There’s a need to boost India’s green building infrastructure

Mahesh Ramanujam | Updated on October 27, 2020

This can be achieved through a regulatory framework that promotes climate change mitigation and green buildings across the country and by strong implementation of the existing policies

If we’ve learned anything over the last 10 years of green building innovation and the construction of smart cities and communities, it’s that what gets measured gets done. What gets done gets improved. And what gets improved, gets replicated. By tracking and measuring building and community performance, cities, states and nations can make improvements, raise the standard of living for all and become true catalysts to reversing the greatest existential threat of our times: climate change.

With much of the world’s population staying home because of Covid-19, we’ve seen a meaningful reduction in emissions around the globe. As countries and economies reopen in stages and people return to work and their pre-pandemic routines, it’s time for governments at all levels to lead with thoughtful strategies so we can continue this positive climate trend. At the same time, we need to continue to address the lack of affordable housing that puts Indians living below the poverty lines most at risk during environmental and health catastrophes and pandemics.

As the country with the second highest population, India has a powerful role to play in demonstrating leadership across the globe. The good news? Such leadership has been happening for over a decade. The government has committed to reducing emissions by 33-35 per cent, increasing non-fossil based power capacity and reducing carbon by almost three billion tonnes by 2030.

India has been on the forefront of change, including the 2006 National Environmental Policy, which targeted a host of challenging issues including pollution, waste management and energy, and the 2008 National Action Plan on Climate Change, which focussed on the critical balance between economic development and climate change.

The government has also made housing for all a national priority with the introduction of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) in 2015, which set in place a goal of providing affordable housing to the urban poor by 2022. Less than two years later, PMAY’s goal was expanded to include those living in rural areas as well.

We all know robust economic development is essential for India. We also know that smartly assessing and controlling its impact on our environment is equally important for securing our planet for future generations. Consider the widely reported statistic that more than 70 per cent of the buildings that will exist in India in 2030 have yet to be built. That is an astounding statistic.

We need to build greater awareness of the impact that our buildings and spaces have on our natural resources and human health. That is why green buildings, affordable green homes and sustainably built communities must be a foundational part of any thoughtful strategy to increase natural resource efficiencies, decrease carbon emissions and promote human health and wellness for all.

Embracing sustainability

The rising number of environmental catastrophes has led several countries to implement resilient green buildings across all construction sectors. For instance, the European Union has planned an environmentally-friendly economic recovery from the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its plan is to target building renovation, renewable energy and clean hydrogen fuel with a focus on low-carbon investments.

Green building certification organisations are similarly working to elevate the role of green buildings beyond the environment and economy and focus on the personal health and well-being benefits they provide.

India is currently the fourth largest market in the world for green buildings, touching every building sector. This in-country leadership in green buildings and green construction has contributed greatly to economic growth and development, while simultaneously making smart investments for the future.

The government is positioning the country to be a leader in both sustainability and the promotion of meaningful regulations and policies. India’s leadership took a bold step in energy conservation with the Energy Conservation Building Code, launched by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in 2007 and updated in 2017 with enhanced energy performance standards. This initiative will play a crucial role in shaping the future of green building infrastructure in India.

And, most recently, the government should be lauded for its efforts to address the Covid-19 induced mass-migration crises in India through its plan to focus on the development of affordable rental housing complexes (ARHCs) as a sub-programme of PMAY. Programmes such as this, if implemented across the board and with appropriate oversight, will help prevent mass urban migration while ensuring that all Indians have affordable and safe housing. India should ensure these new affordable complexes address its density challenges, are environmentally sustainable, promote health and wellness strategies and are part of the government’s climate-change mitigation efforts.

The way forward

A meaningful regulatory framework to advance climate change mitigation and green buildings across India can be successfully achieved with a strong implementation of current national policies and their replication and enforcement at the State level, and the undertaking of holistic, additional measures that will quicken the pace of green building.

These additional measures include improving resilience, supporting public transportation, supporting green spaces, supporting public health and wellness, promoting equity, and more.

Another way to strengthen policy implementation is to demonstrate leadership by example. In India, many government buildings have chosen to go green. Several government agencies have acknowledged and incentivised green buildings, including central agencies such as the Ministry of Skill Development and the Small Industries Development Bank of India, as well as State governments and municipal bodies across India, including the Pune Municipal Corporation, NOIDA and the Bhuvneshwar Development Authority.

States can serve as policy incubators that will help the country as a whole achieve its goals. It is not surprising that in States with a high number of green buildings, policies to further sustainability are being enacted. In January, GBCI India released the list of India’s Top 10 States for LEED. This list ranks States in terms of cumulative gross square meters (GSM) of LEED-certified space; these States are home to more than 843 million Indians.

Many of the States listed have pushed for increased action to meet their climate change goals and have even acknowledged and incentivised LEED, including the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

In Maharashtra, which tops the list of States, the government recently published a draft of its green building policy. Many components of the draft policy are notable for both their economic development and sustainability goals, ensuring incentives and rebates for buyers and developers to construct green buildings.

Partnership is the new leadership

When it comes to promoting green buildings and communities across India, partnership is the new leadership. We must all embrace the national Bureau of Energy Efficiencies target of a 50 per cent reduction in energy consumption by 2030 by way of implementing the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) code for commercial buildings across States. Making compliance mandatory will help ensure that the pace of enforcing the code is on the move across States, especially in places where it is currently moving at a slow rate.

Better buildings equal better lives, and healthy people in healthy places equals a healthy economy. The current pandemic has transformed the way we connect with people and places around us. While India is focussed on reviving its economy, we must also safeguard the health and safety of its citizenry. We must be ever mindful that green buildings and communities are a core part of this revival process because they help lead the nation to a sustainable and healthy future.

The writer is President and CEO of USGBC and GBCI

Published on October 27, 2020

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