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By Dr. Hari Haran Chandra

While India is a world leader in green buildings today, there is a great deal more that bulk water- and energy users have to do while the Government plays its role.

With the Glasgow meeting, the Prime Minister deepened India’s commitment to keeping the country’s obligations on carbon reduction. Thousands of pages that have been documented, don’t tell the lay reader what it means for us as individual, institutional and corporate emitters of carbon. Carbon emission is directly related to our use of water, energy, and the way we manage our waste in cities, in homes, and on the in-building scale solutions that as users we can implement. This is a combination of mainstreaming market solutions that are economically viable and statutes and regulations that the Government legislates to bring better compliance of such solutions for efficiency in water and energy use and management of air and waste challenges.

Typically, an urban household depends on three forms of energy—electricity, gas for cooking, and petrol/diesel for transport. More than ‘soft’ solutions of our reducing direct use of these resources, a lot depends on how we employ technologies and solutions that enhance efficiency while not compromising comfort and convenience, and while mitigating the shortages of resources that we face in our daily lives on water or energy.

Last week I had a call from a facility manager in the Chinchwad area north of Pune, ‘Can we implement solutions for water efficiency in our building which is 9 years old? Our water shortage is so severe that even tanker water supply is uncertain sometimes.’

Says another young engineer in a Pondicherry hospital, “Though the senior management does not easily admit it, the simple solution you offered and we implemented on energy systems, has brought down bills by at least 5 lac a month from the average monthly bill of Rs 25-27 lac we had prior to the work that was done in March 2021.” The management is loath to admit the massive saving that this means for the building for fear of the ‘consultants’ and experts will charge more the next time such work is sought!

Asks Sindhu Reddy, CEO of a Hyderabad-based consulting firm, “If we have a high-rise apartment of 800 flats, is it still possible to make the building Net Zero Water?’ and adds, “I guess it is easier for such water solutions that make a building water-neutral if they had more land and more rooftop areas for harvesting rainwater.”

There’s a churn among building managers and working professionals who have to manage to secure or foot the bills for water and energy. The awareness of the range of solutions available for addressing the need for efficiency in the management of these two resources, or of the understanding of the potential revenue from smart waste management is very low.

Says a senior professional at the Indian Green Building Council, “We have thirty rating systems that have evolved over 20 years. We are a certifying body. So we are not actually into offering solutions but assessing the efficiency of what has been set up by a building or a company. Senior management of such companies asks my colleagues for specific solutions for achieving outcomes that the IGBC can then certify. In many cases, we have the predicament of not having enough professional knowledge among consultants for helping such applicant companies to achieve the green norms under the various parameters of rating protocols.”

One head of sustainability of a realty company that is committed to implementing such solutions for building efficiency bemoans the fact that the solutions offered are either too expensive in project cost terms, or are not convincing enough for the management to want to invite such a green professional to go ahead with a proposal that is offered. She admits, “My company wants to, for instance, go for the Net Zero Water rating for two residential high-rise projects, but are yet to find the right professional who knows how to go ahead with the plan, for want of specific knowledge.”

So, there is a bind. Green rating and certifying bodies in India are pushing the agenda for enlarging the ecological footprint with economic viability for such projects, while they are slowed down and stymied by the lack of enough professional expertise among servicing consulting firms. “Let us not mistake our ability to certify for knowledge on how to design the solution,” says a LEED consultant. “We are constantly on the lookout for the combination of experience and strategy understanding from professionals who can make buildings sharply more efficient both in terms of costs and green.”

Prasad LG, a young accredited professional from Pune says, “From my experience of the last 5 years of talking to various companies and project heads, I find that the question boils down to one single thing: How do you create plans that offer low-carbon, low-energy outcomes, that are climate-friendly, and offer resilience over the long term with capital costs and operational costs that are reduced?”He adds, “This seems seemingly impossible, but we have found some professionals, though not too many, who bring this rare blend.”

Making a Business Case for Low-Carbon Strategies

That leads us to some basic questions: Is the green rating of a building important, or the identifying of the right resource expertise for achieving such smart management of water or energy or waste, or even air management? How do we make a business case to management as outsourced managers of facilities, or as middle and senior management professionals in companies which foot large bills for water or energy?

Says a Chennai-based senior consultant for hospitals, a medical doctor himself, Dr. B Krishnamurthy, who has learned the importance of providing clean, safe drinking water for large healthcare centers in the country. “I did not realize until recently that central air-conditioning alone can demand as much as 3.5 to 4 crore liters a year of treated clean, soft water for the chiller plants in a hospital of 200 beds. That’s approximately one lac liters a day,” Dr. Krishnamurthy explains, and adds with a touch of regret, “Most administration officials in the hospital are fine with borewell water being transported to the hospital every morning by dozens of tankers, but are averse to implementing solutions that will treat and apply used water that can not only save lakhs of rupees every year but can eliminate the serious long-term threat of water availability in local areas where groundwater levels have alarmingly dropped and even tankers cannot sustain water availability for a long time.” Administrators are wary of new solutions. They recoil at the prospect of used water from the hospital being treated and reused. “How can inmates and visitors be exposed to the risk of such wastewater being treated and reused. If our patients know we are doing such a thing and, God forbid, the system fails even for one day, then the hospital management will be exposed to serious business risks,” says a concerned hospital official.

A well-known builder in Bangalore took all of nine months to make a decision on going Net Zero Water. “The project the company is offering hosts about 500 independent homes. Over 25 years of the company’s existence, we have offered borewells as water infrastructure and transferred the infrastructure assets to the RWA,” said the CEO and founder of the company who wishes like many others I have quoted in this discussion, to remain unnamed. “By law, we are not required to do no more. But as a company upholding the best interests of our customers, we want to do more. We are acutely aware that the project’s groundwater resources are very low with only two or three borewells now yielding only about 1000 liters per hour with the groundwater depth at an alarming 1500 feet.”The company took the risk of plunging about 11 borewells and spending about Rs 4 lac per borewell, before realizing that this is not a long-term option at all. “By the time we complete the project and have all 500 homes built at this campus, we know the water crisis will have only deepened. So we want to explore cost-effective options for providing long-term water availability for the prospective residents of this new campus. We do not mind the additional cost although we are not obligated by legal provisions to offer this.” This campus needs 350,000 liters, or about 130 million liters every year at full occupancy which will be reached in about 5 years from 2022.

How do we bring a combination of solutions between the Government’s effort with the New Water Policy (see Smart Water Practices, Smart Water & Waste World Magazine) to conserve water and to bring country-wide systems for water treatment and reuse.

This was the first blog in this new two-part series authored by Mr. Hari Haran Chandra. Here is the Part-2.

About the Author

Dr. Hari Haran Chandra is a Trustee at INHAF, Prem Jain Memorial Trust, AltTech Foundation; and a Senior Fellow at the Indian Green Building Council.

WOW AF is a multi-city citizen-led initiative now in action in four Indian cities of Bengaluru, Chennai, Trichy, and Hyderabad; and moving soon to four more cities in the country, and is led by water experts and citizen leaders who seek to bring water efficiency with water-users adopting solutions to meet a Mission Target of Saving 3000 Crore Liters in these cities.

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