Media Room
Industry News
National Realty e-Magazine


Select a year 

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember                Back

Green buildings aren't that green written by Sunita Narain, published in Business Strandard. October 10, 2014

So are green buildings really green? I want to follow up on our discussions on this critical issue. The building sector is set to grow exponentially. It already has a huge environmental footprint - the domestic and commercial sectors consume some 30 per cent of India's electricity. So the imperative to go green is clear. The question is where India is and where it should go.


The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has issued the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) to improve the energy performance of buildings. It is expected that an ECBC-compliant building will use anywhere between 40 and 60 per cent less energy than its conventional counterpart. State governments are now adopting this code in their building permissions - Odisha and Rajasthan have made it mandatory. But enforcement of this code - which is largely prescriptive in terms of building design - remains a challenge.


The code itself has problems but these can be fixed in its next revision. The problem is bigger, when you understand that the code is for building design, with certain assumptions that its implementation will reduce energy use. But a big problem is that the use of the code in design is not linked to the actual performance of the building after it has been commissioned.


What the BEE has in addition is a voluntary star rating scheme, which sets the Energy Performance Index (EPI) of four categories of buildings -day use office, IT/BPO (with extended hours of work), hospitals and retail malls. The EPI is calculated differently for different climatic zones - hot and dry, temperate, composite, and warm and humid. But the rating, which is for an operational building, has no direct link to the ECBC. So there is no data to show what the design has actually achieved and there is no feedback loop that would improve design based on operational experience. Also, as yet, the BEE has not rated any building based on its index.


There are two other green-building certifying agencies in the country. The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) started out as a United States initiative but is now wholly Indian and is promoted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre. It runs a certification programme that rates buildings platinum, gold or silver, based on different criteria. Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute has its Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA). Many state governments provide fiscal incentives and even bonus floor area ratio, or FAR, to builders who produce green certificates from these agencies.


The actual proof will, however, be in the actual data on the use of energy and water in a commissioned building. But there is little data on this. In other words, governments are giving away largesse without any verification. A few months ago, the IGBC put on its website information on the actual energy and water consumption of 50 of the buildings it had rated, out of some 450 in total. When my colleagues at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) analysed this data, all hell broke loose.


Why? Because we found that many reputed companies that had been given platinum rating were actually energy and water guzzlers. Obviously, this is not easy for companies to accept. The CII has written on their behalf arguing that we have got our analysis wrong because we have mixed up the typologies for the buildings. So, they say, ITC Saharanpur is a factory building, which has been compared to an office building. But IGBC gives its rating only for the office operations of a "factory". The CSE in its analysis used the EPI set by the BEE for an office building and found that as against the EPI of 190 for a composite climate, the ITC building has an EPI of 379, which is almost double.


Wipro in Gurgaon is an IT building, with server loads operating for 24 hours. It has been compared against performance benchmarks for an office building, says the CII. But the CII misses the fact that when the CSE compared the same building using the EPI for an IT/BPO complex - calculated as the annual average hourly EPI to take into account its extended hours - it exceeded the energy limits for them as well. Similarly, Wipro's office in Kolkata was found to be more than nine times higher than the minimum benchmark set by the BEE for a warm and humid climate.


The CSE analysis also finds that there are IGBC-rated buildings that match or are below the EPI set for their category for their climatic zone. So something is working, and we hope the CII and its partners will ask how they can learn from the best example so that expensive green features pay off in terms of performance.


More importantly, regulators need to get their act together on this issue. The CSE analysis is based on self-disclosure by companies, which is not verified or audited. The government needs to build a credible system of assurance, so that it can really push what is green, and not just what looks green from the outside but may be brown inside. It is time, as we say, to go beyond the green façade.


(For more on this see CSE's publication Building Sense: Beyond the Green Façade of Sustainable Habitats. The writer is at the CSE,, Twitter: @sunitanar)