Sustainability, a traditional Indian characteristic, is now in the news all over again. But going beyond marketing gimmicks, Shriyal Sethumadhavan takes a deeper look into what it really takes to go green.Before we dismiss ‘going green’ as the latest fad, let us remember that eco-friendliness goes a long way back in India. In 1731, 363 Bishnois led by Amrita Devi sacrificed their lives while protecting Khejri trees, considered sacred by the community, by hugging them, and braved the axes of the loggers sent by the local ruler.This inspired the Chipko Movement in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, in the early 1970s, where a group of peasant women in Reni Village, Chamoli district, acted to prevent the cutting of trees and reclaim the traditional forest rights threatened by the contractor system of the state forest department. By the 1980s, this movement spread across India and went on to become a rallying point for many future environmentalists.It is 2012 now, and the effort to preserve the environment continues – this time aided by technology and a whole new series of skill sets. While India has been witness to tremendous growth in infrastructure development, it was only about 12 years ago when former US president Bill Clinton visited the country and created the spark for the green building movement, which aims to minimise the negative impact of construction activity on the environment. While the architect designs a building in harmony with natural features and resources surrounding the site, builders and contractors have started accepting and supporting green architecture, materials and systems alike. Today, we also have evaluators like the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and TERI-GRIHA (The Energy and Resource Institute – Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) that evaluate buildings on a green scale. (See IGBC and GRIHA specifications on pg 84 and 85, respectively.) But while some may imbibe the green ethos wholeheartedly, there are still others who pay mere lip service to the idea. This begs the question: what exactly does it take to be truly green?At first ‘site’While many aspects need to be considered while developing a green project, the old adage still holds true: location is everything. “Site selection is most important,” affirms Amit Pal, General Manager–Quality Assurance and Innovation, Mahindra Lifespaces Developers Ltd. “If I construct a building 100 km from the heart of the city, away from the infrastru-cture, it would be impossible to develop a green building.” However, in most cases, the site is already fixed by the client and you have to deal with it the way it comes to you, avers Purva Keskar, Director, VK:e environmental. “At times, there is a conflict between the Development Control rules and the green intent,” she adds. “For instance, in small sites, trees become a problem with DC rules, wherein maximum space gets allotted for parking provisions. In such situations, only peripheral trees have a chance to survive.”“While designing a green project, we primarily divide it into active and passive features,” explains Vidur Bharadwaj, Director, The 3C Company. “Passive features are related to the architecture of the building; its form, orientation, how you use sun shading devices, natural lighting, the air into the building, wind energy, wall and road construction, etc. Active features include the air-conditioning systems, electrical fixtures, censor or solar-based lighting and solar-based water heaters, etc.” In Pal’s view, the architect studies the orientation of the building, looking into the sun path diagram – how the sun is positioned throughout the year and how light can enter the building through its façades, windows – and different meteorological data, on the basis of which the orientation and basic configuration are designed. It is also important to know the wind direction throughout the year to understand the level of natural ventilation.For her part, Chitra Vishwanath, Managing Director, Biome Environmental Solutions, defines green as commonsense. She explains this through the orientation of a building in India:“The East and West can get really hot; hence, a large building should be oriented North to South. But, land is not always available. In such a situation, you have to design keeping in mind the green features.” Manit Rastogi, Managing Director, Morphogenesis, further explains this through his design for the recently completed India Glycols’ corporate office in Noida. “We could not go with the required North-South orientation. So, we designed the external envelope to be as opaque as possible to prevent external heat and sun from penetrating the building. Also, we reduced glazing in the external space and internally provided a lot more courtyards with much more glazing, protected from the sun.”A detailed analysis of the building’s orientation can be performed in the daylight with the use of energy simulation software. Varun Potbhare, Senior Executive–Spectral Sustainability Group, Spectral Services Consultants, an AECOM Co, tells us, “This enables designers to optimise and evolve designs with reference to the graphical data presented.”Resource readyAs Potbhare recommends, a detailed feasibility study on site would help the project team brainstorm on aspects that might minimise the use of external resources. Meanwhile, many players have a few