The three-day Annual Green Congress of the CII Indian Green Business Council in Chennai comes to an end today. Hariharan Chandrashekar reports

It is appropriate that a confluence of over 2,000 professional minds has been taking place in Chennai from October 24 to 26, the three-day Annual Green Congress of the CII Indian Green Business Council. With over 80 presentations, 50 technical papers, and over 100 leaders drawn from four continents and a half a dozen nations participating, it is a significant gathering for green architecture.

It is befitting that the Congress is happening in Chennai, for it was at this 350-year-old cultural capital of the South that the IGBC was born as a movement 13 years ago at the turn of the century.

It started in a cubbyhole that the CII loaned to a scraggly group to launch what was widely thought to be a non-starter. Jamshetji Godrej, an unassuming CII officer in his late 40s was invited to be the first Chairman of the Indian Green Building Council. The next five years saw a difficult process being steered with little going in its favour. In 2002-03, a senior official at USAID in India called Padmanabhan managed to find a donor fund of $1.5 million — a small fortune that brought IGBC’s dreams closer to realisation. By early 2005, IGBC also had a building, practically the country’s first energy-efficient complex. In the eight years since, IGBC has certified about 2,200 projects and about 1,600 million sq. ft of green buildings. To put this in perspective, the country completes no more than 10,000 projects in a year. The ‘green certification cover’ for the entire building industry is less than 5 per cent. However, the figure is growing rapidly. “We see green certification growing to over 25 per cent in the top ten cities by 2015,” says a senior IGBC official.

For all the bluster from the industry, the actual number of homes sold in a year is not large. Bangalore accounts for no more than 2,000 completed houses in a year. However, with major corporate players in the last six-seven years, there is obvious recognition of the potential that the industry offers in the long term. The ‘green’ or ‘energy efficiency’ aspects have been slower to take off. But both customers and builders are quick to see the advantage of a shift to smarter buildings.

For the builder it means that he is equipped to look beyond the challenges of sand and limestone shortages, increasing steel costs, and restraints on granite quarrying. The builder has to find alternatives for these materials, and greater efficiency in the use of the existing material. Another challenge is the lack of research platforms for the building industry. It is only now that professional players in the private sector are slowly moving into applied research in material sciences and zero energy alternative technologies. Certification is another tremendous need. Universities such as CEPT in Ahmedabad, and other premier schools of architecture are going to play a vital role in creating monitoring benchmarks.

Between now and 2030, surveys project a roughly 250 per cent increase in the number of buildings and built-up area created across India’s top 50 cities. The Indian Green Building Council will have a pivotal role to play. The other significant body in the area of green certification is the government-owned GRIHA. One hopes that GRIHA will come into its own in the next few years with the support of the government’s many departments that can mandate green certification.

The next big challenge that India has to address—and the CII-IGBC has a key role to play in this area—is to energy, water and waste management across residential buildings, industrial complexes, hotels and hospitals. With IGBC certification now beginning to touch each of these segments, there will be a drop of about 30 per cent in the demand for energy and water, and more efficient management of urban waste. Chennai is India’s first contemporary city. Time will tell us if Chennai will also lead the march to put India on the green grid.

The writer is executive chairman and co-founder of BCIL, Zed Homes