The building and construction industry accounts for around 6.5 per cent of the India’s GDP. Throughout the life-cycle of a building, the sector consumes a significant amount of energy. Therefore, increased participation and coordinated action from stakeholders in the entire value chain are imperative to effectively de-risk the industry from climate hazards while continuing to innovate and provide a sustainable environment.

Building and housing projects are growing exponentially, thanks to rapid urbanisation, population explosion and economic expansion. The total building floor area is expected to increase from the 2015 baseline of 15.8 billion m2 to around 30 billion m2 by 2038. This will significantly escalate the demand for embodied carbon-intensive construction materials like cement, steel, bricks, glass, etc.

The decarbonisation initiatives in the country’s building and construction sector are focused mainly on tackling operational carbon, with little attention paid to the life-cycle approach, including embodied carbon.

Embodied carbon is all of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released during a building’s construction as opposed to operational carbon, which is carbon released during the building’s operations in terms of lighting, heating, air-conditioning, use of elevators, etc.

The Energy Conservation Building Code and Eco-Niwas Samhita measure energy performance based on the operational usage of the building, but ignore the structure’s embedded carbon. This must be addressed.

Challenges to overcome

India lacks a well-defined set of standards for appropriate material use in buildings, inhibiting thereby the exploration of alternative materials and their demand optimisation through economies of scale. India spends 0.65 per cent of its GDP on R&D, which is very low compared to that of major economies like China (2.4 per cent) and the US (3.06 per cent).

There is a lack of commitment from customers and suppliers of building materials to embrace low-carbon approaches. Only a few cement producers and construction companies have committed to net-zero operations.

The lack of reliable, high-quality data from life cycle assessments (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs) makes setting benchmarks and establishing targets challenging. This is made worse by the dearth of affordable technological options to support the development and application of embodied carbon reduction initiatives.

Although technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen-based production of iron for steel have been explored, their commercialisation is yet to happen. Additionally, the decarbonisation of the industry would require a significant expansion in renewable energy capacity.

It is necessary to find, examine and evaluate the viability of best practices and technologies for decreasing embodied carbon emissions in the building and construction sector.

A building’s life cycle can be increased and demolition waste reduced by utilising the built space for adaptability, disassembly, and reuse. The 4Rs — reduce, replace, recycle and reuse — benefit communities, owners, tenants, the economy, and the environment.

Building design professionals are discovering new opportunities that can decrease environmental consequences, conserve resources and cut costs. This will ensure material efficiency across the value chain of the construction sector.

The writer is Team Lead, Sustainable Building Design, Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy