The Perception of Green

The Perception of Green
Oct 2016 , by , in FEATURES

The Perception of Green

The World over, construction industry is plagued with a worrying phenomenon termed by the purist as “greenwashing”. Architect Sandeep Goswami, CEO Fountain Head II and Consultant at E.E.B; C.D.M & R.Eis a Certified Analyst- Science & Policy of Climate Change from World Bank Institute. He explains in a simple manner.

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To understand greenwash one must have the basic understanding of the term “Green”. It is a simplistic term that has been coined to indicate that project has adhered to the norms required under Environment – Health and Safety guidelines.  Each nation has its own guidelines for EHS. India for one has some of the most stringent norms for environment protection, energy efficiency and water & waste management.

Current Environmental Context

Real estate in India is not exactly recognised as an industrial sector on its own.  This allows for many players, who do not have the skill-set, or the discipline that is required in the construction and building industry.  Transparency in real estate is yet to be above suspicion in India. Now, this brings into play a situation; wherein the pretenders try to copy whatever is trending in the market.  For most of these “hobby” Builders, who have come into the market to make a quick buck, “greenwashing” is the best way forward to add a premium to their projects. So they hire Green Building Consultants to provide them with the basic design compliances while on the construction compliances they cut corner. It begins with the material management.  More often than not they procure products which do not really conform to the standards that need to have adhered. They would usually go about in a very sly manner.  If you would scrutinise the product, it would be green compliant in itself.

However, the exact specifications, derived through intensive computer simulations, which the consultant would have given for optimization, will not be followed. Further, these developers know that it is extremely hard to have some of the points given in the green building matrix based on which rating are awarded have not been followed completely; to be proven false.

A typical green building brochure provides the data about energy efficient water fixtures, energy efficient electrical systems and smart waste disposal systems.  While the systems which are shown are actually a part and parcel of a green building, they are not necessarily an indicator of the building being actually “green” in the true sense of the term.

For example, the sustainable site compliance includes saving the topsoil if it is fertile and has sediment, air-pollution management, reforestation and forest protection plan. Rare would be a case where trees would be saved, if at all. It is also not uncommon to do under-reporting so that a bare minimum are replanted because, as per Green Norms, every tree that needs to be cut, three trees must be planted.

As none of the Certification programs ask for mandatory third party Monitoring – Verification – Reporting but, self-assessment and checks by the party which has applied for certification. It is not abnormal to find projects that don’t plant trees on site but also not bother to spend for NGO’s who do so on their behalf should it be found that tripling the tree cover was not project viable. Further, they plant some shrubs and pass it off as tree. Mostly this happens because not many know the difference between a shrub and tree. But another point that most don’t see, until it is pointed out to them, that it is difficult to grow trees on a concrete podium. Trees have roots which go deep down on earth, unlike shrubs. However, shrubs & bushes are but a poor substitute to trees as Carbon Sink. It also points to a very curious fact, that the podium and beneath it are a few thousand tonnes of concrete, spread from end to end of the plot. So, if there is not even an inch of soil anywhere, how are they being certified green?

They are complete anti-thesis to the act of sustainable site, a very mandatory point. For no amount of artificial water-harvesting process can ape the actual water retention and percolation process of Mother Nature. And while on the rain water or ground water harvesting; very few if at all, hire someone who is a professional Hydrologist. Therefore the attempt on any watershed program is more often than not, flawed right from the beginning of the project. Especially is a city scape where leaving open land is at times not economically viable and the counsel of a hydro-geologist would actually make a lot of difference.

The Flawed Ratings

The various rating systems, in order to gain popularity and market reach have come up with the idea of “Pre- certifying” a project. Under this, the developer through his chosen green building consultant would promise to comply with all the best practices. Based on the design intent and simulation report thereof, the building can achieve a good rating under the pre-certification program.

And the feather in the cap comes from some of the “Green consultants” -a group usually found in every certification program. They can actually get a project “Platinum” or “5-Star” certified, even if they have been hired post ground-breaking of the project and even to the extent when the project has reached podium level of construction. For, they have mastered the art of “product based” compliance certification giving design basis a near miss. They are something like some of our famous “Vaastu” consultants who have a solution for everything.

Thus these people follow the classic Pre-Certification route. Get “intent” letter in place and lo & behold, the developer now has a Green building, which perhaps is greener than the genuine developer who having understood the constraints and costs may in all his honestly achieve a “Silver” Certificate.

The Pros & Cons

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Now having established the methods of green-wash we need to answer the moot point? Is green wash as big a villain as it is being painted to be? The answer is both a Yes and a No.

Yes – Because in the short term we are getting the sub-standard buildings which are getting passed off as Better Building Design / Energy Efficient Buildings. As the natural lifespan of buildings is over 50+ years, so with time we will have a huge inventory of non-performing buildings in a resource deficit world.

No – Because once having committed to “green” albeit falsely they need to do at least the bare minimum. This is better than zero. Furthermore, stringent laws which are already designed at the policy level and have been kept in abeyance due to various compulsions; have to come into force sooner than later.

If one follows F.E.W (Food -Security; Energy – Efficiency; Water – Sufficiency; Waste – Management) best practices, the environment ensures that the nation is safe from many health hazards, which plague modern society due to climate change.

The Way Forward

As the World has passed atmospheric CO2 – 407 PPM this June and 2016 having been officially recognised by WMO as the hottest the planet has ever recorded, the pressure is building on all signatory nations of CoP-21 Paris Agreement to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) faster.

India already has its Nationally Determined Contributions for Abatement of Climate Change in place. Four more National Action Plans are being added to the earlier Eight National Action Plan on Climate Change, declared in 2010.  National Action Plans  on Solar, Energy Efficiency and Afforestation, Water, Agriculture & Himalayan Eco-system, Costal Regulation Zone and National Health Mission are essentially measures for adapting to effects of climate change.

From a layman perspective, it is hard to recognise the tremendous changes it will bring to the building and construction industry. But if one reads the intent behind each it is not really hard to see what is coming like a juggernaut towards the real estate sector.  Those who are smart enough will adapt and adopt. And the pretenders of today who are greenwashing, having made a false “good” reputation of being responsible developers of would hopefully design their next projects with truthful intent.

For, it is not the certification which is big; it is the actual performance of the building. Thus a falsely claimed 5-Star/Platinum rated building would perform poorly than a genuine Silver/3-Star rated building. The buyers would be able to discern this sooner than later and thus it is the market force which will wash away the “green washing” of buildings.

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