India’s Green Visionary

India’s Green Visionary
Mar 2018 , by , in Interviews

Dr Prem C Jain, Chairman, Indian Green Building Council gives credit of his achievements to his mother who encouraged him to be an engineer. Talking to Shubhra Saini, he goes down the memory lane to recount the green buildings movement in India and the way forward.

Dr Jain is of the belief that sustainable living is in the DNA of every Indian. “Culturally, we have been taught to reuse & recycle but, with rising consumerism, we are forgetting the traditional way of living which promoted resource efficiency and eco-sensitivity.” As a matter of fact, his aesthetically designed home in Delhi, is a representation of his belief and lifestyle. The greenery outside, the beautiful paintings and statues inside, the collector’s edition ‘Bhagwad Gita’, all depict his deep interest in nature, philosophy and arts. And the creativity doesn’t just end here. His wife Renu Jain is a painter, sculptor and a Kathak dancer; she majored in Interior Design from the University of Minnesota (USA) and is a renowned sitar player. Their daughter too pursued design interest albeit in the field of fashion. A well-known fashion designer Payal Jain has been involved in the revival and hence preservation of handicrafts that are on the verge of becoming extinct.

My house is like a temple for me because I built it for my mother who stayed here for ten years with me. I have always felt the place to be blessed. A lot of my new initiatives started here and became success. For instance, first steps towards creating IGBC were conceptualized here. Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ISHRAE) too started from this house.


Down the Memory Lane

Born on Jan 26, 1936 in the conservative Jain family of Old Delhi, Dr Jain’s mother was a rebel in her own way. She was determined to give her son the highest of education against all odds. Fondly reminiscing Dr Jain said, “My mother encouraged me to enrol in Banaras Hindu University for engineering. She even mortgaged her jewellery to send me abroad for higher studies. I completed my Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from University of Minnesota, USA in 1965 and came back to India in 1970. I wouldn’t have been what I am, if not for her determination. She has been my role model and inspiration throughout.”

After returning to India, Dr Jain served as a visiting professor at IIT Kanpur, where he taught post-graduate studies and set up a laboratory for environmental engineering. He has also been on the visiting faculty for the School of Planning and Architecture at Delhi University since 1973. “After the two year teaching stint at IIT Kanpur, I joined the architectural firm of ‘Stein, Doshi & Bhalla’. The way they infused nature with built-mass is an example of how one can combine simplicity of nature with complexity of design.” It was in 1980, that Dr jain established Spectral Services Consultants Private Limited (now an AECOM company) with the mission of providing energy-efficient, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP) services. He believed that rather than blindly following the western design practices, adopting India’s traditional architecture in a modern and scientific could help build eco-sensitive and cost-effective buildings.

Architect Joseph Allen Stein once told me that simplicity, honesty and passion is all that one requires for achieving success. I have been following that advice since then.



The Vision for Green Future

The turning point in Dr Jain life came about with the inception of Indian green Building Congress (IGBC). He elaborated, “I had been working for almost 20 years on making buildings that were in harmony with nature. Back then, there were no green ratings systems in India. In year 2000, Hyderabad started coming up as the silicon valley of India and lot of American companies started building their campuses here. But American steel and glass buildings could not be replicated here as these companies desired, though some architects did try. Given India’s completely different topography, demography, culture and climate, it needs buildings that synergise with the natural elements.  This was the start of Green Building Movement in the country. The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), part of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) was formed in the year 2001.

In 2003 Jamshyd Naoroji Godrej decided to build the greenest building in the world in Hyderabad and I was fortunate to be part of the project. CII – Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre (CII Godrej GBC), close to Shilparamam, is the first LEED Platinum rated green building in India. Completed in 2004, it is a perfect blend of India’s rich architectural splendour and technological innovations. The building of 20,000 sq ft built-up area incorporates traditional concepts into modern and contemporary architecture.”

The vision of IGBC was to enable a sustainable built environment for all and facilitate India to be one of the global leaders in the sustainable built environment. Dr. Jain chaired the International Green Building Congress in Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai from 2006 to 2011 and since 2007 he has been the Chairman of the Indian Green Building Council. Narrating the struggles of promoting Green rating systems among real-estate owners & developers, Dr Jain stated, “Initially handful of companies like Godrej, ITC, Wipro etc. showed interest. My aim was to reach one billion square feet of Green rated buildings by 2020. So, we approached developers like Hiranandani, Raheja and Lodha among others to encourage them to get green ratings for their projects as it will bring them at par with international standards without costing much. But still the target, which we had set for ourselves, was a huge challenge and we needed government’s support in terms of subsidies or incentives. The first step came from UP Govt, which offered 5 per cent more FAR for IGBC Gold and Platinum rated buildings in the state. Later state governments of Rajasthan West Bengal Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra followed suit and now offer various incentives for Green rated buildings.”

My college years in Banaras highly influenced me with the ancient principals of Vedic architecture and the concept of Panch Bhootas (five elements of nature- earth, water, fire, air and space) that in fact form the basis of all kinds of ancient architecture.



The Good & the Bad

Talking about the fraudulency Dr Jain sadly accepted that many developers falsely market their projects as IGBC Green rated developments. Some are not adopting green practices in spirit and use it only as marketing gimmick while many building owners do not maintain the green aspect of the project over the years. Consumer need to be made aware of the difference between ‘Green Complaint’ and a ‘Green Certified’ building.

On the positive side, he gave instance of companies like ITC – across their all asset classes’ like- hotels, commercial, offices, Wipro, TCS and Infosys that have taken remarkable initiatives to build eco-friendly, energy efficient and healthy buildings that have also helped them control attrition and increase , workforce productivity by 10 per cent. “Real-estate developers such as Ravi Raheja, Niranjan Hiranandani and Abhishek Lodha were the early adopters of IGBC ratings, followed by Syed Mohamed Beary, CMD, Bearys group, Bangalore, Chetty Builders in Mysore and Sare and Sikka Group from Delhi-NCR to name a few. In reality, the additional cost of constructing a commercial green building would be about 3% to 4% that can be recovered in two or three years on account of reduced operational costs. The incremental cost for a residential project is pegged at about 1% and gets paid back in about one year. The need of the hour is to go the green way, for the good of ourselves and our future generations.”


The Valuable Takeaway

Dr Jain has served as advisor to the President of India and to the Prime Minister of India. He strongly feels that by re-discovering India’s rich heritage and built ethos, Indian architects and builders can help build Greener India. And to help along the way he feels as energetic as ever to guide and support anyone that believes in the building of greener and healthier world for the next generation. “Passive architecture that includes better orientation of the spaces, appropriate selection of envelope design, regionally sourced and eco-friendly civil construction materials along with energy-efficient HVAC and lighting equipment, systems & controls can give energy savings potential of about 40 to 50 %, “ he explained.

Concluding the interview, one can only be in awe of Dr Jain who in spite of achieving success & recognition is till down to earth and humble. Philanthropy is a virtue that is imbibed in his family. While, Dr Jain relentless pursuit of green architecture even at this age is commendable, his wife performs at concerts for various charity causes and daughter has been organizing fashion shows to help the destitute. As Dr Jain proudly informed, his grandchildren too are following the same path and he wants his home also to be one day be used for a noble cause.



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