India is facing increasing energy challenge as a result of increasing urbanization and growing urban-rural divide. Energy security and access are two critical issues that define the policy landscape in power sector, while environmental sustainability agenda remains crucial in the urban development process.

Over the past decade, India has been trying to address these challenges through a national action plan on climate change and associated initiatives such as energy conservation, environmental impact assessments and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

Environmental concerns:(from left) A file photo of the Unilever House at Chakala, Andheri, Mumbai (Kedar Bhat/Mint); Fortis Hospital at Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi. Both the buildings have applied for energy efficiency rating schemes (Pradeep Gaur/Mint).

It is in lieu of this that environmental clearance for large construction projects is mandatory and a related set of compliance measures such as the energy conservation building code, which specifies energy performance requirements for all commercial buildings, is expected to become law soon.

Often state-level committees do not have enough expertise to evaluate building and construction projects on environmental parameters. Usually, there are long delays in granting clearances, which are not acceptable to builders and developers. Absence of benchmarks, guidelines and common minimum criteria for evaluation is a major drawback of the system. Green ratings of buildings, on the other hand, provide a measurable framework in which all projects can be evaluated on all critical environmental parameters and given relative grading.

Green rating for integrated habitat assessment (GRIHA) is an evaluation tool to help design, build, operate and maintain a resource-efficient built environment. It emphasizes end-use energy optimization (within specified comfort levels) and integration of renewable energy; thereby providing a framework, which looks at long-term policy options, both on the supply and demand sides, consistent with aspirations of economic growth.

The ministry of new and renewable energy has endorsed GRIHA, compliance with which is mandatory for buildings of the Central government and public sector undertakings. The Central public works department has also adopted and integrated GRIHA into their standard operating procedure.

To further provide an impetus to the green buildings movement, the ministry has launched a host of financial incentives on registration fees, awards and incentives. The environment ministry recently said that green buildings would be given priority in the environmental impact assessment process. This is a welcome step that would not only reduce the time taken for such clearance, but also add value by quantifying environmental benefits that are measurable and can be monitored.

However, more needs to be done by the government. Implementation should be strong; capacity building across all stakeholder group should be enhanced; curriculum at college and schools should be inclusive of environmental education in much greater detail; schools of architecture should introduce course on green buildings; suitable incentives for green products should be given; residential building energy codes should be developed; next Five-year Plan should give impetus to greener constructions; new upcoming cities should follow green norms; municipal bye-laws should be revised; research and development budget on green buildings techniques and technologies should be provided and encouraged; laboratories and testing facilities for green products should be set up; and energy efficiency retrofit of public buildings should take off in a big way.

It is also now time to move into rating buildings in the residential space, which can eventually function as a design-cum-rating tool. This would help architects to not only get their building rated but also would also guide them on green design. There are rating systems designed specifically for projects with built-up area of less than 2,500 sq. m. The rating comprises of 14 criteria and the interface comprises of simplified calculators. These calculators can be filled using information from construction drawings and estimates. The calculators reveal the overall points and the rating that a particular project can achieve.

Mili Majumdar is director, sustainable habitat division, at The Energy and Resources Institute.

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