Certified, not certain

Green-rated buildings in India are not necessarily energy efficient

By Avikal Somvanshi
Published: Friday 31 October 2014

Certified, not certain

imageINDIA IS witnessing a boom in construction, at great environmental cost. The sector already accounts for 40 per cent of carbon emissions, 30 per cent of solid waste, and 20 per cent of effluent in the country. If the current rate of development holds, the country will have 60 per cent more buildings by 2030.

One way to minimise the environmental cost of the sector is by constructing eco-friendly buildings. However, a recent study by non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) highlighted that many green-rated buildings are more polluting than conventional buildings. This is because the existing green rating systems are “not transparent” , according to the study. “Rating agencies award green labels to buildings on the basis of their design and construction and not on actual performance and resource saving. And most buildings after receiving their green label stop worrying about their consumption,” says Nimish Patel, principal architect of Ahmedabad-based design firm Abhikram.

India has two established rating systems—the LEED-India Programme, which was managed by Indian Green Building Council till June this year, and the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

While GRIHA has not made the performance data of its green-rated buildings public, LEED-India in 2012 published the data of 50 of its green-rated buildings on its website. CSE analysed the data of the LEED-certified buildings and found that the energy consumption of a majority of them were remarkably high.

“The objective of this analysis has been to assess if the rated buildings, once they are operational, meet the benchmark of the official star labelling programme of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE),” says the report that is published in CSE’s recent book Building Sense: Beyond the green façade of sustainable habitat.

Under the government’s BEE star labelling programme, buildings are ranked according to their energy performance index in relation to the benchmarks created for different building typologies—day use office, BPO/IT offices (with extended working hours) and retail malls, and for different climatic zones. The BEE rating system awards one to five stars, with five being the most efficient.

CSE analysed data of 19 day use office buildings and 21 IT buildings and found 47 per cent of the buildings did not meet the BEE star rating. Nine out of the 19 analysed day use office buildings and 10 of the 21 analysed BPO/IT buildings did not meet the BEE star rating. Wipro Technologies KDC Tower 4 in Kolkata, which LEED-India categorised as both day use and IT building, was the worst performer. The green building exceeded the BEE benchmark for day use office building by five times and IT building benchmark by nine times, says the report (see ‘High on power’).

Source: Building Sense: Beyond the green facade of sustainable habitat, CSE, 2014. Refer to the book for the complete list

“Green buildings are expected to be top of the line, far exceeding the minimum benchmarks in all sectors. Failing to qualify for the minimum government benchmark is alarming,” the report says. It warns that while several state governments are giving monetary incentives to developers to build green buildings, “lack of stringent and transparent monitoring of actual energy and resource use during building operation can seriously compromise resource savings”.

The governments of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra are already giving sops to developers to get their buildings rated under the LEED-India or GRIHA rating systems.

Good monitoring agency needed

Several green-rated buildings in the US have exploited the fact that the country lacked a proper monitoring system to track resource consumption by buildings. A study by the US Green Building Council-New Buildings Institute shows wide variation in the actual energy performance of LEED-rated buildings in the US. The study found that many of the buildings did not track annual energy consumption after they received the green rating. Similarly, in 2012 the National Research Council, Canada, suggested that 35 per cent of the LEED-rated green buildings were using more energy than unrated buildings. A year later, the green-rating agency made it mandatory for green-buildings to disclose water and energy use every year.

Make green norms mandatory

India needs appropriate green norms to benchmark energy and water use, minimise waste, and develop monitoring and compliance strategies. In the absence of these benchmarks, even green norms can lead to damaging trade-offs and unintended consequences. The CSE book suggests that for starters, it should be made mandatory for all new buildings to meet basic green measures. It says government incentives should be given only to those developers who exceed the minimum green measures.

BEE director-general Ajay Mathur says that the proposed efficiency in the design of a building is not comparable to its actual performance as one cannot control how the building will be used by the end users. “This is the reason we have not linked our existing Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) with the star label programme,” says Mathur. ECBC is a list of official design guidelines for energy-efficient commercial buildings.

The CSE report, however, says delinking design efficiency with performance is a flawed approach. Buildings should be designed to meet a performance and this can be done by making star rating mandatory, it says.

India should also look at introducing mandatory energy and water audits and consumption-based energy and water billing to improve operational efficiency of all buildings. This can be done by introducing a legal framework for post-construction performance, accountability and transparency. Finally, the country should make it obligatory for all buildings to publicly disclose the data on annual energy and water usage along with built-up area.

Patel says corporates need to change the way they look at green buildings. “At present, most corporates invest in green buildings for reputation and not to save resources or the environment. This mindset has to be changed.”

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