The real estate sector has emerged as one of India’s largest drivers of economic growth. As a sector, it provides large-scale employment and contributes significantly to the gross domestic product. For decades, environmentalists have been warning that frenetic human economic activity associated with the breakneck speed of economic growth is placing a huge strain on the earth and its natural resources. Of course, we keep pushing those limits back with clever new technologies; yet ecosystems are undeniably in decline. Since real estate is emphatically driving this growth, it is also directly impacting the environment. Sustainable development is all about minimizing this impact and ensuring we keep the planet green.

Sustainability is often misunderstood as curtailing use and stifling developmental activity. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The number of certified green buildings in India has seen a fourfold growth in the last four years. This is a testimony to the growing popularity of the concept. If one goes by the published statistics on the Institute for Green Business Certification (IGBC) website, there are currently 223 registered green buildings in the country.

At 175,000 Sq feet, the Gurgaon Head quartered ITC Green Centre is the world’s largest greenbuilding. File Photo.

Green spaces not only allow for 14-16% increase in productivity, but also reduce the operational cost of the building, consume less energy, water and other resources, leading to offices that are more environmentally responsible and have a lower carbon footprint.

Thanks to the efforts of IGBC, awareness in the corporate world has risen and green space has increased from 20,000 sq. ft to about 730 million sq. ft since the institute’s inception. Though the trend is commendable, there is a long way to go—awareness among end-users is still limited and demand for green buildings needs to rise a lot more.

For greater awareness, certain myths first need to be dispelled:

Myth #1: Green buildings cost more. The incorporation of basic green features, if done right at the preliminary design phase, will not impact the overall initial project costs by much. Typically, the increase in cost will be between 5-15%. Some project developers claim no increase in initial project cost because of diligent planning. The benefits of green buildings can be realized fully if the following points are understood in depth:

a) The returns must be calculated on total cost of ownership (initial cost plus recurring ownership and maintenance costs) rather than only on the initial costing. Typically, more than 90% of the total cost of ownership of a building is attributable to its operating and maintenance cost. Energy accounts for 50% of the operating and maintenance cost. Green buildings help reduce energy spends significantly. This itself ensures that the initial investment is recovered within a period of five years.

b) Some green building benefits (like improved indoor environment quality, improved productivity) are intangible, which affects the return on investment. These should be accounted for while formulating the cost and benefit analysis.

Myth #2: A certification is the only way out. Certification is a way to validate and rate the features one has incorporated in a project by an independent body. The certification is a voluntary process, and the project proponents may go ahead only by incorporating the green features without having to certify them.

Myth #3: The market demand for green spaces will wane. With the onset of growing awareness about sustainability and the rapidly increasing effects of climate change, the market demand is only set to grow. It is only a matter of time before regulatory stipulates come into play. The energy conservation building code is already mandated for all new government buildings.

Myth #4: Green buildings are for other countries, not ours. India is the second most populous country, and if experts are to be believed, it is en route to pip China from first rank by 2025. This only points towards an ever-increasing pressure on our already scarce natural resources. The growth forecast in the real estate segment is anywhere between 8% and 10% a year. Our country lies in the tropical zone with enough sun and precipitation (4,000 trillion litres) throughout the year, and it is imperative that we harvest both. Therefore, from the opportunity and requirement perspectives, going green in our real estate developments is as important for us as it is for any other nation.

Today we have a star rating system in India for buildings based much on the same principle concept of energy star rating systems for consumer products. The catch, however, is that today everything is voluntary. If one chooses to develop green real estate, the options are aplenty, but it depends totally on the choice of the developer. To say upfront that regulatory stipulates will help would be stating too much too soon. Incentivized performance is the key. For example, structured avenues delineated in the new Companies Bill would aid voluntarism. Incentives would surely act as a catalyst for the development and absorption of new green buildings, but some regulatory norms would be of great help to convert the already existing energy guzzlers. Moreover, norms for existing buildings would also help the new green spaces of the future to maintain their own standards throughout their life cycle. Clearly, the buildings of the future will hold the key to restoration of the ecological balance that is so precariously perched on a knife-edge today. We need to act now to prevent a downward spiral to complete ecological destruction.

Rajat Malhotra is head, engineering and operations solutions-West Asia Integrated Facilities Management at Jones Lang LaSalle India.

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