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Green Certifications – A marketing gimmick

By Divya Aslesha , A PointBlank 7 exclusive


Experts have questioned the validity of green certifications by rating agencies, being awarded to commercial and residential structures, which has cast doubt over how ‘green’ these buildings really are.

Buildings may have themselves assessed under various criteria laid down by agencies such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) and are then awarded ‘green certifications’ depending on how they scored.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy defines a ‘Green Building’ as one that uses effectively uses energy, consumes less water, generates less waste and creates a healthy and comfortable living space as compared to a normal building.
In 2001, the Indian Green Building Council was formed by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and adopted the LEED ratings system developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). In 2007, GRIHA was conceived by The Energy and Resources Institute and adopted as the national standard for rating buildings.
To receive a certification from LEED, the building is awarded credits under various criteria such as site selection, materials used, water efficiency and others. A certification is awarded depending on the total credits received. The highest is platinum (52-69 points), followed by gold (39-51), silver (33-38) and certified (26-32) for a new construction.
However, given its head start and aggressive marketing, LEED has come to dominate the ratings scene and has emerged as the most sought after certification shadowing GRIHA.
In Chennai, 42 buildings have been certified ‘green’ by the IGBC. The ITC Grand Chola was given a platinum rating, the highest in the category, by LEED and has also obtained a five-star rating from GRIHA. Other rated buildings include, Express Avenue (Gold), Anna Centenary Library (Gold), Ascendas Crest IT Park (Gold) to name a few.
Professor Santhosh Manavalan, a former green consultant who now teaches at the MEASI (Muslim Educational Association of South India) School Architecture in Royapettah said, “LEED has a better reach. GRIHA does not market itself as aggressively as LEED. The IGBC-CII is more or less like a private company.”
 “Energy consumption is the main focus of a green building. Environmental concerns are there but energy consumption is the most important,” said Santhosh Manavalan.
An IGBC accredited green consultant for Green Revolution, B.R Ramesh said, “The main objective of a green building is energy efficiency. Then other things like water savings and site selection come into the picture later.” Explaining how ‘green’ features are incorporated into the design of a building, he added, “an energy efficient system which fits into the parameters of that particular project is selected.”
“Projects come for consultancy either to reduce energy costs during operations or for marketing reasons,” said Santhosh Manavalan, “the LEED certification has a unique selling point (USP).”
“The rating part is more important when a developer approaches a client with a proposal. Green ratings help package reduced operational costs as a USP when a developer wants to hand over the building to a client after constructing it,” he continued.
GRIHA ratings are also derived from LEED but have been modified to meet India conditions.
According to Santhosh Manavalan, a building does not have to comply with all the norms that have been laid down; while some credits are mandatory, there are optional ones as well. “Buildings can get credits without following all the criteria,” he said.
B.R Ramesh said that the ratings system had been designed on the basis of comparison to conventional buildings and admitted that there were several possibilities of violations and non-compliance of provisions.
“No one from the IGBC comes to conduct audit until at least six months after the pre-certification is done,” he said, “Audits are also conducted only to check whether energy efficiency savings are happening.”
He said there was need for stronger checks, audits and verification systems in place to ensure that buildings implement the proposed designs.
Santhosh Manavalan also said that pre-certification for LEED was awarded on the basis of energy efficiency simulations.“Simulation is trying to make something work before it actually does. Sometimes you may meet the proposed targets and sometimes you may even exceed it,” he said.
B.R Ramesh also explained a few instances of how green building guidelines can be misused or not implemented.
“There is every possibility that a building which has set up a plant for treatment of water may not ensure that it is kept efficiently running once it has received its certification,” he said, “A customer in a hotel which uses recycled water for flushing may complain that the pressure is not sufficient. The hotel will have to accommodate this demand and as a result drinking water may get into the system.”
K. Sudhir, the Director of the Peoples Architecture Commonweals said, “Certification depends on records (documentation) and being able to substantiate systems that exist. These documents do not necessarily adhere to reality. Consultants are appointed to obtain the certificate to produce all the paperwork to substantiate the levels of compliance. The activities may not be present on the ground.”
A report on the green buildings rating systems by the Centre for Science and Environment mentions that the IGBC has awarded high ratings to numerous buildings that have used extensive glass. It also says that buildings with glass walls become heat traps and make the neighbouring structures and environment hotter. Glass also traps heat inside the building and requires intensive air-conditioning.
The question that then arises is how have the towering corporate offices and massive IT Parks which use glass as an integral part of building design been receiving ‘green’ certifications despite the proven capabilities of glass to trap heat and increase energy costs?
According to Santhosh Manavalan, LEED has never put restrictions on the percentage use of glass in spite of pressure and criticism. K. Sudhir, speaking on this issue said, “The designs always include curtain walls of glass. It takes much less time to put up. This doesn’t permit any openings. You can’t regulate the air coming in or going out at each individual floor or site. It is designed to be centrally air-conditioned.”
“What are glass buildings doing in Chennai? In Mumbai? In Pune? Glass is highly unsuitable for the Indian climate but it is being used everywhere,” said Santhosh Manavalan, former green consultant and professor at the MEASI School of Architecture. “Buildings go in for glass with double glazing and then install expensive ACs and they say we have saved energy and the building is green. Glass design is meant for a colder climate. We are just copying,” he iterated.
A green consultant who did not wish to be named said, “Nearly half the buildings are made of glass. People love glass. We have to work with glass. Personally, I hate glass. It is not suitable for our tropical climate.”
 K. Sudhir said, “Glass is natural to much colder climes where sunlight is limited to a few months of the year. You need to bring it in to warm the buildings. Here you admit that kind of energy and then spend to get rid of the heat it generates. There are claims of using tinted glass and things but it cannot work.”

A recent article in the periodical Down to Earth by the editor, Sunita Narain, highlighted this; She pointed out that a study conducted by IIT-Delhi found neither double-or triple-glazed glass leads to energy savings in a climate like India.
B.R Ramesh said, “Buildings go in for tinted glass, install shades and then require artificial lighting and air-conditioning. They could just as well have gone in for a concrete wall.”
Yet another report by the Centre for Science and Environment, Green-Building Rating: Overrated, also raised these concerns. It says that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 2011, gave special consideration to pre-certified LEED India and GRIHA projects by having a separate queue for clearance. It goes on to say that this is supposedly with the faith that the green rating agencies have carried out the due-diligence of these projects and will be accountable for the environmental performance of such projects. The report clearly mentions that pre-certification is only a pledge and developers are not legally bound to achieve the level of rating promised in the pre-certification application.

Clearly there is a need for a legally backed means of checking whether the rated buildings continue to meet their proposed goals.

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