In pursuit of net zero

(From left) Samhita M, Ashok Dutta and Aarti Mohan

Indian Express, 21 Feb 2014 – The future, where roofs are green and most apartment buildings have strong recycling processes, is not far away. Many new projects are vying for green building certification – prestige marketing is just one of the incentives. One only hopes that in time, less environmentally friendly products will have fewer takers and thus be phased out. As Deepa Sathiaram recently highlighted at an event in Chennai, ‘‘Going green is not a choice anymore, it is a necessity; even from the economic angle.’’ The director of the sustainability and energy efficiency consulting firm, En3, and LEED fellow knows what she is talking about, given that buildings consume 40 per cent of the world’s primary energy.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design programme (LEED), an ecolabel run by the US Green Building Council, therefore awards certification to construction projects based on certain standards. They cover everything from energy to water, materials, indoor air quality and site parameters. There are other ecolabels, like the Living Building Challenge, where said building is reviewed/audited after 12 months of operation, and Passive Housing (popular in Germany). In our country, however, LEED is the most prominently used rating programme, says Samhita M from Hyderabad, a LEED certified consultant and Managing Director at Ela Green Buildings & Infrastructure. Of around 240 certified buildings in India, 103 are in the South alone, she confides.

Buildings that produce all the energy they consume are the future, and these consultants are helping us get there.

Samhita M, Ela Green Buildings, 34

In the industry since 2006, this young mother of two is one of the people behind the truly sustainable Global Design Studio in Taramani. Having learned the ropes at Ashok Leyland, the Anna University alumnus now heads Ela Green Buildings in Hyderabad and is a key player in providing green building consultancy services in the country. Her company has been recently awarded the India Green Building Upcoming Consultancy Firm of the year Award 2013 at India Green Business Summit in New Delhi.

Among her achievements is a green orphanage in Hyderabad, with cross ventilation, flyash bricks (better insulation properties), highly reflective paint and recycled flooring. She has installed a rainwater storage tank, where the captured water will be used for landscaping, and is quick to admit to a fascination with low-flow fixtures as a child – she recalls how long hours would be spent observing all the taps at home. Another big project is Discovery City, a green township in Hyderabad, spread over 750 acres.

With the longest cycling track in South India, it has solar powered lighting, and plans for one million trees to be planted. Finally, there is the Coal India Corporate Office Building in Kolkata, with solar path analysis for maximum daylight and minimal heat. Admitting that geothermal technology is being used by many buildings in India, she says their project, Global Design Studio, of Shilpa Architects Building in Chennai, uses a hybrid concept of radiant cooling for the slabs, geothermal energy as a heat sink and exposed ducts for air circulation.

In an industry that has only about 15 to 20 prominent players who are LEED certified, Samhita enjoys challenges like setting up environmentally sensitive factory buildings or, elsewhere, green walls or in the case of the Coal India Corporate Office, 140 KW solar panels. She observes that Delhi and Chennai have high awareness levels when it comes to green buildings, with cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata following suit. There isn’t just one guidebook to follow while designing, primarily because sustainability is supposed to be a localised response to climate and site.

Samhita suggests that the best way to ensure LEED certification is for major project team members, including the owner, architects, engineers, contractor and other consultants, to meet at the drawing board, ”when the architecture is not frozen.”

Joining the dots
■ During construction itself, 100 per cent of the waste materials can be recycled
■ Trees that work from a sustainable point of view in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore are the Flame of the Forest, plumeria and neem. They are good in terms of water requirement, shade and aesthetics
■ When the ground water table is high, set up storage tanks to use rainwater instead
■ Reduce the use of potable water. Auroville has a good sewage water treatment plant and a lot of research on the subject
■ We may lag behind in technology that you often see in countries like Germany, but with eco-friendly materials we
are way ahead

Ashok Dutta, Studio Decode, 38

Bangalore is home to the first sustainable Puma store in the world, thanks in a large part to Ashok Dutta, head of Studio Decode, a design firm that seeks sustainable transformation through architecture.The firm has won several national and international awards and their projects range from large Government offices, to multi and single family homes to retail and hospitality.

