Overcoming Hurdles to Green Construction in India

Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. No longer a theoretical concept, the effects of climate change are being felt by communities the world over. Developing countries such as India are particularly impacted due to their low adaptive capacities and high vulnerability profiles.

Construction is a sector that is keenly impacted by climate change – it is also a sector that contributes substantially to climate change. It is important to shift the focus of construction policy and practice towards resource efficiency and disaster resilience, e.g. use of low carbon construction. However, promotion of alternative construction technologies in India faces a number of issues:

Technical capacity building and awareness

One big problem faced by alternate technologies is that, while they have been around for very long and receive a lot of attention in workshops, they tend to be forgotten until the next workshop. There have been instances of the technologies being used in isolated projects by keen patrons. However they are yet to break market barriers and be mainstreamed in construction practice. While architects have heard of alternate technologies, most developers and home builders have not and are unwilling to deviate from conventional energy and resource intensive technologies. In order to combat this there is a need for:

• Skill Development – One of the key barriers faced by architects who convince their clients to opt for alternative technologies is to source skilled labour capable of executing them. Technical specifications and structural details of these technologies are hard to come by. A cadre of skilled masons are needed to promote these technologies in a cost effective and quality manner.

• Awareness Generation – Alternate materials and technologies offer multiple benefits. They are more resource efficient by virtue of using less material and local material. They also offer energy savings during manufacturing and operation. However these messages need to reach end users. The pull factor will be created when people demand or accept alternate technologies on par with conventional ones with respect to quality, costs and aesthetics.

Assessments for decision making.

While benefits of alternate materials and technologies are often talked about, quantification of these benefits is not practised. Thus the advantages are vague and subject to speculation. There are tools and software that aid the design process. Among other things, using these tools, professionals can shortlist the most appropriate passive strategies for a particular climatic zone and simulate designs and observe the impact on energy consumption. Carbon and water intensities can also be used as indicators to decide the most appropriate material and technology choices. Footprinting tools provide comparisons between various technologies to help in decision making. Widespread awareness about these tools can aid large scale use of these technologies.

Standards for technologies

Another factor that prevents large scale adoption of low carbon construction concepts is the lack of standardisation around these design strategies and materials. There has been some movement in introducing these for materials like fly ash and hollow bricks, but most technologies suffer from a lack of codes and standards. Even alternate technologies widely promoted by national agencies face this issue. Both public and private building construction is governed by the Bureau of Standards’ specifications, National Building Codes and local bye laws. These codes blatantly favour conventional RCC based technologies. Non-compliance with the codes, even if quality and strength parameters are met, prevents buildings from receiving their completion certificates. Updating building codes to include alternate technologies will go a long way in increasing their acceptance.

Government bureaucracy

Master plans and building plans undergo a series of bureaucratic rounds before they get passed. Often the teams in charge of this process do not consist of technical experts, leading to inaccurate or at best incomplete assessments. Building and strengthening the capacities of government officers is needed to ensure alternate projects see the light of day. The lack of transparency and accountability around these processes is another issue that plagues this sector.

Norms for operation

The transition to a low carbon pathway is not just a function of technology and design. The key to a successful transition is behaviour change among all stakeholders especially user communities. Passive design strategies will have their full impact on energy savings only when occupants follow the norms for optimizing them. Professionals and their clients often neglect this aspect of planning spaces. Guidelines for use of spaces should be part of the design process and shared with occupants on a regular basis.

A concerted effort which crosses the public and private divide and engages with the real issues preventing the widespread adoption of these technologies is needed. The potential impact is huge and we all have an incentive to make progress.

* These issues were discussed in a recent CDKN supported a workshop, as part of an ongoingproject on low carbon construction for building professionals on 3-4 November 2012 at the School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal in association with the Development Alternatives Group. The workshop was attended by both private and public architects and planners and brought up the above outlined key issues in the practice today.

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