tried-and-tested solutions. “We mostly use mud for construction, sourced right from where the project is situated,” says Vishwanath. For instance, in a spa and clubhouse of about 20,000 sq ft in Bengaluru, the architect procured the mud from the basement design and used it as mud blocks on all the walls. Referring to the passive features, Bharadwaj adds, “Whatever is used in the construction of the base can be reused in landscaping, murals, roads or in the roping systems. We use several recycling and renewable materials as well as those with low embodied energy, some grow very fast like bamboo; and old furniture is refurbished and reused.”In the case of a large site, developers can also set up batching plants for brick and pavement block manufacturing. According to Pal, this can reduce the dependence on external sources. “Also, during excavation, we try to retain most of the earth or soil reused for filling,” he adds. “The topsoil is preserved at one place and is used for landscaping after the project is completed.” Bharadwaj agrees, saying, “It takes 20 years for the top 18 inches of the earth to become fertile. Hence, as we erode, we must ensure that this is not wasted.”Choosing rightInterestingly, the definition of a green material could be different for different projects. “Bricks have been used for years and now we are using flyash bricks, which are much greener and better than other building blocks,” says Pal. “Also, materials like steel and glass have 20 per cent and 5 per cent recycled content in each, respectively.” Citing the example of his mass housing project Lotus Boulevard, Bharadwaj says, “For the exterior clad-ding, we have used AAC (autoclave aerated concrete) blocks, a by-product of coal, as they prevent heat from entering the building by almost 80 per cent. We have used solar lighting, local wood and tyres that can be recycled. Also, walls and roofs have been insulated to add to the building envelope’s efficiency.”As Bharadwaj adds, there are multiple types of insulation materials, and these can actually stop heat from routing its way through the walls by almost 90 per cent. This reduces the air-conditioning cost considerably. While Karan Grover, Principal Architect, Karan Grover and Associates, agrees that for porous and hollow walls, there are some incredible insulation materials that can be applied, he gives us a real eye-opener: “The use of local green plants on a green wall, which go up vertically, say 1.5 sq m, gives you enough oxygen for a person for a year.” And while Pal says his team tries to source materials like steel, cement, tiles, door frames and shutters within 250 km of the project site, Bharadwaj states that his team procures 70 per cent of the construction material within a 500 mile radius of the site. “Apart from this, we also try to use local plants as those transplanted require a lot of water to survive,” he adds.“We do not recommend green materials like mud blocks for high-rise buildings as they do not serve as green in this context,” Keskar points out. But one material she strongly promotes is aluminium, saying, “Aluminium can be recycled at 1 per cent of the energy that has been invested in producing it for the first time. So, if your building’s lifecycle is not very large, and you want to dismantle and reuse certain things, aluminium would be the best material to use.” With regard to the cost, she adds, “If sold, aluminium gets you 10 per cent cost reduction. But a material like steel gives you nothing.” As for the fact that aluminium is high embodied – maybe five times more than cement – Keskar says, “These things have to be looked at from a different perspective – the kind of project, climate, lifecycle, etc.”The good news is that green materials are available in plenty today. However, despite the plethora of materials on offer, building awareness remains the key to sustainable architecture.Concrete truthsFor instance, cement in concrete is a major polluter and it is important to learn that there is an environment-friendly option. “Concrete can be made green by using waste products generated by industries in various forms like rice husk ash, micro silica, etc,” explains Potbhare. “This helps save energy, emissions and wastewater.” To this Pal adds, “It contains recycled content like flyash or GGBFS (ground granulated blast furnace slag) in higher quantity. GGBFS is a material like flyash; it is a by-product of a thermal power plant from another industry.” Rastogi affirms, “The content of fly ash or any other material depends on many factors evaluated by structural engineers. It differs for various office structures and seismic zones. However, the fundamental idea is to use less water and cement.”