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Bridging the gap between sustainable design and operations

Sustainability is both a continuous process and an achievable goal. It can be measured, analysed and improved, but how? Mili Majumdar, Managing Director, Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI) India and Senior Vice President, US Green Building Council spoke to Mohana M, Editor, Clean India Journal about common mistakes in sustainability initiatives, the gap between intent and execution and the growing acceptance of sustainability among facilities.

What is the scope of sustainability in facilities management?

When we talk about resource efficiency, we are looking at the connection between energy and water, as well as their independent use. We are also looking at waste as a resource.

Sustainability has two pillars – design and operations. Everyone talks about them, but implementation is more important, and this is where we see resistance, especially from facilities.

What are these resistance points and how do you think we can overcome them?

We do face resistance, but increasingly now, we are encountering lesser and lesser resistance, because the corporate sector is paying more and more attention to ESG, and people and professionals are realising the benefits of sustainability; they are embracing it not only for saving on costs, but also to meet different regulatory requirements. But when it comes to implementation, I think the main challenge is that there is a lack of an integrated approach; there’s a disconnect between design and operations.

A green building is designed for the future; the operational systems and maintenance schedules that are put in place need to be adhered to and monitored. But when the facility is handed over to the facilities management team, the nuances of the above tend to get lost; the building is not operated or maintained as designed, which leads to a poorer performance.

For example, take a green building whose indoor air quality needs to be maintained. Better air needs to be provided; but installing more filters or pumping in more fresh air consumes energy. Nuances to achieve this in an energy-efficient manner had been put in place at the design stage itself, but when it comes to operations, the facilities team sometimes does not know the protocol for cleaning the filtration system, finding and plugging leaks etc.

One of the main things that should be facilitated within the framework of green design is very strict performance monitoring to visualise how the green building is performing; only then can we find lacunae and take remedial action.

Mili Majumdar


What needs to change to ensure a green building functions as one?

The design community is now well-versed with sustainability-focussed design. India already has an excellent set of design codes and standards for the same. implementation and maintenance are what may be lacking.

One of the main things that should be facilitated within the framework of green design is very strict performance monitoring to visualise how the green building is performing; only then can we find lacunae and take remedial action.

How do facility owners and managers approach utility efficiency?

Green energy has already assumed predominance in conversations about sustainability since energy is priced heavily, fuel costs are rising and building occupants have to pay for what they use.

Water, however, is not priced appropriately. Water quality is not consistent across the board. And occupants do not pay for water according to their usage, since this isn’t measured.

At an urban planning level, we have to look at solutions like effective stormwater drainage systems and rainwater harvesting, but keeping water quality in mind; we cannot mindlessly keep on harvesting rainwater without maintaining a rainwater harvesting system, or allow contaminated water to recharge groundwater.

Most homes use water filtration systems that generate a huge amount of ‘waste’ water; people should be informed about where to use it, and avoid wastage at all cost.

Most middle-class-and-above homes are cleaned by domestic help, who also need to be educated about water saving. We talk about using 120-135 litres per capita per day; as per one calculation, the figure may rise to 400-500 litres per day.

What more can be done in the realm of waste management?

We should not look at waste as waste. The quantum of waste we generate is partly fuelled by our consumerist culture which requires unnecessary packaging that includes single-use plastics, which are an absolute no-no in the crisis we face. The first principle of waste management should be to review our lifestyle and see how we can minimise waste generation first; only then do reuse and recycling come in.

We also have to consider adaptive reuse. We cannot continuously build and build; we have to repurpose and reuse both spaces and things. Generating resources from waste – which is currently the focus area – should be the last step.

In India, the main problem is non-availability of proper waste segregation systems, and last-mile connectivity for waste collection.

What role does GBCI play in helping facilities become more sustainable?

We are primarily in the domain of certification. For example, when it comes to waste, our TRUE program is aimed at achieving zero waste. The LEED Zero program recognises facilities that achieve net zero carbon emissions, source energy use balance, potable water use balance and zero waste.

Many corporate organisations in particular are working towards incorporating sustainability in their operations. They approach us for certification for the same.

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