Green buildings lend a better environment inside the built-up space, leading to better productivity and energy efficiency. It will be a challenge to enhance the number of such buildings in India.

Inadequate planning is to blame for many problems faced in urban areas. For instance, inefficient use of land leads to congestion and pollution. Again, when cities expand unscientifically, energy is wasted and productivity lost.

Building sustainable living spaces will help minimise the ills of urbanisation. The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), an organisation trying to popularise the concept of green buildings, built to international standards and capable of saving energy and increasing efficiency, is taking the initiative to expand the programme. The council has chapters across the States, including Kerala.

A planned integrated approach is required when building new spaces, says S. Raghupathy, one of the prominent votaries of the concept and head of the CII Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, Hyderabad, a green building with platinum rating, the highest in an international rating system.

In five years, India will see the growth of 70 cities, each with a five-lakh population. It is an enormous opportunity, Mr. Raghupathy says.

The next decade is one for building sustainable structures. B.R. Ajit, architect, who heads the Kochi chapter of the council, feels that opportunities are many in utilising green technologies for the sustained development of cities.

An IGBC analysis says the building sector accounts for at least a third of the energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions worldwide. Increased use of materials, water, and energy contributes to an increased output of greenhouse gases. Nearly 60 per cent of the global electricity consumption happens in residential and commercial buildings, though the consumption pattern depends on geography and climatic conditions. The analysis made as part of a green building conference recently said green buildings could save about 20-30 per cent of energy and 30-40 per cent of water. People occupying them will have a better environment, leading to improved productivity.

The building sector has been witnessing many activities worldwide. While most developed countries have a burgeoning green building industry, the developing countries are taking their first steps in this direction, Mr. Raghupathy says.

The construction sector accounts for huge economic activities. An estimate says the sector contributed about 8.1 per cent to India's Gross Domestic Product in 2010-11, up from about 5.1 per cent during 1999-2002. The country is expected to have about 1,00,000 million square feet of built space by 2030 as against 20,000 million square feet in 2005. India has all the capabilities for emerging as a frontrunner in the green building segment, IGBC representatives say.

Efforts made during the past decade have provided a place for India on the international map of green buildings. The country has over 1,290 green building projects coming up with a footprint of over 908 million square feet. The projects include IT parks, offices, banks, airports, convention centres, institutions, hospitals, hotels, factories, shopping malls, and those in special economic zones.

The global footprint of green buildings is expected to increase from about 10 billion square feet in 2010 to 53 billion square feet in 2020. It means that in 10 years, the number of green buildings in the world will be about five times the current figure. Of these, about 30 per cent are expected to be in India and China.

Busting a myth

The notion that green buildings are costlier is a myth, say proponents of the green building movement. The additional cost incurred for the construction of buildings having green features has been steadily on the decline. For instance, when the CII Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, Hyderabad, with an area of 20,000 square feet, was built in 2003, the increase in cost over a conventional building was 18 per cent and the payback period was estimated to be seven years.

But the recently constructed platinum-rated green buildings have incurred an incremental cost of less than 5-8 per cent over the cost of similar conventional buildings. The payback period is only two years. The affordability factor arises mainly from the steady increase in demand for green buildings, which has indirectly reflected in a decline in the cost of products, services, and materials.

The country has done well in the green building arena in the past decade, but more needs to be done, Mr. Raghupathy says. 

The share of green buildings is less than 3 per cent of buildings coming up. The challenge is to enhance the rate to 10-12 per cent in five years, he says.