“It falls under the purview of the architect and structural designers to recommend these materials as part of their design,” says Pal. “At Mahindra, we extensively use high-volume flyash concrete with more than 50 per cent of flyash for all our internal roads and car park areas. Also, these can be sourced at your own batching plant.” As Potbhare informs us, producing green concrete is not expensive as it uses waste products directly as a partial substitute for cement, thus saving energy consumption. Plus, it has greater strength and durability than normal concrete. For developers in Mumbai, as Pal points out, “You also have suppliers like UltraTech, Godrej, ACC, etc.”Is glass smart?A recent report published by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) stated that, an increase in the number of glass façade buildings has led to a rise in the ambient temperature near the surface of the building. The study at some places recorded a 17° C rise at the surface of the building compared to its surroundings. So, can glass really be justified as a green material?While Vishwanath does not want to be pinned down to a definitive answer, she tells us, “It is a nice material depending on where it is used and how much daylight is required.” Bharadwaj adds, “In the northern side, we use glass to get more light in. In the south, we use a type that will reflect the light out. You will find glass that is single, double or triple-insulated, but it is important to understand the usage as well.” Rastogi tries to further explain this through a project in Siliguri, Chandigarh. “The amount of glass to be used has been allocated to get adequate amount of daylighting, but it is not extensively used where the heat build-up increases. Hence, coming to a common consensus, glass gives way to natural lighting and you cannot make buildings without it. However, at the same time, it has an embodied energy, which is very high; hence we need to use it thoughtfully.”Water-energy-airAccording to Pal, the best way to ensure indoor air quality is proper ventilation. “Open one window and door on both sides and you will see cross-ventilation occurring.” In terms of materials, he adds, “Use of zero-VOC paints and adhesives improves indoor air quality.” Here, Vishwanath discards plywood from her picks; as it is a material bonded with phenol or urea. “Indoor air quality depends on the mechanical systems installed like air-conditioning and CO2 sensors that remove the carbon dioxide immediately and replace it with fresh air,” adds Bharadwaj. “Then you have concepts like free cooling and pre-cooling air conditioning wherein the cool air, which is thrown out, is filtered and used again to cool the room. So, all these aspects ensure fresh air at an optimum level in a building.” Also, HVAC is basically designed considering energy-efficiency and indoor air quality. Pal states, “You have to consider the current level of different gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, SO2, and the air level; if not done properly, your in-door air quality can be affected adversely.”“As I understand,” says Keskar, “60 per cent of energy is consumed in an air-conditioned building. Hence, I always try and convince the client not to opt for it unless he can achieve comfort with down-trap evaporative cooling.” However, this met-hod is suitable for hot and dry climates, not moderate ones. “At 3C”, Bharadwaj adds, “we also look at geothermal air-conditioning, wherein you bore 150 m into the earth, put in water, and then pull it out. This time, it becomes chilled water, and we then use it for air-conditioning. We are also looking at net zero homes and schools that work without using an electricity connection from outside and we generate electricity inside to make them air-conditioned spaces.”Unfortunately, as he tells us, wind energy is a challenge in northern India, because the velocity is low unlike coastal areas. To this, Grover offers a solution: cooling towers. These can cool the temperature up to 11°. You build a tower, open it on top and have a little spray of water. As the wind hits it, it begins to absorb the water. As the wind starts falling down, several baffle layers of bricks inside trace a path for it till the bottom. As it goes through, the bricks absorb the heat and, 40 to 60 ft down, the wind becomes cooler. “This is a traditional method used in villages,” he says. “A matka was placed in front of the window. The water would absorb the warm wind and then you would be sitting on a cool floor. With time, we looked down upon these traditional systems, and today we return to them.”Water can be saved in several ways. As Grover tells us, “Hundred per cent rain-water harvesting, small and big flushes, waterless urinals and adding air into the shower are all measures that can easily contribute to saving 60 per cent water.” Recent techniques include dual plumbing systems. “You have two different lines to one system for treated and fresh water,” Keskar explains. “While the treated water comes to your flush, if you want to wash utensils, you will use the fresh water connection.”Vishwanath believes it is important to understand the ground beneath your feet. “I designed a project on 56 acre in Mumbai where even the bore wells would dry out in summer,” she shares. “We studied the hydrogeology and dug a well where we would get water throughout the year, suitable for drinking and cooking.” For his part, Rastogi says integrated design is the best solution to conserve energy, air and water. He strongly believes a structure cannot be designed in a sequential way, as done in most cases.Trust the processAfter a project is designed to be green, the next step is to assimilate the green process during construction. The contractor is the first to enter the site before development begins. Right from excavation to the completion of the project, the contractor must be green. “I do not see any challenges in the basic implementation part of a green project,” says R Vasudevan, Managing Director, Vascon Infrastructure Pvt Ltd. Elaborating on the measures taken on site, he explains, “On all our