CSE warns against green buildings becoming 'green wash' with no real benefits. Demands stringent rules for design and monitoring of buildings

October 13, 2014

  • CSE review exposes the shocking fact that several green rated buildings are grossly underperforming and do not qualify for even one star of official star labeling programme   

  • CSE lauds Mumbai for not jumping into the bandwagon, as other cities have done, to offer incentives for green rating of a few buildings. Mumbai has rightly chosen to develop green code for all buildings

  • Affordable housing sector needs urgent architectural interventions to improve comfort and liveability. This is a special challenge of Mumbai.

  • These are among the key highlights of the new CSE book launched in Mumbai today -- “Building Sense: Beyond the green façade of sustainable habitat.” 

Mumbai, October 11, 2014: India is locked in a frenzy of construction to meet the demand for homes, offices, and shops. A staggering two-third of buildings that will stand in India in 2030 are yet to be built. Unless policies minimize resource guzzling and wastes with appropriate architectural design, building material, and operational management, there can be massive environmental debacle in the building sector. Unlike the developed world, the challenge is not to retrofit the already built to make it green; but to build new, which is efficient, sustainable, affordable and comfortable for all. This will have enormous impact on the quality of urban space; water and energy resources in cities; and waste generation.

This concern has emerged from the new study of the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) -- Building Sense: beyond the green façade of sustainable habitat. The study was released here today in the Mumbai Dialogue on green architecture by architect Shirish Beri. This gathering of leading architects and experts was organized by CSE along with the Mumbai-based Institute of Urbanology. 

Some of the key highlights of the new CSE study are:
What goes as green is not green. Even green rated buildings under perform. Poor monitoring and compliance incite energy guzzling: CSE expresses deep concern that the data put out by the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) on energy consumption of large commercial buildings that were rated and awarded silver, gold and platinum rating, under the LEED green rating programme, is incorrect. These buildings are grossly underperforming. Several of them cannot qualify even for the one star label under the energy star labelling programme of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) that ranks buildings based on their energy efficiency when operational. 

Says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director for research and advocacy and head of its green buildings programme: “Until recently, the green rating systems have been very opaque with no data available in the public domain on the real world performance of the buildings.” The IGBC must continue to publish data by name of the buildings to strengthen the system and ensure that their rated buildings continue to meet the energy efficiency benchmark, says CSE.  The objective of CSE analysis has been to assess if the rated buildings, once they are operational, can meet the requirement of the star labelling programme of BEE.

All rating programmes that are backed by official incentives should be made transparent and accountable. Disclosure of data on annual energy and resource use of buildings should be made obligatory. The incentives should be designed to push only the top line of performance and not to promote minimum green measures that should be obligatory for all buildings to meet. 

Need holistic green norms to avoid unintended consequences: The CSE review shows that if green building norms are not designed right and holistically they can lead to unintended consequences. Review of existing energy regulations for buildings like the energy conservation building code shows that these are designed to improve only energy efficiency of air conditioned buildings. While such policies are needed for quick uptake of energy efficient technologies for heating and cooling and household appliances, these cannot provide the full solution. We need additional policy measures to promote architectural techniques of shading, day lighting, air flow, climate friendly material to reduce dependence on energy intensive mechanical methods for cooling and heating. 

The Indian building sector has become an energy guzzler even when the current penetration of air conditioning is only 3 per cent of the built up area. If the share of mechanical cooling continues to increase uncontrolled the energy budget will be unbearable posing serious threat to energy security and associated climate impacts. 

Greening of the affordable housing sector: Green building is also about improving comfort and livability of poor people’s home. Mumbai mirrors this challenge. According to the City Development Plan (CDP) of Mumbai, there is huge shortfall of affordable housing forcing 50-60 per cent of Mumbai’s population to be in informal settlements as expensive property market has led to large scale exclusion.  The CDP says that Mumbai needs 1.1 million low-income houses over the next decade to house the poor and low income groups. The current Slum Rehabilitation Authority initiatives will create a supply of less than 150,000 units over the next 10 years -- a huge shortfall of 950,000 low-income housing units over the next decade will remain. This will have to be addressed with robust policies.

Building construction and usage have severe environmental impacts: While individually buildings have substantial impact on the surrounding environment, cumulatively and together they make significant impact on the urban environment. Building sector causes 40 per cent of carbon emissions, 30 per cent of solid wastes, and 20 per cent of water effluents. Waste from their demolition and repair destroy our water bodies, open spaces and vegetation. This is a new area of governance and needs technically complex regulations and enforcement to push resource efficiency and sufficiency while meeting growing aspirations for human comfort. 

