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Flashing a ‘green’ certificate is fashionable today...

Flashing a ‘green’ certificate is fashionable today...

...but sustainability, as a whole, is more than mere compliance with a laundry list of criteria

Sustainability trends

The concept of sustainability was created out of necessity. Cities today have immeasurably ruptured their urban fabrics due to their unprecedented and reckless planning and development, resulting in acute inadequacy of resources. As we inhabit some of the largest metropolises of the world, we probably have the most limited sphere of engagement with the city and its environs. The construction industry alone is responsible for approximately 40% of global energy use and up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Being of the biggest consumers of natural resources, the building sector has the largest potential for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and is relatively independent of the cost per ton of CO2 equivalent achieved.

The concept of energy efficiency may be complex, but the solutions are relatively simple. Energy savings can be achieved through a range of measures including smart design, improved insulation, low-energy appliances, high-efficiency ventilation and heating or cooling systems, and behaviour of building users.

Awareness about how different types of building consume energy is extremely critical for one to adopt the right energy-efficient strategies. Green policies and standards need to be analysed and studied in reference to their local context and relevance. Thus, developers, architects, project heads and also the facility managers, who administer the operational functions of these structure through its life, have started to realise that environmental sustainability is not too distant from business sustainability. one of the main reasons for it gaining wide acceptance.

Though the incremental cost for building a green projects is 5 to 8% more than that for a conventional building, this is soon recovered. With proven and commercially available technologies, energy consumption in both new and old buildings can be cut by an estimated 30-50% without significantly increasing investment costs. In the past few years, since there is an increased demand for green projects, there is a spurt in demand for green building materials and products too. This, in turn, has led in reduction of cost of green buildings as well as related materials and products. Thus, resulting into an win-win situation for all.

The most recent approach towards sustainability has been creating 'intelligent' buildings, which reflect the trend of being better equipped with the latest technological systems that that monitor consumption and collate analytical data to optimise resources, thereby rendering them more environment-friendly. A building is considered ‘intel¬ligent’ if its design and the systems installed support the func¬tions of its occupants while exhibiting seamless high level of interoperability between themselves.

More and more people are beginning to understand why a new buildings should not be designed in the conventional analogue way, but in a manner that looks towards and invests in the future that amalgamates technology and efficiency.  These build¬ings are aptly efficient and capable of automatically adapting to the needs of the occupants with the help of the latest innovations.

There have been many successful projects executed with state-of-art innovations. One of the internationally renowned projects is the Bullitt Center, a six-story, 50,000 square foot office building in Seattle. The building distinguishes itself from other sustainable projects by consolidating various systems to demonstrate a carbon-neutral structure that's "commercially viable and aesthetically stunning." One of them is its rainwater collection system into a 56,000-gallon cistern, where the water is then filtered and disinfected. Another, are the two rows of five bright blue aerobic composters, composting human waste so odourlessly and efficiently that the first compost extraction is not required for 18 months; and the third is, the building's rooftop array of photovoltaic panels, which extend far behind the building's edge to produce around 230,000 kilowatt-hours a year.

With case studies such as these, sustainable structures, which are not a product or brand, but a wholesome concept, can achieved through close collaboration of clients, architects, consultants and contractors. Such buildings provide comfort, safety, security, adaptability (flexibility) and cost-effectiveness for the entire life cycle. In every aspect of construction, there is some innovation in material as well as technologies because of constant innovation targeting towards this direction. Green buildings are about efficiency in design management, execution management and methodolo¬gies. There are scores of simple things that every building needs to secure: structural inputs that relate to the extent of steel and concrete used, materials and systems used for carpentry or electrical, or water management.

Planning well in advance is essential while investing in an  green and intelligent building. Automation and service consultants need to interact with the architects from the conceptual stage itself - a mantra being reiterated ever so often now.

Each building has unique priorities. The most important guideline is to use industry-standard open systems so that client investment is protected from vendor organisational changes and technology upgrades. Wireless standards and electromagnetic interference limitations based on specific building applications also need urgent attention. It is important that design specification is project-specific rather than product-based. The clubbing of building automation design with landscaping or other service packages will not help in getting focus. Independent third-party validation and review need to become a de facto standard for completely functional buildings.

Many state governments have also initiated programmes to support the growth of sustainable development by giving both financial and non-financial incentives. This strategy has been successfully adopted by the Maharashtra Government. The Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority is also offering automatic fast-track clearance through the green channel for all buildings that adopt IGBC norms for green build¬ings.

While incentives will surely sets the ball rolling, there are other factors that need to be worked upon simultaneously. In order to conserve resourc¬es, various Green technologies need to be worked upon. For instance, innovative waste treatment plants, use of renewable technologies such as solar water heat¬ers, solar PV, wind turbines and organic waste converter technology. After all, ‘green’ is not an idea owned by a single person, state or country; it's the responsibility of the whole fraternity. Thus, working in tandem towards this direction is imperative.

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