sites, especially those registered for platinum and five-star ratings, we have an in-house architect who visits the site every month and gives lectures on the dos and don’ts that the workers should adopt during construction.” Mahindra Lifespaces works with a similar approach. “We highlight the need to maximise reuse during construction and in case there is a batching plant on site, the wastewater generated must be reused,” says Pal. But, for Keskar, it all begins at the logistics part. “It has to be planned in a way that you limit your activities to certain areas,” she says. In essence, materials must be stacked properly and the waste generated diverted from landfills.Vasudevan emphasises on the need to use machines and techniques that create less noise and pollution in terms of dust and emissions. For this, the company opts for electricity rather than diesel-driven machines. “We use concrete pumps instead of the traditional method of lifting and pouring concrete,” he says. “It saves a huge amount of time and a batching plant, instead of a mixer, reduces the dust created.”A simple bargainInitially, builders and developers did not opt to build green, concerned by the cost. “We were ignorant about the use of materials, their sources and ways to design efficiently,” agrees Pal. But times have changed and so has the incremental cost. As Prem C Jain, Chairman, IGBC, and Chairman and Managing Director, Spectral Services Consultants Pvt Ltd, an AECOM Co, confirms, “Today, the incremental cost involved is about 2-3 per cent compared to 7 per cent initially, and the payback period is anywhere between two to three years. This will keep shrinking as and when we see an increase in the materials used.”Meanwhile Rastogi insists, “In real green design, you will not require any additional investment.” Pal supports this fact, adding that the incremental cost for him might just be 0.5 per cent; and this too can be made zero with good value engineering and efficient design.The rating imperativeThe good news is that despite a recent start, the Indian green building movement has really picked up steam. While last year, IGBC aimed to achieve a green building footprint of 1.2 billion sq ft by 2012, Jain confirms, “We are at a 1.1 billion sq ft already and hope to achieve the rest in the next three months.” However, he confirms that the ultimate target remains that every building should be built green. At present, IGBC has 1,500 registered projects, of which about 200 projects are already certified green. “We plan to introduce a rating for green landscape this year,” reveals Jain. “The emphasis will be on reducing water usage. There will also be 100 points in terms of external lighting, soil preservation and use of machinery.” He adds that the system plans to introduce ratings for green schools as well over time.“To date, GRIHA has registered about 200 projects covering 8.2 million sq m,” shares Mili Majumdar, Director, Sustainable Habitat Division, TERI. “Of these, we have certified about 14 projects with several in the final stages of certification.” While the rating system focused only on commercial developments initially, it recently introduced the SVAGRIHA rating, which Majumdar defines as simple, versatile and affordable. “It is an online design and rating tool for facilitating greening of the smaller pie of the sector, essentially for buildings that are lower than about 2,500 sq m.” As for townships, she says, “Currently, we just have a guideline, not a rating. But we are going to introduce a rating around the township, rather large developments as well as for existing systems.” As far as green materials are concerned, GRIHA has introduced a product certification system. Here, parameters are laid out for construction materials to be used under GRIHA projects.However, green buildings should not only be rated at creation but through their lifecycle, something that is not done now. This is a major issue the industry seems to have with both rating systems. “IGBC typically says that the rating would be valid for a few years,” says Keskar. “For GRIHA, they will not give you a final certification unless you clear the final audit, which is done after the building is occupied for a year. Hence, for GRIHA, you can ensure complete monitoring for one year.” But, happily, everyone agrees that both rating systems are vital first steps that can evolve and be updated over time.The government’s roleJain, who is involved in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, reveals that it refers extensively to sustainability by states. “The government will give incentives to states for adopting sustainability measures,” he affirms. Indeed, the government has already taken a vital first step – the Ministry of Environment and Forest has decreed that any building pre-certified green by IGBC or TERI gets out-of-turn clearance. This means that developers who would ordinarily wait for six months to a year to clear projects would get their clearances within a month.Dr Farooq Abdullah, Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy, informs, “Various incentives available under diff-erent schemes of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) for deployment of solar hot water systems, roof top PV systems and waste recycling for energy generation, etc, are also available for constructing green buildings and retrofitting existing ones.” To this, M Anand, Senior