GRIHA: the game changer in implementing green guidelines for a better future

The step wells of Gujarat or the 'Jharokhas' of Rajasthan speak of a tradition that is rooted in 'care for nature' and ardent endeavor for resource conservation. India has been blessed with examples of climate and environment responsive urban and building forms that speak of preparedness to address resources constraints. However, the rapid increase in Indian population and growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has given rise to an enormous demand for buildings with a subsequent pressure on availability of resources. With an anticipated 500 million people living in urban India by 2020 (when the present world population is about 7000 million), the challenges of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use in new and existing buildings, and building material manufacturing and water consumption are likely to spike up significantly. Solid waste management is another critical issue in cities. Over the last few decades and years we have experienced cities transitioning from resource sufficient entities to ones with unsustainable urban growth. Congestion, pollution, shortage of power and water is a common issue that most of the cities are grappling with.

In order to be sustainable, the Ministries and agencies at the Centre have designed frameworks such as the Environmental Clearance to ensure efficiency in resource use for large projects (i.e. more than 20,000 sq. m built up area), the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) applicable to air conditioned commercial buildings with connected load more than 100 kW, for implementation by the designated State agencies and municipal bodies.

In spite of policies being in place, implementation teeth is missing. ECBC being published in 2007, is yet to be mandated in practice (though several states have a mandate to implement ECBC) Lack of disincentives for non-compliance, agencies and systems working in factions (i.e. various departments at Centre and State looking at issues related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, water resources, waste management independently; as opposed to a holistic approach that would address the building sector encompassing water, energy etc. as a whole) are some of the difficulties faced during implementation of policies on sustainable habitats.

GRIHA Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment responds to imminent need for addressing challenges of resource over use; infusing efficiency at design, construction and operation stage of buildings; facilitating greening of supply chain and connecting with grassroots construction people who are responsible for implementation of green measures onsite. GRIHA also strives to meet objectives of national and regional policies and programs in the domain of urban development and buildings.

Universally, green buildings rating systems rate buildings based on pre-set criteria/benchmarks that define definite green/ sustain ability parameters. Points are given based on relative performance as compared to the laid out criteria. It is true that all buildings cannot be weighed on a same scale of sustain ability or green quotient. Thus, for effective green rating of buildings and habitats, it is important that reasonable flexibility is built in, to allow for, climate and comfort variation, varying resource availability, different social and cultural needs, technical constraints in implementation and relative environmental benefit of various green measures.

GRIHA is a continuously evolving a system that attempts to address India specific challenges in the sector through a robust yet flexible rating framework and strong implementation focus.

Some of the distinguishing features of GRIHA are as follow:-

Built forms should respond to local and regional site context. Hence, applying same set of criteria or benchmarks uniformly to all buildings does not reflect true green intent that a project in trying to achieve. Strategies such as rainwater recharge into ground, topsoil preservation, tree preservation are site specific and may not be applicable for all sites or projects e.g. ( recharge of rainwater into ground may not be feasible for sites with high water table. GRIHA is a flexible rating criteria that allow projects to cater to local and regional sensitivities. A building project exempt from storing topsoil (if the soil is beyond repair) or recharging rain water (if water table is high, or from heating water using solar energy (if daily hot water demand is 500 I), treating sewage on site (if generated waste water is 10kl/day) or treating organic waste on site (if organic soli waste generated is 100 kg/day). The rating level does not get impacted and the project is not fored to adopt measures that are not desirable due to site constraints or nominal environmental benefit from its application. GRIHA registered HAREDA (Haryana Renewable Energy Development Authority) building in Panchkula is in the final leg of the GRIHA rating process and is targeting a 5 star rating. The project site was a landfill and thus the top soil on the site is not fertile for landscape application. As per GRIHA Criterion 2 and criterion 3 fertile top soil on the site must be preserved during construction and re-used after constructin within the site premises. Since the site was a landfill, storing top 6 inches of the soil would not have been environmentally beneficial and thus, the criterion becomes non-applicable to the project. In this case, the project is not evaluated for the non-applicable criterion.

GRIHA has developed guidelines for large developments that enable projects to objectively calculate number of people that a piece of land can support based on available water sources. GRIHA looks at supply and demand side resource optimization and efficiency with equal emphasis.

Adoption of environment best practices on site is a challenge and GRIHA attempts to address it through regular site visits, workshops and meetings with project teams. The regular project and site interactions help projects to improve on site performance and enables 'due diligence based' evaluation of projects. The intent of the site visits is to ensure compliance with mandatory and optional site and building related criterion.