Building for the future: why sustainable construction practices are the need of the hourMonnanda Appaiah
While sustainable buildings are undeniably still at a nascent stage in the country, India ranks second, just after the US, in terms of the number of green technology projects and built-up area.
In the age of global warming and the resulting climate change problems, man-made intervention has caused a tremendous impact on the environment and the ecosystem, leading to a major resource crisis across the planet. Understandably, the construction industry is important to support the growing populations’ living aspirations, but certainly not at the expense of over-exploiting Mother Nature.
It may be news to the uninformed that the construction industry, together with the materials industries that support it, is one of the major global consumers of natural resources, both physical and biological.
Why India should be building green
India, one of the largest countries in the world, is home to over a billion people. The country’s economy has been growing at a rapid pace and this has led to rampant urbanisation giving way to numerous challenges like pollution and unsustainable construction practices. A sustainable use of natural resources plays an important role in the development of sustainable construction in a country like ours, which has a long history of sustainable and holistic living.
‘Green buildings’ are built with a holistic approach towards design and construction. This makes it synonymous with sustainable construction and high performance.
Green building materials are taking over the construction industry in both the US and Europe with around 50 percent of all non-residential construction classified as green buildings. More than half of the construction firms around the world have also worked on at least one green project over the last year. This proves that green buildings aren’t just a fad and are here to stay.
According to a recent report by Willmott Dixon, one of UK’s leading construction companies, around half of all non-renewable resources mankind consumes are used in construction, making it one of the least sustainable industries in the world. However, mankind has spent the majority of its existence trying to manipulate the natural environment to better suit its needs. Contemporary human civilisation depends on buildings and what they contain for its continued existence, and yet our planet cannot support the current level of resource consumption associated with them.
The impact from construction lasts for decades and affects the lives of current and future generations as buildings consume major global resources. Construction takes up almost 50 percent of global energy, 50 percent of water, 60 percent of materials for buildings, and leads to 80 percent land loss to agriculture. Indirectly, 50 percent of coral reefs are destroyed and 25 percent of rainforest cover is compromised due to construction.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to acknowledge and implement sustainable construction practices that have a positive impact on the environment both during the construction phase and continue throughout the lifecycle of the building.
What is sustainability in building construction?
Green building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) refers to both a structure and the application of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's lifecycle: from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.
Naturally lit and well-ventilated buildings that utilise alternative energy sources and those that are designed to offer attractive whole life performance to consumers are more likely to be sound wealth investments than those that are over-dependent on fossil fuels or which ignore the fundamental human need for a healthy and engaging environment.
Once it has been decided to build a new building, as opposed to say changing working practices or refurbishing an existing building, a very significant commitment to consuming resources has already been made. Decisions such as this that are often made outside of any environmental assessment process can have a far greater impact on sustainability than decisions that designers are able to influence such as the form of the building and selection of materials.
Techniques adopted to counter scarcity
Multiple eco-friendly building materials have emerged in the marketplace to reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry. The climatic conditions, distinctive building types, unique cultures and traditions or environmental, economic and social priorities that shape different countries and regions also factor into raising green buildings. Some eco-friendly materials are:
Porotherm smart bricks
This is an extremely Resource Efficient Brick (REB) that combines precision technology with a sustainable construction process and guarantees fast construction, which saves time, is labour friendly, does not need any water or sand, ensures consistent quality, enhances thermal protection and offers unmatched dimensional tolerance. There is also zero wastage at the building site.
This sand is prepared by crushing hard granite stone, is readily available and reduces transportation costs significantly. It is devoid of impurities that are present in the conventional river sand and gives a stronger foothold during construction.
Reclaimed or recycled metal
Aluminium, for example, is a high embodied energy material due to the energy required to produce them, such as mining the ore, heating and shaping products, and transporting a relatively heavy material. But each time the metal is properly and efficiently reused or recycled into new products, its embodied energy lowers and makes the material more sustainable. Recycled metal is a long-lasting material that does not need frequent replacement. It tends not to burn or warp, making it a viable option for roofing, structural supports and building façades. It's also water- and pest-resistant.
How green buildings help the construction sector
The green building sector is still a very niche concept. However, the industry is expected to grow at the rate of around 20 percent year on year. While sustainable buildings are undeniably at a nascent stage in the country, India ranks second just after the US in terms of the number of green technology projects and built-up area.
This holistic construction approach is definitely here to stay in India as a sector that promises incredible growth for many years to come since it encourages interdependence and shared responsibility among stakeholders in the building value chain. Building green automatically translates to building smart, and society needs to re-engineer itself for a green cycle.
Challenges and trends in India
In India, there are no incentives for building sustainable homes or commercial spaces, and the housing industry, in particular, faces several challenges while trying to be eco-friendly. The public, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas, believe that it is extremely expensive, largely because of a lack of awareness and administrative support.
However, sustainable living is slowly taking centre stage in the real estate industry in India because of the advent of green buildings. The aim is to create natural and healthy living spaces for the Indian consumers through buildings that have a long service life and high performance by maximising recycling of materials and minimising environmental impact. Slowly but steadily, more and more people are opting for green homes since these homes promote sustainable living and promise a far better future for the people and the environment.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)