environmental degradation. This has, in turn, resulted in climate change, the rise in average temperature and deterioration of air quality.
The building sector is one of the major consumers of natural resources such as water, energy and other raw materials. It generates a large number of wastes and pollutants during the three phases of its life cycle - construction, maintenance and deconstruction. As per estimates, the construction sector consumes an approximate 25% of water and 35-40% energy, apart from other raw materials.
Additionally, it emits 40% of global wastes and 35% of greenhouse gases. Looking at the rampant degradation of the environment across the globe, it has become imperative to take measures for the optimal use of natural resources, reduction of wastes and restricting the pollution. The use of green building practices can help in addressing these concerns along with giving an impetus to build a sustainable environment for future generations.
What is a green building?
Apart from a noun, green building is also a verb – namely the practice of using processes and technologies which are environmentally friendly and energy efficient throughout the building's lifecycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.
Green building practices can improve the environment's ecology in numerous ways. They can reduce energy consumption by 20-30% and water usage by 30-50%, and significantly reduce waste generation by extensive recycling. Apart from the obvious protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity, the use of green building practices leads to:
· Better air quality
· Enhanced daylight, leading to lower electricity consumption
· Superior health and overall wellbeing
· Enhanced productivity
Across the different countries, there are several programs and agencies that define, categorize and certify green buildings, such as LEED (USA), BREEAM (UK), DGNB (Germany) and CASBEF (Japan). In India, IGBC and GRIHA are at the forefront of promoting the green building programs and certifications. Certifications are done on various parameters such as:
· Water conservation and efficiency
· Energy efficiency
· The types of building materials and resources
· Indoor environment quality, health and comfort
· Innovation and development
· Site and facility management
Though at a nascent stage, India has emerged as one of the leading countries in terms of green buildings' projects. India ranks only second after the U.S. in terms of the number of green technology projects and built-up area. More than 4,300 projects with an approximate 4.7 billion sq.ft. of built-up area are registered for green technology in the country.
However, this is only about 5% of the total buildings in India, indicating that there lies a tremendous potential for further penetration of green building technology in India. Growing at an exponential rate, the Indian green buildings' market is expected to double and may reach close to 10 billion sq.ft. by 2022 (at a valuation of $35-$50 billion).
Key factors driving green building practices
Although the initial costs of a green building may be higher (up to 15%, depending on various factors) than for conventional buildings, the long-term benefits such as low operating costs, potential health benefits for the occupiers and protection of the environment makes such buildings very viable options.
Some of the key factors that are likely to drive the green buildings' demand are:
· Increasing awareness
· Improving affordability
· Environmental benefits
· Resources - countries with higher populations and limited resources will tend to adopt green building practices faster
· Government support, subsidies and compulsions
Emerging trends and technologies in green buildings
Green buildings aim to build a sustainable environment through efficient use of energy and conservation of natural resources. The efficiency of a green building can be maximized by the use of innovative construction materials and cutting-edge technology. While there are many technologies used across different countries, some of the more notable ones are:
· Biomimicry: Also known as biomimetic, this is a concept of imitation of the various models, systems and elements of nature and incorporating them into buildings' design and architecture. This trend has led to the adoption of many innovative designs to optimize the of buildings' air ventilation along with better cooling and heating control. Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe, with its biomimicry of termite mounds, is a great example.
· Green Roofs: In what is also known as the living roof technique, the roof of the building gets fully or partially covered with vegetation and soil on a planted waterproofing membrane. This moderates the heating and cooling of the building along with improving the air quality.
· Vertical Gardens or Living Walls: In this technique, the plantation is done vertically on either side of walls. This technique helps in degrading the pollutants and enhancing the air quality.
· Glass Fiber Reinforced Gypsum (GFRG) Panels: This is a very cost-effective and durable technique of development. It can be deployed fairly quickly and consumes less raw materials such as sand, cement and other products. Additionally, the core component - gypsum - is easily and cheaply available, considering that a huge amount of it is generated as a waste from fertilizer and mining plants. Buildings which use GFRG panels have a better lifespan and do not require beams and columns.
· Monolithic Concrete Construction: Unlike conventional techniques, in this method, all structures such as walls, floors, beams, columns, slabs etc. along with window and doors openings are cast in a single operation with the help of modular formwork made of aluminum. With thinner walls and columns, it provides a higher usable area. It is one of the potential technologies that can be used in affordable housing on a large scale, and it also conserves natural resources.
· Rain Gardens: This concept helps in enhancing groundwater absorption by reducing the amount of rain runoff. It uses planted depressions to allow water runoff to go through impervious urban areas, pathways, driveways, compacted lawns, roofs, parking lots etc. This technique allows more time for water to be absorbed in the ground that leads to an increase in groundwater levels, low soil erosion and reduced water pollution.
Ongoing challenges & barriers for green buildings
While the use of green building practices is on the rise in India, there are also a few challenges and barriers. Over the last few years, the slowdown in Indian real estate sector has led to a huge stash of unsold inventory. In addition, the impact of recent reforms amidst subdued demand has further dampened the market sentiments, and the majority of the developers are struggling to offload the existing inventory.
Current market conditions have made the developers skeptical about the usage of any technology that increases the cost of construction. Apart from this short-term market situation, some of the other challenges for green buildings practice implementation in India are:
· Lack of awareness about green buildings practices and its long-term benefits: A large section of Indian users are still unaware of green building concepts and its enduring benefits. A majority of users perceive that green building practices are expensive and not financially feasible.
· Inadequate Government's rules, standards & policies: There are not enough stringent and mandatory laws to enforce large-scale implementation of green building norms.
· Lack of skilled resources and subject matter experts: A majority of industry stakeholders such as policy makers, architects, engineers, contractors and workers don't possess adequate skills and know-how required for green buildings' construction.
· Inefficient incentives and subsidies for developers: There are very few incentive plans and those that exist vary across states or even cities, based on the governing bodies. While in the majority of cases, incentives are in form of additional FAR/FSI, followed by a rebate on property tax and other schemes. However, these incentives have not been significant enough to encourage developers and homebuyers.
· Higher cost of equipment and products: The equipment and products used in the construction of green buildings cost more than the conventional ones, so small contractors and developers cannot afford them.
· Approvals and clearances: Developers already face a tedious process of approvals, and there is an apprehension that further addition of green buildings' related compliance may cause additional delays.
The relentless degradation of the environment along with fast pace depletion of resources, rising pollution and climate change has affected the human life significantly. The deteriorating health conditions and livability quotients are alarming for the current and future generations.
This state of affairs calls for closer attention and increased participation of countries across the globe to take measures to slow down environmental degradation. The building sector, which is one of the biggest consumers of resources and emits a significant amount of pollutants as well as wastes, can play a vital role in building a sustainable environment by increased usage of green technologies.
In India, the growth of green buildings can be accelerated through standardization of norms, better incentive schemes, single window clearances, robust financial support system and most importantly creating awareness amongst all the stakeholders. Increasing awareness about green buildings and their long-term benefits can create a much bigger market potential - and when all is said and done, green buildings are the foundation of any substantial sustainable living mantra.