Or why we are happy that environment-friendly construction is being driven by the bottom line. By Chandrashekar Hariharan

There was a time, not long ago, when going green was driven primarily by an idealistic desire to make a difference, or make some positive impact. That has changed. Green buildings are now seen as a business opportunity. Despite the fact that the numbers have remained relatively consistent from 2008, there has been dramatic growth in companies who consider lower operating costs and branding/public relations to be important drivers of sales. The market for green buildings, happily, is being motivated by the bottom line.

Clearly, the green building movement in India has seen the tipping point. The US continues to be No. 1 in total number of certified green buildings. The USGBC has been in existence from the mid-1980s, although the pace of growth of green buildings caught up in the US only in the late-90s. But India today is the fastest growing green market in percentage terms, at a staggering 400 per cent (2009-13) against USGBC’s 75 per cent (2000-13). The figures in India have catapulted in the last four years and are set for sharper growth this decade. 

When the Indian Green Building Council was started in 2001, it was in a cubbyhole in Chennai, lent by CII. It took the next three years and some Herculean efforts from USAID Energy Advisor S. Padmanabhan and Godrej to get it slowly moving. In 2005, there was no more than 20,000 sq. ft of certification. Then IGBC allied with LEED of the US and that saw some momentum with office and corporate spaces vying for certification.

Between 2009, when the recession blew away, and 2013, the number of green certified buildings has catapulted from under 10 million sq. ft to 1,350 million sq. ft, with corporate spaces accounting for about 450 million sq. ft. The rise has been phenomenal.

How does this compare with the rest of the world? Singapore’s Green Building Council has registered about 2,500 buildings and 450 million sq. ft of such certification since 2010. But Singapore is driven with such powerful good governance that India pales into insignificance, given the fierce commitment with which such goals are driven by the government there. Australia’s Green Star rating has drawn 567 buildings and about 700 million sq. ft of green buildings. China has half of India’s figures with about 750 projects,. Malaysia has about 260 million sq. ft. The UK has nothing significant and France’s rating system is a non-starter. Green construction will continue to influence buildings in the years ahead. Aspects such as client and market demand, lower operating costs, and PR opportunities will propel businesses to go green.

Next with come plans for green retrofits to existing buildings, which show up on the radar in the next three years.  IGBC has a new rating system to be launched this year. In the US, certifications for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) have already exceeded new construction certifications in terms of total floor area. If the payback period for retrofits gets more attractive with lowered capital costs, it will drive this segment in India faster. Firms are finding clear business value and opportunities in environmentally-responsible products. In the next seven years, more than 50 per cent of buildings in India from the corporate sector will want their buildings to be green, a significant rise from nearly zero in 2008. The growth is not a trend localised to one region.

The movement has shifted gear from 'push' to 'pull' — with markets increasingly demanding certified green. In turn, the movement is creating a market for green building products and technologies, which in turn will feed the green construction growth.