Silver, platinum, certificates, stars… confused? NIRTHYA RAJAN demystifies green building ratings with this quick primer

Everybody is talking of energy conservation and green buildings, but did you know that India has only 267 certified green buildings so far? To promote sustainable architecture, a system of green ratings has now been evolved specifically for India, that closely mirrors global environmental standards.

However, there is too much information, too many manuals, and too little public understanding. It has created more confusion than compliance as of now. Well, here's a quick primer to help you get past the jargon and build green.

What does green mean?

A ‘green building’ is one that has minimum impact on its immediate and global environment. Its construction and subsequent operations do minimum or no harm to the ecology.

According to Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), “A green building is one that uses less water, optimises energy efficiency, conserves natural resources, generates less waste and provides healthier spaces for occupants compared to a conventional building”. As a result, a green building can actually thrive without bore-wells and generator sets by using alternative renewable sources of energy such as solar power and biomass energy in tandem with sensors for lighting and water controls.

What's a rating system?

A rating is third-party recognition that the building is designed on sound environmental principles. It is like a nutrition label on packaged foods, which indicates the level of green features and the operational savings that can be expected. 

It helps to benchmark buildings to national and international green standards. Some ratings use a prescriptive approach to evaluate mandatory requirements and award credit points; while others use a performance-based approach where credits are earned when a building meets specific design and construction criteria.

What are certifications?

Different levels of certification are awarded based on the credits earned.

“The ratings address features such as site selection, water and energy efficiency, construction material, indoor air quality, and design process,” says Dhruv Futnani, architect and green building consultant.

Two major organisations handle certification today — IGBC, a not-for-profit body, and ADaRSH (Association for Development and Research of Sustainable Habitats), an independent body founded jointly by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi) and MNRE (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy).

The former provides IGBC Green Home certificates and Indian LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) ratings under Silver, Gold, Platinum, or plain Certified categories. ADaRSH gives GRIHA ratings (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) ranging from 1 to 5 stars.

IGBC has different categories — the New Constructions certificate rates an entire commercial building (offices, hotels etc) from exteriors to interiors and fittings; while a Core and Shell certificate only rates the RCC structure. The IGBC Green Homes certificate is exclusively for residential homes, while there is a separate Green Factory rating.

What’s the process?

First, a feasibility study is conducted and the project registered under the appropriate rating system. Next, operational improvements and equipment upgrades are prepared and technical documents submitted for a preliminary review.

The review suggestions are implemented and final documents submitted, after which you can either accept the credits or appeal for rejected credits. Finally, the certificate is awarded.

You can opt for pre-certification, where ‘projects without interiors’ can register at the preliminary design phase before construction begins. This helps in design modifications, enhanced material specifications, efficient equipment selection and project planning, documentation and data collection.

In this integrated approach, you can get a higher level of rating without too high an incremental cost.  The pre-certification rating is based on the project's intention to conform to final requirements.

It is important to note that the final rating will still depend on the implementation of all the design parameters detailed in the pre-certification documents, so don’t get carried away by this rating alone.

Why certification?

As the market demand for green spaces surges with growing awareness about sustainability issues, it is only a matter of time before regulatory stipulations come into play. ECBC (Energy Conservation Building Code) has already mandated the construction rules of government buildings, and soon these will become compulsory for all buildings.

For developers, the certificates add value to properties and help the market to measure the building’s sustainability.

For buyers, banks such as State Bank of India offer concessional home loan rates (0.25 per cent lower) for green homes. In Pune, green home buyers are eligible to a 5-10 per cent property tax rebate. J R Tanti, vice-chairman, IGBC Pune, says that Maharashtra has approved in principle priority environmental clearances for IGBC-registered projects with a built-up area of 20,000-plus sq.m.

The Noida Authority now awards 5 per cent extra floor area ratio (FAR) to buildings with GRIHA star ratings. Besides this, as Dhruv Futnani points out, green buildings save energy and water, reduce waste, improve indoor air quality and occupants’ health, and reduce operational and maintenance costs.