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Net-zero is not equal to zero

Dr Mala Singh, Co-Chair, IGBC Mumbai Chapter and Founder & Director, PEC Greening India

In a searing indictment of the current scenario of sustainable facility management, Dr Mala Singh, Co-Chair, IGBC Mumbai Chapter and Founder & Director, PEC Greening India shines a spotlight on the inadequacies of improper implementation and showcases a case study with a step-by-step approach.


I have come across many hospitality projects with no municipal water connections; they rely entirely on borewell water. This water is passed through a Water Purification Plant with Reverse Osmosis, where almost 30% of the water ends up being wasted. With borewell water, this is non-negotiable because hotels need a certain quality of water.

Many sewage treatment plants (STPs) are not operating efficiently. They follow bye-laws, not a qualitative and quantitative approach. There is almost no measurement or monitoring.

Resource mapping

Facility managers need to understand the consumption patterns of the facility they are managing. How much of the resource is being utilised per capita? How much water is coming from the borewell, municipal supply and recycled water?

When we audit old and existing buildings. we often find that the flow rate of their fixtures is too high; I have seen numbers as high as 20-80 litres per minute where only 2-3 litres per minute are required. This data needs to be gathered at the grassroot level.

Net zero emissions

When we talk about net zero, everyone focusses on the ‘zero’ part, but net zero depends on measuring emissions. By doing this, baselines are defined and consumption patterns are identified both at the individual and the organisational level.

Lowering emissions by the end-user needs to be accompanied by the adoption of some low/no emission source of green energy such as wind, solar power, biofuels etc, which can compensate for unavoidable emissions. This compensatory mechanism is what helps organisations achieve ‘net’ zero carbon emissions.

Case study

We were studying the 50-year-old office building of a leading public sector bank in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex which wanted to function as a green building. We performed an energy audit, analysed the return on investment of sustainable strategies, and then planned how we could lower emissions phase-wise. Correspondingly, we looked for on-site and off-site sources of green energy.

The FM team invested ₹8 crore for the entire retro-fitting activity, which was executed over four years in three phases. We calculated that within five years, we could reduce the ₹90 lakh electricity bill by half! Correspondingly, there was 50% energy-saving.

In high-rise buildings in urban areas, space constraints may preclude the installation of a rooftop solar power plant or wind energy installation at the site. However, the ‘green tariff’ policy of the government made offs-site green energy an attractive and practical option.

After halving the energy requirement, we relied on wind energy to fulfill 67% of the power requirements, with only 33% still coming from the grid. We then negotiated with the grid power provider to supply wind-generated power for that 33% fraction as well, making it a 100% green energy facility.

This is how, step-by-step, we achieved a net-zero energy rating.

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