Today, we consume the planet’s resources faster than what the planet could renew in a year. We are exceeding the limits of nature more than it can naturally recover. The emission of greenhouse gases has been identified as the greatest challenge triggered by human society with multiple impacts like an increase in greenhouse gases, ice caps melting, and general climate change. The construction industry is a huge contributor with the usage of building materials and construction techniques causing carbon dioxide emissions in activities such as mining, transportation, factories, and combining chemical products. Energy use in buildings is the second largest contributor (after transport) to urban Green House Gases emissions and urban heat islands. According to a survey, in 2013, the world’s major cities accounted for 70% of CO2 emissions.
Various governing bodies as well as architecture firms have attempted to curtail carbon emissions by introducing policies and regulations. While addressing climate change the term ‘carbon neutral’ has been thrown around a lot. “A carbon-neutral building is defined as one with significantly reduced energy consumption combined with the increased use of low carbon energy sources to meet the remaining demand.” Net Zero Buildings or Carbon Neutral buildings are highly energy-efficient buildings that, through effective building design strategies and energy efficiency measures, reduce their overall energy demand. Many of these projects incorporate on-site renewable energy systems to meet the levels of their energy needs.
The buildings integrate the increasing amounts of renewable energy, as well as respond to a variable supply of renewable energy. This design process determines the smartest ways to meet our buildings’ energy demand through on-site renewable energy production, short-term and long-term energy storage, and smart controls to manipulate the time of use for energy resources both on- and off-site. To accomplish all this, designers and architects usually go through an intricate study to understand each building’s operational carbon emissions in detail.
Along with the global movement, recent years have witnessed the rise of Carbon Neutral Buildings in India. In India, Zero Neutral Buildings take on added value because it not only aligns with our goal to reduce pollution but also massively improve energy access in both rural and urban areas. Zero-carbon buildings should also be a priority as every kilowatt-hour not used in one place can be used elsewhere, namely the rural areas. According to research by ‘WRI, I – India’ India’s building sector will account for 55 percent of electricity demand by 2047. As per National Communication (NATCOM) 2007, India emitted 1,728 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases, making it the sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
Indian practitioners are vouching for strategies that go beyond ‘’building scale’’ to achieving a zero-carbon balance for neighborhoods, districts, or even cities. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop a Low Carbon Design framework. This also aligns with the latest Five-Year Plan by the National Development Council who determined that sustainability is an integral part of India’s growth policy at both central and state levels.
The Carbon Neutral buildings in India usually offer climate mitigation benefits by drastically reducing emissions from energy use. They also aid in balance the urban heat islands through interventions like green and cool roofs. And they offer important add-ons, like improving energy access to the underserved and better air quality inside and outside.
Currently, designers in India practice Carbon Neutral design by focusing on the micro-climate of the site. The design is determined by the site context rather than form and massing concepts. The current trend is to synchronize the building with its surroundings. As the design is climate-responsive, the building responds to sun, wind, light and rainfall as well as the location. The shift in building materials also assists the Movement.
Material like Stabilised Earth Blocks is cast on-site reducing the carbon emissions in the construction phase. The use of concrete has seen a massive decline thereby reducing the use of a material that is high in carbon emission compared to the ones used in the structures. Moreover, the use of local material available at a distance of about 8 km reduces transportation induced carbon emissions. Buildings too have common elements such as roofing system with filler and brick vaults, stone foundation, hone wood windows, granite flooring, slabs with jack arches, tile, or pot filler slabs.
Examples of such buildings exist all over the country. A well-reported building is ‘Mittal Auriga’ a 10-unit apartment complex by ‘Living Habitats’. Auriga is Bangalore’s first carbon-neutral building. The architects designed a home that embodies sustainability as far as possible. “I was amazed at how the project was planned; waste generated being used as compost, homes run on solar power and water wastage next to nil,” residents of the apartment state.
The core of Indian cities are buildings but it can be argued that cities will always be ground zero for the implementation of decarbonization buildings. Major Indian companies like Infosys with over 229,000 employees and clients in 46 countries are addressing their significant carbon footprint in all aspects of its global operations. Infosys, today has pledged to build new energy-efficient buildings and upgrade its existing buildings.
Carbon Neutral Design is the future potential to be a unifying aspiration for a resource-efficient and climate-resilient India. If we as architects and designers can find ways to cut through competing terminology, codes, and responsibilities we can provide clearer guidance to developers and policymakers.