Green Design, “Desi-Style”

Posted on December 22nd, 2011 by Shravya Reddy

I'm excited to be writing this post from New Delhi, India, the city where I grew up. Back for the holidays, I've been taking in the familiar sights (well, to the extent that Delhi's characteristic December fog will let me!), as well as all that's unfamiliar. So much is changing in India these days, and so fast, that I find some parts of the city unrecognizable. New roads, new stores, new cars, and - most visibly - new buildings.

While this looks impressive, I do wonder about the climate and energy impacts of all this development. With the construction sector growing at over 11%, is India devising ways to ensure its growth is as friendly to our climate as possible?

I took my query to Mili Majumdar, Director of the Sustainable Habitats division at one of India's most influential environmental organizations, TERI. Mili, who has been a leader in the green building movement in India, told me that there are significant efforts underway to promote clean energy solutions and sustainability in the buildings sector. Not only is there a national energy efficiency code (PDF), and an Indian version of the popular U.S. LEED rating system, there is an entirely home-grown, comprehensive building rating system called GRIHA. I think it is awesome that the word "GRIHA" (which stands for Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) actually means "abode" in Sanskrit ... what an appropriate name!

GRIHA is customized for building types that are common in India and for Indian climatic zones (climate often affects how much energy or water a building uses). TERI's Director-General, Dr. R. K. Pachauri - who also chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - initially suggested the idea of creating a building rating program that was tailored for India's local conditions. Mili and her team developed the concept into a full-fledged evaluation system that incorporates everything from site planning to waste management, from building systems (air conditioning, lighting etc.) to water use, and from building materials to indoor air quality.

What sets GRIHA apart from many other building rating systems is that it also gives special emphasis to the use of renewable energy. Developers get extra points for relying - either in whole or in part - on renewable sources like solar power. Last year, the government of India decided that all new government buildings across India would have to comply with GRIHA, and various Ministries also announced incentives to support GRIHA.

Mili said that GRIHA is quickly challenging some myths, such as the notion that a green building costs more. In fact, GRIHA buildings have had little or no cost differential, and some have even had lower construction costs. For the few projects that have had a small initial cost increase of up to 5%, the additional money is recovered almost immediately from energy and water savings that continue over the building's lifetime. And the coolest part? Mili's team estimates that GRIHA may be able to avoid nearly 38% of the carbon pollution that would otherwise have been created by building construction, operation and energy use between now and 2030. Saving the climate and saving people money? In Bollywood parlance, that's a super-hit "double role"!

I asked Mili what we should expect from GRIHA as it expands over the next few years. She told me she hopes to draw in a wider range of stakeholders to adopt the rating system (especially the private sector), to live up to expectations that have already been set, to increase awareness about GRIHA, and - most importantly - keep GRIHA credible by maintaining high standards and avoiding "greenwashing." That sounds, to me, like a recipe for success. More (green) power to her and all the others who are working hard to build a climate-safe, energy-secure future for India!

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