Sustainability is a core element in modern architecture and construction

P. Gopalakrishnan, Managing Director, Southeast Asia and Middle East, GBCI, envisions the future of sustainability as characterised by a shift towards regenerative design, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, innovative construction methods, and a focus on social equity and resilience, all aimed at fostering a cleaner, more environmentally friendly world.

Please discuss how sustainability is shaping the current state of building design.
The current state of sustainability in building design shows a renewed sense of optimism. This perspective arises from a combination of factors, including government-led initiatives in infrastructure, the ongoing transition to renewable energy sources, increased investments in critical sectors, and fresh opportunities arising after the COVID-19 pandemic. The construction and architectural field is committed to enhancing its performance and efficiency.

We are witnessing a fundamental shift where sustainability has transformed from a specialized concern into a fundamental aspect of architectural and construction practices. Nowadays, it goes beyond mere compliance with regulations; it’s about creating buildings that are more environmentally responsible, healthier, and more efficient, providing various advantages. These advantages encompass reduced energy usage, improved indoor air quality, lower operational expenses, and a reduced carbon footprint. This transformation is driven not solely by environmental considerations but also by a growing demand from building occupants and investors for more sustainable, resilient, and prepared structures for the future.

One notable trend is the increasing significance of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations. The construction industry is investing more effort in reducing carbon emissions during construction processes and constructing sustainable buildings and infrastructure. This stronger focus on ESG principles demonstrates the industry’s alignment with global sustainability goals and recognizes its pivotal role in establishing a more environmentally aware and socially equitable world.

Technology plays a crucial part in reshaping the sustainability landscape. Adopting new technological applications and using Artificial Intelligence (AI) are simplifying processes and making them more efficient. This fusion of technology underscores the industry’s willingness to innovate and its recognition of technology as a catalyst for improving project outcomes and surmounting business challenges.

Please provide specific examples of projects in India that have embraced green practices and have been LEED-certified.
In India, we have witnessed impressive projects that have fully embraced eco-friendly practices and successfully obtained LEED certification. At USGBC, we offer both LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and LEED Zero certifications. Each one emphasises different aspects of sustainability and performance within the construction sector. Both certifications are integral to USGBC’s commitment to promoting sustainability and environmental responsibility in construction.

LEED is a widely recognised and comprehensive program for certifying environmentally friendly buildings. It assesses the environmental performance and sustainability of buildings and communities across various categories, including sustainable site development, water and energy efficiency, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovative design. Projects can attain varying levels of LEED certification – Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum – based on the points they accrue in the assessment process. Those seeking LEED certification must meet specific mandatory requirements and criteria within these categories to demonstrate their dedication to sustainable building practices.

In 2022, India awarded LEED certification to 323 projects covering over 112.70 million gross area sq. ft. of space. It was more than double the number of projects in the previous year. This has helped India obtain the second rank outside the U.S. on the global ranking of LEED certification in the year 2022. Some of our key stakeholders who have certified their large portfolio of projects during 2022 include ITC Group, Embassy Group, HCL Technologies, K Raheja Corp, Infosys Ltd, Nucleus Office Parks, Xander Warehouse, Amazon, IKEA, DLF Limited, etc.

LEED Zero certifications are a subset within the broader LEED program, concentrating on achieving net zero performance in specific areas. There are four LEED Zero certifications: LEED Zero Energy, LEED Zero Water, LEED Zero Carbon, and LEED Zero Waste. These certifications spotlight remarkable achievements in targeted areas and offer focused recognition to projects with net zero status. They extend the reach of the LEED program. They allow projects to showcase their sustainability accomplishments in particular performance categories.

Globally, out of 166 LEED Zero certified projects, India contributes 75 (45 percent)/. The States of Haryana and Tamil Nadu are leading certifications within the country. The DLF Group from India holds a global leadership position in total LEED Zero certifications, securing 45 certifications for its projects. Following closely, the ITC Group holds 15 certifications.

Other LEED Zero projects include Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail’s Bengaluru manufacturing facility, Tamarai Tech Park in Chennai, Goldman Sachs’ Bengaluru building, Danfoss Industries’ Chennai campus, Nucleus Office Parks’ One Trade Tower in Bengaluru, HCL Technologies building in Nagpur and DS Group Headquarters in Noida.]

How do Indian companies measure against their global counterparts regarding sustainability initiatives and practices?
India has been an early adopter of sustainability reporting for listed companies, standing out among its global counterparts. The country increasingly emphasises corporate responsibility and sustainability, with stricter regulatory oversight and progressive market reforms. Indian corporations that have made ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), sustainability, and sustainable development integral to their operations contribute significantly to creating a more sustainable India. As the Indian government promotes sustainable consumption and production patterns through better natural resource management, waste reduction, and resource efficiency, corporate India is taking on a more crucial role.

Indian companies have made substantial progress in adopting sustainable practices, often placing them on par with global peers in many aspects. Adopting green building standards, energy-efficient technologies, and renewable energy sources is becoming more widespread. For instance, within the construction sector in India, as per the “Global Construction Survey 2023 – India edition” by KPMG, 60 percent of companies recognize the benefits of ESG and are actively working on its development, and 90 percent of Indian companies endorse decarbonization practices like improving energy efficiency, reducing construction waste, using sustainable and locally sourced materials more efficiently, and embracing renewable energy.

