Green Certification for Communities & Residential Spaces
While Indian city planners are increasingly aware of this need for sustainable and environmentally sound practices, there are far more technical knowhow available world over to choose from. Mili Majumdar, Managing Director of Green Business Certification Institute Pvt. Ltd, India, speaks to Clean India Journal on how city planners can create new sustainable standards and how getting green certified creates that difference.
Q. What principles drive GBCI’s work, and what are the newer rating systems offered by you?
A: The Green Business Certification Institution Pvt. Ltd is responsible for technical adaptation and customization of the portfolio of rating systems for the Asia- Pacific region. Although buildings remain our forte, here is where we look beyond buildings. Two very critical aspects drive our work. One is the performance story — we have to ensure the building performs. You may have any number of green certifications but if the building doesn’t perform, it is of no use. The second is people — they are very central to everything we talk about, in cities and communities.
We have a specific rating system for Waste in our portfolio called TRUE, which looks at operations and management aspects of waste in facilities. This year, we have introduced a new rating system for cities and communities, because we need to look beyond buildings. Besides this, we have also launched one specific certification for residential buildings, which we have consolidated from an earlier system.
Q. What are the parameters you examine while rating a city?
A: Since cities and communities are macro-entities, they evolve over a long period of time. Any city at any stage of development — planning board, being developed or fully developed and operational — could come on board. We look at its natural systems and ecology, resilience planning, policies and incentives which the city offers to ensure all its buildings are green, transport & transit-orientation, land use, waste management, water management and other factors.
Access and social equity are very important. A city cannot be partial to its rich, without taking into account its poor. Further, quality of life is another important parameter; this includes pollution levels, resettlement and rehabilitation standards, access to healthy food, etc. A city needs to ensure its economic growth so that it doesn’t become a dead city; but for it to remain liveable, it also needs to protect its environment.
Q. What has been the response of government authorities to the concept of green certification?
A: We have been talking to a lot of government agencies, and their response has been very positive. The government recently launched Climate Smart Advisory Services; we have worked with them.
In India, the main issue is data availability, and all our programs are very data-driven. So, the government wants to be incremental in how it approaches the problem. Instead of plunging into the ratings framework, they want to take small steps. We help them develop those initial indicators, which they can get from cities. We have ensured that we have embedded those indicators which we will need for LEED assessment later. Progress has been good, but yes, more can be done.
Q. How does green certification differ when it comes to an already developed city?
A: When one is rating an existing city, one wants to benchmark it. We track parameters like emissions and water consumption per capita, so that the city can collate this information, which can then be compared to international benchmarks. We have an online platform where we help cities score themselves.
Surat is an example of such a post-facto analysis. Surat was progressive, and on the list of 100 Smart cities. Many of the initiatives it took to achieve certification also helped it become a Smart City, and vice versa. We offered them support to help them track their progress.
When we rate a project at the inception/plan and design stage, we can influence future planning and policies significantly. Because in an existing city, it becomes retrospective; they can plan, but it takes a long time to get it implemented.
Q. What impact does certification have on a project?
A: We have recently assessed the planned Economic Zone around the recently inaugurated Beijing Daxing International Airport in China, one of the largest in the world. We looked at land use planning: on how to locate different facilities so that it becomes a walkable community, and to bring down the transport footprint. We also have to ensure that not only are the buildings green but that the energy being provided is also from green sources.
Water management isn’t only about providing water, it is also but where you draw it from, and how much you reuse and recycle it while maintaining its quality. This requires good infrastructure and technology. Solid waste management also includes ensuring that all construction debris is used within the city itself.
After comparing pre- and postrating blueprints, we observed a remarkable change in what they adopted as the final plan.
Q. When you talk to urban planners, do you encounter resistance to investing in a solution that will give long-term benefits?
A: City planners understand that these solutions are progressive, and the need for investing thereof. Planning is always long term, and includes an economic analysis by the planners. A city can’t thrive if it is not economically viable, and it has to be safe, resilient and efficient, or businesses won’t come and set up shop in the city. Even to attract businesses, you have to give them assured sources of power and water, so that is included as part of the first cost of setting up. If a city is not economically sustainable, no one will come.
At the most, decision-makers plan for demand optimisation, and may stagger the targets for smart networks, smart waste disposal or renewable energy. But even renewable energy is no longer expensive; solar power is at par with conventional sources. But it is important to make sure this is not included retrospectively.
Q. What kind of synergy do you receive from architects, urban planners, government bodies and other stakeholders in co-creating a green-certified project?
A: I think this varies from project to project. Traditionally, the construction sector in India has been very unorganised and has many players: some formal, some not. I do not think there will be a seamless synergy in every project. But we no longer have to talk about the basics of sustainability to anyone anymore; Which is the progress we have seen over the years.
Q. How does the relationship of GBCI with a project evolve over time?
A: GBCI is principally a certifying body. If there are technical queries from project designers about how to meet a certain requirement, we provide solutions at the project design stage itself. Once certified, they are committed to giving us data on energy, water, waste and human experience, so that we are assured the project is performing well.
In a project cycle, the person who designs and implements a project is very often not the person occupying the project; there is a disconnect. Sometimes, when we go back to a project later, we find that the present occupants may not even known it is a green building. Sometimes, there is no proper handover from one client to the next on how to operate and maintain green systems. This continuity is important. Each project also needs to get itself re-certified from time to time, to make sure it is still green. Our association is almost for the entire lifetime of the project.
Q. What are the incentives that the government offers to green buildings?
A: In India, at least 10-12 state government and municipalities offer various kinds of incentives. These may range from property tax breaks to preferential approval of green buildings. Some offer a higher floor-area ratio for green structures; the higher the rating, the more the increase.
Q. While many buildings are being green certified, they still continue to use products that are not green. Can you explain this dichotomy?
A: The market in India is still catching up. We may have green products, but they are not certified as green; but are self-proclaimed. So, we have made some changes to our rating system and adopted an incremental system. If you use these green products and at least attempt to understand how green the product is, you get some points that add to the green score.
Let me give you an analogy: if your building is green certified, you know why, but if you yourself have proclaimed it as green, you really don’t know what you are talking about, or where you stand. The same principle applies to green products. Globally, we have seen markets that have evolved to include certified products that are available in Europe and the US. We are also helping the market gear up for certification, and for fulfilling international demand for such products.