Two pivotal reports concerning the state of the world’s environment have been released in the span of a month. Only one of them is optimistic, but both require our attention and quick action.
The sixth assessment report by IPCC has garnered worldwide buzz in the few days since its release. The reason is grim; the report, compiled by climate scientists, points to imminent and irreversible environmental damage if no action is taken to mitigate it. It outlines how rising global temperatures have already affected ecosystems around the world, and how this damage will compound if we progress unchecked.
Earlier in the same month, United States Green Building Council (USGBC) released an industry report that highlighted green building trends outside of the US. Surveying over 1200 industry professionals including engineers, architects/designers, contractors, owners and developers, the report pointed towards a significant rise in sustainable building practices in several countries.
Using LEED ratings as its benchmark, the report concluded that Asia is leading the charge on green buildings, with India ranking 3rd worldwide. Presently, 146 buildings in the country are LEED certified – meaning that they meet some of the design and construction parameters set down by the Indian arm of the USGBC organisation, IGBC. The 1st country on the list is Mainland China, with nearly 9 times as many certified buildings accommodated on thrice the landmass.
On their own, these numbers do not provide much indication of design merit or net positive effect on the environment. It is the qualitative data accrued alongside that holds real promise.
When asked what drove these professionals to opt for LEED ratings, many responded that it was simply ‘the right thing to do’. As a trillion dollar enterprise, the building industry doesn’t often make room for altruism – which makes these sentiments a very pleasant surprise.
Building activities have consistently ranked at the fore of environment impact, accounting for nearly half of all pollutants released into air, water and soil. Yet, it is an important industry, acting as a precursor to all civic and economic activities. The need to build cannot be eliminated, but we can always build in ways that offsets a project’s impact on its environment.
Green building guidelines like LEED and GRIHA focus on specific aspects of the design and construction process to define ideal project outcomes. They pay special attention to efficient water and energy usage, materials used and recycled, and indoor environmental quality to determine a project’s rating. In turn, these ratings provide a shorthand for the project design’s efficacy in bringing down overall resource consumption through appropriate climatic and contextual responses.
As architects, green building practices are as often the guiding star for our design philosophies as they are sound business decisions made on our clients’ behalf.
From a designer’s standpoint, creating a sustainable space simply has higher design value. It is the culmination of a deeper study of the project’s context, a thoughtful consideration of its many challenges and opportunities, and a careful approach towards building processes and their long-term impact.
From a consultant’s standpoint, however, meeting the client’s immediate needs takes precedence. For some projects, this may result in long-term sustainability goals being sidelined for immediate returns on the client’s expectations.
In our experience of working on LEED-rated projects, sustainable design solutions have simply emerged as the better business choice. Sustainable design solutions often require higher upfront investment, but also lower expenditure on operations and maintenance across a project’s lifecycle. In fact, moving beyond rigid guidelines to opt for an innovative solution can yield immediate returns without compromising sustainability.
While the existence of 146 certified-sustainable buildings in a country populated by a billion demonstrates how slow progress has been, it is heartening to see the number rising. The most optimistic finding of the USGBC report was that ‘because it is the right thing to do’ was the second leading motivation among clients to opt for LEED-rated designs, trailing close behind ‘lower operating cost’. The inference is clear: green building practices can be an environmentally responsible as well as a financially prudent choice.
Climate news continues to roll in with dire tidings, but it is reassuring to know that building industry stakeholders can yet do their part by making the right choices.