Energy consumption in Indian buildings is projected to increase substantially as living standards rise. The climate crisis today requires quick and focussed effort to bring down the consumption of energy and replace the conventional non- renewable fossil fuel with the more environmentally friendly sources of energy. We have to rethink our future in terms of a more sustainable design approach.

Are we saving Mother Nature, or will we succumb to her wrath?

India is the seventh-largest country in the world, a leading economy and home to more than a billion people living in myriad climatic zones. Because of the growing economy and population, there is a largescale development in the commercial and housing sectors all over the country, making construction one of the most important contributors to its GDP. These sectors require electricity for lighting, refrigeration, daily appliances and space conditioning. This demand is likely to increase by 37.5% in 2021-22 in comparison to 2016-17.(1) Therefore these sectors are also responsible for unchecked consumption of energy and fossil fuel, thus becoming major GHG producers.

Sustainable design is a practice with multi-fold benefits. While initially it started out as trying to make buildings balance their net usage, so that they produce as much/more energy than they consume (net-zero buildings) now it involves the use of materials with low embodied energy (locally sourced, indigenously manufactured and finished) shaping buildings that are climatically sensitive (use of passive ventilation, naturally shaded) with provisions for generating enough energy from renewable sources (solar, wind, hydropower) to acounterbalance emissions from the various services (carbon-neutral  buildings). Alongwith this, there are codes and guidelines in place to keep track of these practices and rate their efficiency. Some of the initiatives taken in India are as follows:

  • Energy Conservation Building Code 2007:It covers “minimum requirements for building envelope performance as well as for mechanical systems and equipment, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, interior and exterior lighting system, service hot water, electrical power and motors in order to achieve energy efficiency in different climatic zones of India.(1)
  • Sustainable Habitat Mission under the National Action Plan on Climate Change

Launched in 2008, it encompasses “a broad and extensive range of measures, and focuses on eight missions, which will be pursued as key components of the strategy for sustainable development. These include missions on solar energy, enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, conserving water, sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, creating a “Green India,” sustainable agriculture and, finally, establishing a strategic knowledge platform for climate change. For the habitat mission, the strategies proposed to aim at promoting efficiency in the residential and commercial sector through various measures such as a change in building bye-laws, capacity building, research and development in new technologies, education and awareness, etc., management of municipal solid wastes, and promotion of urban public transport.(1)

Apart from this, a comprehensive set of rating systems have been devised in India based on those developed elsewhere in the world, so that our buildings can remain at par with those across the world.

  • The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC): was founded by the collaboration between the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the private manufacturer Godrej, has taken steps to promote the green building concept in India. Currently, IGBC is facilitating the LEED (2) (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in India.

    LEED-India was launched in 2001 and rates buildings on environmental performance and energy efficiency during the design, construction and operation stages.

  • Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment(GRIHA): It is an indigenously developed rating system by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). It is “completely tuned to the climatic variations, architectural practices, existing practices of construction and attempting to revive the passive architecture. The GRIHA rating system takes into account the provisions of the National Building Code 2005, the Energy Conservation Building Code 2007 announced by BEE and other IS codes. This was developed specifically aimed at non-air conditioned or partially air-conditioned buildings. GRIHA has been developed to rate commercial, institutional and residential buildings in India emphasizing national environmental concerns, regional climatic conditions and indigenous solutions. GRIHA stresses passive solar techniques for optimizing visual and thermal comfort indoors20 and encourages the use of refrigeration-based and energy-demanding air conditioning systems only in cases of extreme thermal discomfort.”(1)

Thanks to the unchecked, unscrupulous use of non-renewable resources by people all over the world, today we can no longer run away from the reality of the imminent climate change. The temperatures are rising, icecaps melting and therefore water levels rising, raising the danger of flood and storms.

Are India’s Current Sustainable Design Practices Ready to deal with the Imminent Climate Change
Green Building
Are India’s Current Sustainable Design Practices Ready to deal with the Imminent Climate Change
Simple passive building features.

The time for preventive measures is long gone. Even if we were to completely stop GHG emissions, it will still be decades before the gases already present in the atmosphere dissipate, and by then it will be the end of Earth as we know it. Architects today have the responsibility not only to build spaces that don’t harm the environment, but also those that can allow human life to function without issues in the absence of energy supply while energy supply while energy supply while that are to come.

While this can sound like a hopeless cause, considering the existing state of the ill-planned cities crumbling under the pressure of the growing population,  India is still reasonably equipped to handle this situation.

We cannot change our past inefficient practices but we can embrace sustainable retrofitting measures for existing built structures to further reduce the impact they have on the environment. Our country has a rich history of indigenous construction practices which differ according to region and climate, but can still be modified for application to the current construction practices. All we need is to make our existing laws and guidelines mandatory and a strong regulatory body to ensure that architecture from now on is more climatically sensitive. These seemingly simple measures can go a long way in ensuring a better future for the coming generations of Indians.