Counsellor, IGBC-CII, says, “We are working with the MNRE and it is giving a lot of subsidies for all renewable energy sources. Today, we have also developed environment guidelines for area development projects for the state of Maharashtra.” On his part, Dr Abdullah highlights, “MNRE is implementing a national level programme on ‘energy efficient solar/green buildings’ in the country.” Under this programme, the ministry encourages energy efficient buildings through financial incentives for certifications, capacity building, training for professionals and awareness generation through seminars and workshops.Majumdar adds, “At present, the National Mission on Sustainable Habitat is under implementation. Modern building bylaws are getting framed. Also, the National Building Code of India is adding a chapter on sustainability. Last is the Energy Conservation Building Code, which is actively pushed through by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency.” Despite the gains, she believes a large part of the sector is still unorganised and there is an urgent need for a more proactive approach.You can’t argue with that. Or the fact that pro-activity goes hand in glove with awareness. Ultimately, a building will earn the badge of green not just for its initial certification but how it performs through its lifecycle. Here, occupants can play a major role by understanding the green measures that support the building, thus contributing to maintaining them over time. For instance, companies like Mahindra Lifespaces actually offer a home user guide that tells residents how to maintain their green apartment. We like it!International Take“Recycling in India is culturally embedded.” - Jeremy Lester, Chief Executive International, Grocon InternationalIndia is a huge, dynamic country with a capacity to grow at almost double digit levels. In such a scenario, foreign companies too are in the race to grab a bite of the pie. Grocon International, Australia’s 60-year-old, family-owned premier construction and development company, is one such player. Reckoned for its expertise in tall buildings, the company has expanded to the Middle East and now into the Indian and Asian markets. “We aim to be an active member of the IGBC,” says Jeremy Lester, Chief Executive International, as he shares his perspective on India’s green building practices and the possible add-ons.Point of view: Back in our domestic market, sustainability is focused on environment and ecology. But as India’s growth rate demands this concept to be much more imperative, there is a constraint owing to the current consumption of energy and water and the creation of waste. For us, building green is about the design, construction process and, then, the way the building operates. The const-ruction piece is just as vital because you can consume huge amounts of energy and water and unutilised waste on site. Also, at the operational stage, if systems are not maintained properly, they will not last long; hence, the need to go green at every stage. For India, the first two words are ‘progressive’ and ‘ambitious’. Some projects here are setting themselves some very high targets, and the country is constantly engaged in the concept of green buildings. Yet, some use this movement as a marketing tool without real implementation. However, this will change with time as a result of expertise, consumers’ demands for quality standards and implementation of regulation, which is yet to be enforced in India.Materials + methods: Our Jumpform systems – made from steel that has huge recycling properties – add to a building’s efficiency during construction. Also, we use wood, procured from renewable sources, in our formwork. Further, it is important to use concrete with lower and embedded amounts of cement. Grocon’s chairman was the founding chairman of the Australian Green Building Council, and we have created the world’s first carbon nuetral office building, Pixel. (For more on Pixel, refer to pg 79) We researched and created for our project, Pixelcrete, a material that reduces the carbon content by 50 per cent. We see a huge opportunity to introduce this sort of technology or innovation in two of the major developing or concrete consuming economies – India and China – to create a significant impact on global greenhouse gas levels. However, one of the grea-test things about these countries is that the small entrepreneurial nature of India is ‘use, reuse and recycle’, and this is an industry of its own. So, when it comes to site clearing or managing construction waste, leftover materials like the wiring or pieces of timber are always used elsewhere and that is a very powerful thing. In many countries, people make huge efforts to recycle, but in India it is culturally embedded.Also, talking about materials, one can increase the usage of steel, which is a great material for recycling; however, there are a few challenges. It is expensive and consumers are unrealistically addicted to concrete. Also, in one of our upcoming constructions, we are stepping into the next level of sustainability by using laminate timber products; sourced from renewable resources, these create a strong structure.Further, in terms of technologies, BIM (building information modelling) systems are increasingly being used today, creating a multidimensional design and operational modelling of buildings. It seeks to eradicate errors and