However, there is still room for growth, especially in adopting cutting-edge technologies and practices like advanced building automation systems and regenerative design principles. Collaborative efforts involving Indian businesses, government bodies, non-governmental organizations, and international entities will accelerate the exchange of best practices and global knowledge. The integration of ESG factors into investor decisions will underscore the growing influence of sustainability practices on the strategies of Indian companies.

Why should residential and commercial projects go green?
Despite increased investments in energy efficiency and growing consideration of sustainability in construction, the building industry still contributes a substantial 40% to global greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing this significant impact and realising the immense potential for making the construction sector more sustainable is crucial, with green buildings playing a central role in this transformation. Whether residential homes or corporate buildings, all parties are exploring innovative, sustainable design approaches to protect our environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

Green building practices support the enhancement of the indoor quality of life. Improved interior design elements, such as better lighting, thermal conditions, ergonomic features, and superior air quality, have led occupants of green buildings to experience significant improvements in their health, reduced stress levels, and an overall better quality of life. Green buildings reduce water waste through efficient plumbing fixtures and relieve the strain on shared water resources. People living in green buildings benefit from various health advantages due to eco-friendly construction materials. For instance, green buildings avoid using materials that may contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or plastic by-products, known to release harmful fumes and carcinogens into the atmosphere.

Both ethical and practical considerations drive the decision to adopt green practices in residential and commercial projects. Ethically, it aligns with global efforts to combat climate change and reduce environmental impact. Practically, it makes financial sense. One of the primary advantages of green buildings is their reduced maintenance costs. They incorporate specially designed elements that lower energy consumption, thus reducing energy and water bills for occupants. Furthermore, green building practices ensure investments remain resilient to evolving environmental regulations and market demands.

In the post-COVID era, there is a strong emphasis on health and well-being, and residential projects are well-suited to embrace green practices to achieve this goal. LEED places a large focus on its residential rating on the Health quotients.

How does the LEED system align with GBCI to promote energy and environmental sustainability?
Indeed, the LEED system is closely aligned with GBCI’s mission to promote energy and environmental sustainability. LEED establishes demanding benchmarks for eco-friendly construction practices, encompassing energy efficiency, water preservation, and material choices. These criteria align seamlessly with GBCI’s larger objectives, guaranteeing that projects certified through LEED adhere to rigorous sustainability standards. The synergy between LEED and GBCI highlights our commitment to advance sustainable building practices.

What factors contribute to cost savings in sustainable projects, and how do they impact operational expenses and environmental sustainability?
Numerous factors contribute to the cost savings achieved through sustainable projects. For instance, energy-efficient design and the use of renewable energy sources significantly reduce operational energy expenses. Efficient lighting systems, advanced HVAC solutions, and optimized building envelope designs contribute to substantial energy savings over the project’s lifespan.

Regarding water management, implementing water-efficient systems, rainwater harvesting, and intelligent irrigation collectively leads to decreased water consumption and related costs. Material selection and waste reduction also play a role in savings. Sustainable projects prioritize using environmentally friendly and durable materials, which have a reduced environmental impact. Waste reduction practices, including recycling, upcycling, and reusing materials during construction, minimize disposal costs and support responsible resource management.

Furthermore, maintenance and operational expenses are reduced due to the integration of sustainable systems. Improved indoor air quality and optimal thermal conditions provided by these projects lead to healthier and more productive occupants, reducing healthcare costs and improving workforce performance. Incorporating smart building systems, automation, and digital monitoring enhances operational efficiency and allows for real-time adjustments, ultimately leading to long-term cost savings.

Sustainable projects are designed with longevity in mind, reducing the need for frequent renovations or replacements. This leads to extended lifecycle periods and helps mitigate future capital expenditures.

How do you evaluate current rating parameters?
The existing rating systems are continuously adapting to the industry’s rapid transformation, but their ability to keep up with the constantly changing landscape still needs to be improved. Stakeholders increasingly seek a transparent and comprehensive system that consistently sets higher standards.

How are regenerative design, renewable energy, and the principles of a circular economy converging to shape the future of sustainability?
The future of sustainability is marked by significant trends aimed at creating a cleaner, greener world. We expect a stronger focus on regenerative design, which seeks to minimise harm and actively contribute to the well-being of ecosystems. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power will grow rapidly, making up a larger portion of electricity generation and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Innovative construction methods like modular and sustainable materials will minimize their environmental impact. Sustainable practices will become more widespread, helping to lower carbon emissions associated with buildings and infrastructure.

Circular economy principles will be central to promoting resource efficiency and minimizing waste. The integration of smart technology will continue to advance, allowing for real-time monitoring and optimization of building performance. Additionally, social equity and resilience considerations will become more prominent in response to the increasing challenges posed by climate change. This underscores our commitment to creating buildings that are not only sustainable but also inclusive, adaptable, and resilient in the face of uncertainty.

Cities and communities will also prioritise environmental sustainability during master planning, ensuring that all buildings and assets adhere to green standards. Existing cities and communities will undergo retrofits to address the interconnected physical systems of buildings, infrastructure, and landscapes.

Developing green skills, education, and policy and business initiatives will work with research and innovation to drive this market transformation.

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