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Build Green, not necessarily Green Buildings

Avikal Somvanshi, Programme Officer for the Sustainable Buildings and Habitat Programme at the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is also a member of multiple national and international committees on habitat issues including Bureau of Indian Standards. In the first part of the series, he takes a critical look at the prevalent green rating systems.

Green buildings have become a trend of late. The NDA government’s n e w s m a r t c i t i e s guidelines too mandate minimum 80% of the buildings to be energy-efficient and green. This policy backing from the Centre has come at the heels of multiple state and city governments’ move to give incentives for getting green rating for buildings. The euphoria around these green developments can be attributed to the fact that about two-third of buildings that India will have by 2030 are yet to be built and this looks like a move towards a less grey future.

Can or should private green rating systems become regulatory tools for environmental performance of buildings?

The analysis of the policy interface with private rating systems is essential to see if the system is designed to be transparent, accountable and effective in order to deliver on intended objectives. However, there are no independent, transparent and accountable oversight system to monitor the actual resource savings and environmental performance of the green rated buildings in the country.

Moreover, there is a larger question regarding the merit of co-opting green rating in the policy framework. If most buildings are mandated by law to implement a range of regulatory measures for resource savings and environmental performance, what extra do the green rating systems provide? If the ratings are the minimum benchmarks, then why should few buildings qualify for incentives for implementing the same measures under a rating system?

As a policy research and advocacy think tank, we at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) took up the evaluation of the current rating practices supported by policies to unbundle these policy questions.

Performance lacks transparency

Currently there are three green building rating providers active in India. LEED certification by US Green Building Council (USGBC), Green building ratings by IGBC and GRIHA developed by TERI & administered by GRIHA Council.

In 2012, we released our first study pointing to the lack of transparency in the functioning of both GRIHA and IGBC. Thereafter, IGBC started a performance monitoring section on its website which provides annual electricity and water consumption details, voluntarily disclosed by 50 rated buildings. The GRIHA website provides design descriptions and projected savings of its rated projects but, stops short of displaying any substantial performance information about the rated buildings.

Neither of the websites display the checklist of the points that are awarded under various criteria to the building projects that are rated, declaring such information to be confidential and proprietary, confined to the agreement between the client and the rating agency.

While, IGBC has not updated its performance monitoring section since January 2014, GRIHA shares limited data on request but not publicly, claiming that that they are contractually bound not to share the audit reports of projects. USGBC representative offered similar response to sharing performance data query.

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