Lifestyle is rapidly changing the building forms and electric appliance market. BEE says lighting and air-conditioning use 80 per cent of the energy in commercial buildings whereas fans and refrigerators guzzle maximum energy in residential buildings. With more efficient lighting, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration and architectural design it is possible to save 30-70 per cent of energy. The 2010 McKinsey estimates confirm that the national power demand can be reduced by as much as 25 percent in 2030 by improving energy efficiency of buildings and operations. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency has also stated that even existing buildings have the potential to save 30-50 per cent of energy. Similarly, only by improving the water efficiency of the water fixtures the water demand can be reduced by more than 30 per cent. This needs strong regulatory interventions. 

If recycled, the bane of construction and demolition waste can become a boon: A lot of the construction and demolition waste is being used by land sharks to illegally fill up water bodies and wetlands around urban centres for real estate development or is just being dumped in rivers and open spaces. Mumbai was the first city to have taken the nascent steps towards decentralised debris management. But without policy support this could not gather momentum. This needs to be revived and incentivised. 


The way forward
India needs appropriate green norms to benchmark energy and water use, minimize waste, and develop monitoring and compliance strategies. If not done right even green norms can lead to damaging trade-offs and unintended consequences. 

  • Incentives for developers should be linked only with stringent benchmarks for the top line and not with minimum green measures that all buildings must do.

  • Set quantifiable energy performance targets for different building typologies to reduce overall energy intensity and consumption over time.

  • Reform Energy Conservation Building Code to make the efficiency requirement more climate sensitive. Create more policy opportunities for use of natural ventilation, shading and day lighting to improve thermal comfort and reduce mechanical cooling of spaces inside buildings and also over use of glass in facades.

  • Improve building star rating programme and make star rating mandatory to improve operational performance.

  • Make appliance rating more stringent for quicker uptake of super efficient technologies.

  • Introduce mandatory energy and water audit and consumption based energy and water billing to improve operational efficiency of all buildings.

  • Need legal framework for post-construction performance, accountability and transparency to ensure that the buildings remain high performing.

  • Need policies for improvement in thermal comfort of the houses being made for the poor.

  • Make it obligatory for all buildings to disclose publicly the data on annual energy and water usage along with the built up area. 

Annexure 

Dubious tally
LEED-rated buildings not qualified for one star label under BEE’s star rating programme

LEED certified day use office buildings not qualifying for BEE star label:

i) Climatic zone-composite: BEE cut-off for 1 star is 190 EPI

-- ITC Ltd., Saharanpur (EPI - 379)

-- Du Pont Knowledge Centre, Hyderabad (EPI - 293)

-- Wipro Technologies, Gurgaon (EPI - 230)

ii) Climatic zone-warm and humid: BEE cut-off for 1 star is 200 EPI

-- Wipro Technologies KDC Tower - 4, Kolkata (EPI - 1020)

-- Enercon India Pvt Ltd, Mumbai (EPI - 205)

-- FL Smidth House, Chennai (EPI - 200) 

-- un-named factory office buildings, Chennai (EPI - 287)

iii) Climatic zone-temperate: BEE cut-off for 1 star is NA

-- ITC Ltd., Bangalore (EPI - 256)

-- Mahindra REVA, Bangalore (EPI - 263)

LEED certified IT office buildings not qualifying for BEE star label:

i) Climatic zone-composite: BEE cut-off for 1 star is 45 AAhEPI

-- Wipro Technologies, Gurgaon (AAhEPI - 110)

-- Fast Track Building 1&2, Wipro Technologies, Greater Noida (AAhEPI - 81)

ii) Climatic zone-warm and humid: BEE cut-off for 1 star is 50 AAhEPI

-- Wipro Technologies KDC Tower - 4, Kolkata (AAhEPI - 490)

-- Chennai Development Center, S3 & S4 blocks, Wipro Technologies, Chennai (AAhEPI - 170)

-- Wipro S1, Kochi (AAhEPI - 127)

-- Wipro Chennai Development Center- SEZ, Chennai (AAhEPI - 81) 

-- Software Development Block 3,Wipro Ltd, Phase II, Hinjewadi, Pune  (AAhEPI - 67)

-- Wipro Limited, Special Economic Zone PDC-2 S2, Pune (AAhEPI - 67) 

iii) Climatic zone-temperate: BEE cut-off for 1 star is 40 AAhEPI

-- Wipro Special Economic Zone - S2, Bangalore (AAhEPI - 55)

-- Wipro Special Economic Zone (SR) - Tower S3, Bangalore (AAhEPI - 42)