Residential communities are going all out to reduce their environmental footprint, safeguard the health of their occupants from environmental risks and responsibly manage the waste they generate. Dr Sunita Purushottam, Head – Sustainability, Mahindra Lifespaces paints a picture of how all this is executed at residential facilities overseen by her, and what more can be done.
One of the first things that we did when the pandemic started was to implement a revised waste management SOP with an emphasis on biomedical waste management. This included colour-coded bins, signages and SOPs on how to deal with masks etc., which was communicated to the FM team.
Demarcating biomedical waste as a separate category with yellow colour-coding is essential. Nomenclature helps create some sense of awareness among people on how to handle it.
For regular waste, we are making an allowance for waste segregation to happen at source, and at the secondary level. There is primary segregation at source (in homes) which we bring about by creating awareness among residents. We follow the Bangalore system: two bins and a bag, which is very convenient and understandable. Waste can also be subdivided into five different categories.
Sensitisation of residents is institutionalised in our FM SOPs. We identify the best agency to collect waste at homes, and ensure that the staff is trained in ensuring that segregation happens.
Wet waste management
Secondary segregation (for waste that is not segregated at source) happens in a separate area, where composting is also done. The reason why most composting mechanisms fail is that the so-called natural composting machine is not a composter but a charring machine; there are challenges associated with it. A natural composting mechanism may also present space-related constraints. There can be social constraints too; many residents are in favour of composting, but not all.
We are deeply involved in selecting which kind of composting mechanism should be in place. Fortunately, there are many vendors who can work in very small spaces.
Dry waste management
We are tying up with good platform players who can regularly take this waste from housing societies. In fact, some housing societies are generating an income of ₹10,000-15,000 a month from the dry waste. As consumerism rises, the amount of this waste (like cardboard) is also set to rise.
Health risks at home
There are many health risks that are associated with homes per se. These may arise through air pollution, contaminated surfaces or water. Each needs to be looked at distinctly.
To prevent the outbreak of water-related infections, we monitor the quality of the water that comes into the homes. We test the water quality in every housing society before it is handed over to the residents. During the liability period, this is done mostly monthly, and is typically shared with the residents welfare association. After this period, this function is taken over by the latter.
Especially if the water quality is suspect, the frequency of monitoring will have to be higher, as per existing guidelines. For green certification of buildings, water quality is one of the parameters analysed.
Air quality monitoring
There are third-party agents who monitor air quality at the site, and we get the compliance report centrally. I am trying to get sites to monitor it continuously, but monitors – especially Grade A monitors – are expensive.
Currently, data comes in at regular intervals and we are able to monitor it centrally. Every site is being connected and I know where parameters are going beyond limits. In such cases, we implement interventions like barricades, green netting, water sprinkling at regular intervals and tree covers to reduce dust.
Indoor air quality
The only way to go about it is to ensure that the air exchange rates are maintained, that is done through design. We are also looking at having openable, naturally ventilated shared spaces wherever possible. In places like Bangalore and Pune, which have pleasant climates, gyms should not have air-conditioning.
Conditioned spaces don’t work for human health. Spaces that are away from nature, anywhere in a building, that are completely isolated from the isolated environment, tend to trap air indoors.
If you go through some of the certifications for net zero energy and net zero water, there is a huge focus on the energy productivity index (EPI) and the water productivity index (WPI). One of the ways of influencing the WPI is to reduce water consumption in the first place. This happens through low-flow fixtures; instead of a 3.6 litre flush, we can use a 2.4 litre flush. Instead of taps flowing at 6-8 litres per minute, we are using taps that run at 4.3 litres per minute. Similarly, for showers, we are going down from 10-12 litres per minute to 6-8 litres per minute.
These are some of our interventions at the flat level itself. We conserve water by reducing water consumption at the source.
Using recycled water for flushing and gardening purposes is a given and we have been doing it for a long time now. There is an X amount of water that is required in a housing society, but if you’re not using fresh water and using recycled water instead, it reduces fresh water consumption drastically. This also saves hugely on costs by eliminating the expense of getting water tankers.
A lot more can be done. We should be looking at ways of collecting condensed water from air conditioners, and waste water from RO water filters. We need to put the right technology in place for this.
We also have to look at how we can recharge the groundwater, understand where the water table is, what would be the effectiveness of the recharge pit, where should the recharge pits be relocated, and so on.
If you look at our sustainability report of last year, we have a design strategy to respond to climate change. This is something we have ingrained in all our upcoming projects, where we are looking at tweaking architecture to reduce energy demand. It’s a play of thermal comfort and visual comfort, ensuring that customers are comfortable within their home and that it is a naturally ventilated, naturally lit space that reduces the energy consumption in homes drastically.
We have tried to calculate the density of lighting required for common areas, what kind of lighting fixtures should be there and if there should be motion sensors or not. We are looking at energy-efficient pumps, whether we can move to nature-based water treatment and sewage treatment, and so on.
Working with service providers
It becomes easier for us to work with service providers who have their own environmental goals, since this helps us align our strategies. The minimum requirement would be that the housekeeping staff do proper segregation, housekeeping staff is trained, that they are also procuring green chemicals etc.