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Green buildings - a crtique on IGBC's approach

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The following is the letter addressed to Shri Prem C Jain, Chairman, IGBC (Indian Green Building Council), CII – Sohrabji Godrej Green Building Centre, Hyderabad, by Jaigopal.G.Rao, Principal Designer and Managing partner of ‘Inspiration’ (www.inspire-india.com), and an architect by training. Jaigopal’s works were originally inspired by Laurie Baker. Furthering this basic approach to built environment, he later explored deeper into Sustainable Urban planning, constructions with bamboo and in total water management. His works have attracted national and international awards and recognitions.

 

Why IGBC’s Green ratings are not inspiring enough

CII’s initiative IGBC has been able to capture the imagination of the building industry. It is now rapidly attracting a number of building professionals and stalwarts of construction industry to its fold. Perhaps after Al Gore’s educational film and other similar campaigns, ‘Going Green’ has acquired an almost glamorous image. So much so that, those in the building industry who were strident opponents of the ecology sensitive building movement before the beginning of this century, are now themselves the biggest proponents of ‘green’ today, and IGBC has to a great extent been able to ‘cash in’ on this trend.

But then, just larger membership base alone is not sufficient. We have to bear in mind that we are not initiating just another social service ‘club’. The impact of construction industry on ecology is perhaps among the most significant of factors which is going to determine the very survival of our children and grand children, even with in the immediate foreseeable future. This is an organization evolving spontaneously and  assuming significance out of the survival instinct of human beings. So perhaps it has to be attempted to be structured differently ?!

For example, the undersigned, an architect by training, (a member of IGBC – Cochin Chapter) has been an active proponent of ‘ecology sensitive architecture’ from late 1980s, was inspired originally by Laurie Baker, who spoke of and built ecology sensitive buildings relevant to India even as early as 1960s and 70s. I have completed a body of over 400 projects, almost all of them have some significance towards environment sensitivity, especially in Indian conditions. I have received international award for my bamboo buildings, my concept of Sustainable Development Zone (SDZ) has from among others, attracted attention of UID Chairman, Nanadan Nilekani, who has said that ‘the core of the idea is very powerful’. But in IGBC, all these get swamped in front of the achievements of stalwarts of building industry, who have done millions of square feet of constructions, and have turnovers of hundreds or thousand of crores of Rupees. I know a number of very eminent collegues too, who feel that IGBCs sudden entry into the green buildings movement lacks depth in ecology terms. Perhaps, IGBC should understand that it is people like us who have thought on the lines of ecology and constructions especially in Indian conditions longer and deeper, hence having a mechanism to internalize what we have to contribute is quite important especially during these early times of inception ?! Everything we may have to say, may not be pleasant and may not make market sense, but in ecology terms, they may be very vital.


Why is thinking ‘Indian green’ important

LEED rating on which IGBC’s green rating is based, was conceived in the US. US is a country where almost 90% of its population live in urban areas. Where as in India, less than 30% of the population are urban. Currently, 10% of Indian population are now migrating from rural areas into Indian cities, causing unprecedented pressures and almost irrepairable damages on all our infrastructure systems. Cities expanding without any control and planning, now termed ‘urban sprawl’ is the worst ecological damage happening in the country. It destroys forests, grasslands, wetlands and agriculture fields, causes pollution every where, makes the whole population automobile dependant and impoverishes the countryside. So even in the vested interest of the Indian urban population, it is very important and vital that this massive migration is arrested and our rural population be made comfortable so that they need not migrate to cities.

Proper green rating of economic magnets like SEZs, IT parks, factories etc. can play a significant role in this aspect. High green rating should be given only to SEZs, IT parks, factories etc which have high employment potential, only if they develop as ‘green’ (preferably) automobile free, walk to work rural or peri-urban communities, with well planned waste management systems, self-sufficient in water, (perhaps even in energy and food), with proper linkage with mass transit systems such as buses, rails, boats etc.

