With 17 IGBC certified homes, the city is seeing a lot of green activity, says Prince Frederick

At present, 99 housing projects in the country are certified or pre-certified green. And Chennai has 17 of these, putting it at No.2, second only to Mumbai with 20. Considering that the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) launched IGBC Green Homes, a rating system for the residential sector, only around three years ago, this is quite an impressive number.

While the statistics are a reason to cheer, Anupama Mohanram of Green Evolution Architectural Consultancy thinks builders should look beyond green ratings as a marketing tool and really focus on offering hugely eco-friendly products. In other words, they should be passionate about the cause. “Builders may introduce CFL lights in the common areas, but what about indoor lighting? Builders should talk to owners, explaining the advantages of CFL lighting, and discuss how it lowers electricity costs,” says Mohanram. She cites the example of a luxury project in the city that went one step ahead and even installed energy-efficient air-conditioners.

For its pre-certified project Aqualily, which offers villas and apartments, Mahindra Lifespaces is printing a ‘green manual’ for its buyers. After the units are handed over, the manuals are meant to help residents stay green by contributing to the initiatives already in place and by developing creative ways to get greener still.

A desire for greater floor space invariably tempts builders to cut down on obvious green features, such as having large landscaped areas. “We recommend that at least 16 per cent of the land area is landscaped. We also recommend grass pavers because they aid water percolation,” says Mohanram. Not all builders will go the whole way, and the challenge before green architects is to get more of them to do so.

If builders appear to be waking up to the benefits of going green, a lot of it also due to the greater saleability of their products. Of now, 16 of the 17 green projects in Chennai are pre-certified, and a lot more are advertising green initiatives. Another sign of hope? Builders who are not gunning for IGBC green ratings are anyway introducing green elements for other reasons, for instance, benefits to residents, to the environment and, in some cases, cost-effective construction. Mehul Doshi, director, Doshi Housing, explains that his company initiated green moves without eyeing IGBC ratings. “We will officially go for green certification only for our new projects. In some of our older ones, we went significantly green because going green is good.”

Doshi is aware that green initiatives are appreciated by buyers only if they translate into tangible benefits. Residents warm up to the prospect of CFL bulbs, which lower electricity bills; or using uPVC, a cheap substitute for wooden window frames. Other ideas include heat reflection paints, solar heaters and dual flushing systems in the bathroom to save water. Buyers adopt these ideas more readily than fly ash bricks or drought-free plant species, which involve greater cost or labour.

Green rating systems work as a driving force. Builders take the trouble to achieve higher ratings to improve saleability.

More important, the systems seem to give builders the will to sacrifice space. For example, it is reliably learnt that the FSI of the Aqualily project stands at 0.8 to 0.9 even though it could have gone up to 1.5.

Walking through Aqualily, K. Prem Kumar, DGM-Projects, Mahindra Lifespaces, displays some of the lesser known aspects of green construction.

For instance, the collection of construction waste like steel, PVC pipes, and cement bags for recycling; or the treatment of storm water with grease chambers and sending it to Kovalai lake nearby.

The project is also trying to ensure that there is more than 10 acres of open space in the community. If builders and architects continue to work together for free, healthy spaces, Chennai for one could easily lead the country in green constructions.

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