“When Puma approached us to design their flagship store in India,we envisioned a High Performance Building – one that did everything a building traditionally does, only much better and more responsibly.We used recycled steel in the framework, porotherm blocks made from silt from the Kunnigal lake, furniture and fixtures made of recycled wood. We also made sure the building was energy and water sufficient,’’ he explains.

Dutta is currently designing the headquarters of the Karnataka Power Corporation in Bangalore, slated to be one of the greenest buildings in Karnataka as well one of the greenest government buildings in the country. Another project is the KPCL administrative office for the Raichur Thermal Plant at Raichur, which supplies most of the power to Bangalore. “The KPC headquarters will boast of porotherm block walls for better insulation, water cooled chillers instead of air conditioning, a sewage treatment plant, solar energy and rainwater harvesting units and roof gardens among other features, while the Raichur plant will have water bodies along the periphery to reduce ground heat transference, earth air tunnels to naturally pre cool the air before it reaches the air coolers and low flow plumbing fixtures among other features.

“As cities become larger, some go vertical and some become sprawl. However, to sustain the idea of a city and yet achieve a quality of living, the idea of the network society becomes an interesting way of managing resources,” he tells us, explaining that resources could be shared rather than left to individuals to harvest or collect. For example, solar panels installed on one roof can be shared with an entire street. Or there could be smaller community based efforts of harvesting rain, or solar energy rather than at the city scale and shared among much smaller groups.

Eco manual
For those who want to make their homes and buildings more sustainable, Dutta says:

■ Get a green consultant to perform a water audit on your premises to identify problem areas and stop wastage
■ Have a plumber re-route your grey water from your kitchen sink and washing machines to trees and plants rather than the sewer line
■ Consider buying a dual-flush toilet with two flush options – a half-flush for liquid waste and a full-flush for solid waste
■ Use porous material for walkways and patios to prevent wasteful runoff and keep water in your yard
■ When sprucing up your front or backyard, consider xeriscaping. This landscape method uses low-water-use plants to limit your usage

Aarti Mohan, Sattva, 33

Chennai-born Aarti Mohan believes in using a smart combination of native wisdom and sustainable practices to make our cities practical green spaces. Mohan initially went the usual software engineer route, working with giant multinationals once she graduated in engineering from Bits Pilani. But in 2009, after relocating to Bangalore , she found a way to explore her passion for transforming the world around her. She co-founded Sattva, with three others, becoming Chief editor of The Alternative, their media branch which runs an awareness initiative called Greenprint Your Home, to promote sustainable homes and earth-friendly living. “We must build homes that breathe, use natural resources carefully, and become a legacy for the next generation,” says Mohan. The Alternative has plenty of practical advice and DIY tips to transform everyday living into “conscious, ethical and smarter lifestyles, even helping you to eliminate water and electricity bills from the family budget.

Case studies

■ When Rajesh & Vallari Shah moved back to India, they sat down with The Alternative to make their home sustainable. Their retrofitted green home in Whitefield is smart about water use and recycling, gets 90 per cent of its vegetables from its own backyard, uses the power of the sun and has extended the philosophy to a thriving community garden project right inside their layout.Literally, every single drop of used water is reused – from the kitchen sink, to the water from the showers. With all the reuse, daily water needs are 200 L.

■ AR Shivakumar hasn’t paid a water bill in 19 years. His home Sourabha runs completely on rain water,heats and lights up on solar energy, cools naturally and has water bodies all around. Their small family of four requires around 400 litres of water per day, excluding toilet flushing, which is done using recycled grey water from the washing machine. The walls are built using a rat-trap design for thermal insulation. A large number of glass windows on the roof provides sufficient natural light and air. The roof has been paved with clay tiles or painted white to reduce the impact of heat.

■ Chockalingam Muthiah doesn’t need to pay electricity bills. His family of four stores 10,000 litres of rain water, distributed between their first floor roof, balcony, ground floor roof and an open well on the premises. Enough for up to 10 months in the year. Their garden is watered with filtered grey water from the kitchen sink and washing machine. All his gadgets including the washing machine and refrigerator run on solar power. The solar installation cost the family INR 4,00,000 eight years ago but is available for half the price today.

– Rosella Stephen & Jackie Pinto

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