conflicts in design and assure the efficiency of systems and processes over time. From a green building perspective, that can include eradicating waste and rework, ensuring the various systems interact positively together to deliver optimum performance, rightsizing and positioning structure and plant and equipment. It also means embedding features required for ongoing facilities management.Stepping in: There are futile areas of idea generation, and then there is a route where we can partner with good companies in India and introduce green construction ideas and technologies that we have tried and tested in our domestic markets; Grocon looks forward in this direction.Small Building, Big PictureProject: PixelDeveloper: Grocon InternationalArea: 10,000 sq ftLocation: Central Melbourne, AustraliaCertification: Received highest green star score by the Australian Green Building Council and declared top scorer on the US Green Building Council’s LEED system in March 2012Carbon neutral is a building which generates enough energy in order to offset the energy it consumes. Certified as the world’s first carbon neutral office building, Australia’s Pixel building achieved the highest green star score by the Green Building Council of Australia. While its innovation included carbon neutrality, a vacuum toilet system, anaerobic digestion system and reduced car park, the building could be self sufficient of water – in this context, it is water balanced as well as carbon neutral. Pixel not only operates by creating power and energy to work at its own consumption, but creates energy to the amount that it pays back the carbon being embedded in the construction materials used.It features a special type of concrete, known as Pixelcrete, which halves the embodied carbon in the mix. It incorporates the world’s leading wind turbines, invented in Bendigo; the Melbourne University-designed living roof, which re-introduces Victorian grassland species to the Melbourne area; and tracing photovoltaic roof panels. The distinctive sun shade system on the exterior of the building provides the maximum amount of daylight into the office space, while protecting it from too much glare and heat in the summer. Pixel also features a smart window technology, whereby windows will open automatically on cool nights to enable air flow into the building to cool the structure. As this small building can be disassembled and parts reused or recycled, the big picture remains that all the processes and systems developed in Pixel will be used in future Grocon Developments.Landscape talkA green building should be designed for local materials, labour and climatology; the landscape should respect this too by designing outdoor spaces in conjunction with built forms and site conditions. As Gaurish Chandawarkar, Principal Architect, SGC Design Group, emphasises, “Our role in a project is not limited to ‘greening, decorating or beautifying’. It is a site that needs to be treated on the basis of its own identity; its topography, geology, hydrology, natural vegetation and climate.”Suvarna Sathe, Landscape Architect, Sathe Architects, tells us, “As landscape architects, we help the architect in grading roads and designing proper circulation, and open spaces within that are tackled.” She further explains this through her design for a hotel’s landscape in Mahabaleshwar. The virgin site sloped 45° into a valley, the architecture faced the valley and there was natural landscape – a forest – on the opposite side. “Through my design, I tried to go towards nature, giving free flowing forms and then respecting the contours, the natural stream below and the forest opposite.”Green architects believe indigenous species too have to be considered as they reduce the need for high maintenance, optimising the use of water. Chandawarkar highlights how existing stream corridors and drainage patterns are maintained to optimise rainwater harvesting and surface drainage, thereby recharging aquifers and making groundwater available for use, when required. Talking about high occupancy projects, he says, “Calculations are done to balance grey water generation with the irrigation requirement, thus making for self-sustaining sites.” Also, methods such as vermiculture are used to treat wet waste and produce compost required to enrich soil quality for plantation areas.Eco roofs are essentially vegetated roofs that allow for better roof insulation, improved storm water discharge control, improved microclimate, and increase in local oxygen levels owing to the presence of plants. Chandawakar adds, “They also make available usable green area, especially in high-density areas where open spaces are not always adequate to serve the requirements of the users.” Meanwhile, Sathe touches upon the advancements, saying, “Earlier, burnt brick bats were used and further layered with sand. This was followed by geo textile and then mud manure.” However, nowadays, drain cells, which can be interlocked, are available instead of brick bats; this is followed by geo textiles and lightweight materials called coco pit, vermin compost and soil. This innovation leads to 60 per cent load reduction.As landscape design addresses the functional needs of users, the architect also needs to consider the initial execution – and long-term maintenance – costs. If these are considered in the design process and solution, every project could be a green project.