Contrary to this, today IGBC gives even platinum rating to IT parks, SEZs and factories based on buildings and immediate premises alone. If there is  concentration of places where there is economic activity alone, this will surely encourage more daily commuting over long distances, higher automobile dependence, speculation in land prices and unplanned growth with slums, traffic snarls, pollution etc. all around it. Just this building remaining as a ‘green island’ surrounded by urban chaos, becomes a sad irony !!


Importance of proper zoning and FAR/FSI regulations for a ‘Green’ environment

While undoubtedly they have enormous significance, these green ratings on the flip side give a false ‘feel good’ factor that they are the last words in ‘green’ once they are complied with. Perhaps, the first among regulations which need attention from the state’s planning point of view is in proper land use planning, zoning, FAR/FSI etc.  For instance, in a low FSI/FAR land, we can insist that buildings can get high green certification only if the development ensures self-sufficiency in water. Whereas the present IGBC green rating just insists on two or three days of rain water storage. Ideally, there should be green ratings for a variety of regions, different zones, different FAR/FSI conditions etc. Or else, the rating system tends to be too superficial.


Green movement and the ‘other’ side of India

20 million Indian families are without houses. Indian cities have one of the largest slum and pavement dweller population in the world where conditions of living are sub-human. And a large rural poor and tribal population who live in deplorable kutcha houses and habitat. The green rating system totally ignores such a reality. Perhaps there has to be green rating which each of these categories can practically aspire for, and which those who are working on upgradation of habitat of these segments, can refer to.

Conspicuous consumption in a country which has very low per capita income is another factor that has escaped the attention of IGBC’s green rating system. Perhaps there has to be minus points for using air-conditioners and other mechanical systems where it can be avoided ? Or for using building materials which have very high carbon footprint, where simpler materials which can perform same or similar functions in a building are available locally?! Purely, from aesthetic point of view, some of these may have relevance, but IGBC should have the integrity to say that from ‘green’ point of view, they may not get high ratings.

India has a vast artisanal community in our rural areas who are an enormous knowledge bank of a variety of building practices handed down through centuries. These include knowledge on constructions using mud, lime, jaggery, shells, slates, various stones, terracotta in its myriad forms, various leaves,grass, tatch, bamboo, reeds, woods, palms, metals including iron, brass, bronze, copper, silver, gold etc. etc. IGBC’s green rating system seems to be oblivious of their existence.

 
Green vision  

In short, what seems to be missing are the fundamentals. There is no effort in trying to have a holistic green vision for the country which can at least attempt to weave all these factors together to evolve into a beautiful, lovable, sustainable, affordable green fabric which has firm roots in the cultural, social, economic and political reality of today’s India. Let us not be afraid that all these are too complex factors, which if we try to bring in, will spoil the momentum so far achieved in the IGBC movement. All these can be enriching factors which we have to take into consideration, if we are genuinely trying to define a green reality for our vast country of such enormous beauty and diversity. Let us all together try to put in the efforts necessary to aspire for this great grand new green vision.

Jaigopal G Rao; 5 sept, 09; jaigopal@inspire-india.com  

Comments

tech's picture

posts tagged india

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Are only visible on http://india.praja.in right now. Will figure a way to present these on a separate "non-local" posts section on the front page.

sanjayv's picture

Another perspective

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 I forwarded a link to this article to my good friend who is a LEED certified architect practising around the globe.  He was here in India on a project for almost three years before recently returning to the US, so is quite familiar with IGBC

Here are his comments, FYI.

Finally sat down to read this article... very interesting...My colleague and I had the same discussion about the US LEED rating system. The writer is basically talking about vernacular architecture. Most vernacular buildings are usually sustainable... and I really appreciate his concern about slum dwellers and areas surrounding SEZs...
The issue that I have with IGBC is that they just took the USGBC's rating system and modified it for the Indian context. What was required is a new system completely based on the indian system. Last week I read an article here in chicago that was questioning the LEED system here. I will send it to you from the office tomorrow.
In conclusion I do not agree with the writer... his concerns are valid but the LEED system changes every year and it evolves to cover more building types each year... I am sure the IGBC will also get there in a few years.

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