Pollution has become a big issue in India. The issue also led to a major controversy when the international cricket team of Sir Lanka went off the field alleging that conditions were unplayable due to poor air quality of Delhi. There are many things that contribute to poor environment. Apart from vehicles, some of the major sources of air pollution are construction activity and energy emissions from buildings. In fact, when the Delhi government announced emergency measures last year to control air pollution, one of the measures was to impose a ban on construction activity. While pollution in Delhi makes the headlines, it is a serious concern across the country. This is where green buildings come in as they can play a significant role in reducing pollution. We spoke with Sanjay Seth, chief executive officer, Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (Griha) Council, about green buildings. Edited excerpts:

Can you explain the green building concept?

Basically there are three things. First, from the perspective of resources, it is resource efficient. Second, from the purpose of operation, it is low on operating expenses. Third, the important thing is how comfortable we are in that building, how much we are dependent on artificial cooling and lighting. A green building gives improved thermal and visual comfort, making it healthier for the occupants. So this is the overall concept of a green building.

Does a green building cost more than other buildings?

It’s a myth in the minds of people that a green building costs more. At the design stage of a building if all of these features are introduced, it will help you to manage the expenses. Considering that most people think that sustainable is not affordable, the theme of last year’s Griha Summit was ‘Sustainable is Affordable’. The aim is to tell the common man that green buildings do not cost more.

Anyone who constructs a house should keep in mind that the house is going to be there for say 60 years or so. And even if for a moment we agree that the cost of the house has increased a little bit, it doesn’t matter if you invest a little additional amount because year on year, you will keep enjoying benefits such reduced electricity bills, better comfort, and better health. You enjoy better comfort at lower operating cost. And the payback period is hardly 1 or 2 years.

If it does not cost more, why don’t more people go for it?

The reason why people don’t want to go for it is, they think that the materials to be used are not available in the market or it is difficult to construct such houses. But this is not right. The material is available in abundance in the market and it is available at costs that are no more expensive than the building material used otherwise. It is only a question of engaging and understanding all of these things in a better way.

So when you want to construct a house, you should start writing the wish list—what all you need. Then start making the comparison. Then you keep optimizing on the things that will help you to bring down the building cost. At the same time, you should consider the electricity cost, which is the biggest operating cost and which keeps on increasing over time. If you construct a green building, or resource-efficient building, then in the long run you enjoy reduced operating costs.

One more thing. In case of commercial buildings, air-conditioning and lighting are a major cost. A lot of money also goes towards setting up the large air-conditioning units and power backup systems, which also consume real estate. But if we design the building envelope (basic structure) in a way that reduces dependence on air-conditioning and artificial lighting, then it will bring down the initial construction cost of the building as well as its operating costs.

Also, you need to understand that any new thing that is introduced in the market, it costs more. But as volume builds in the market, its cost comes down. Take the case of LED bulbs. Over the past 2.5 years and so, only through demand aggregation in the market, we have been able to bring down the price of quality LED bulbs. Similarly, in this case too, as and when demand increase, once you and I start asking for more efficient material in the market, it will certainly bring down the prices.

What is your advise to those who are about to construct their own house or are going to buy house? What are some of the things that they can do to ensure that the house is more resource efficient?

If someone is planning to construct a house, one should give more time and thoughts to designing the building. Reduce, reuse and recycle are three components of a green building. One should use things that will reduce the energy consumptions, or products which can be reused or recycled. For instance, there are tiles that are made of recycled products; one should consider such tiles. Even when we change the tiles, they can be recycled. Other simple concepts are: facilitating cross-ventilation and avoiding direct sun rays into the house. Of course, there can be limitations, such as if the building orientation is such that it does not allow you to do much. But even then there are measures that can make a building more efficient and one should explore them.

What role does Griha Council play?

Griha rates buildings across all segments. Anyone can claim to have constructed a green building. But how do you measure its effectiveness, or even know if it is really a green building or not? So Griha is basically a tool. It evaluates the building on various aspects, right from the planning to the commissioning stage. And it is not for, say, commercial buildings only. It covers all types of buildings. Apart from rating large developments, we also rate small buildings—which are the small houses that people build —which we call ‘SVA Griha’. So we evaluate various types of buildings, using the tool that take into consideration various parameters such as: orientation, site planning, reuse of water consumption, how much of recycled material you have used, solid waste management, and occupant comfort and well being.

Does Griha also help in planning and designing buildings?

We don’t help in designing buildings. But all of the parameters for rating are available on our website for everyone to see. Any architect needs to just follow the criteria that are mentioned in the rating system, to be able to easily deliver a green building.

Once you have a design in your hands, you register or apply for a Griha rating; and from there on we will handhold. We will evaluate your design, check if it is right or not, are there any discrepancies or mistakes; and based on that we will suggest what can be done. We have 1 to 5 star ratings. A 5-star building is the most efficient and 1 star is the least efficient. These are also recognized by Government of India as a tool to evaluate how green a building is.

Are there any incentives, subsidies or schemes by government for home owners or developers to go for green buildings?

The problem is, homebuyers don’t demand green buildings from developers.

And developers think that people need houses and whatever they will build the people will buy. So, unless there is a demand for green buildings, the developer will never be obliged to provide it. Now, the government has realized this and therefore many state governments are giving various types of incentives to developers. For instance, there are governments that allow increased floor space index (FSI) in case of green buildings.

We are in talks with the National Housing Bank to provide some kind of interest subsidy to those who procure home loans for a green building. However, this will be only for those with 4 or 5 star rated buildings.

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