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Green Business Idea – A sustainable guide for Retail to win against E-retail in India.


A long time ago, people in want of grocery or clothing used to go to a designated date in an open ground where merchants gathered – it was termed as “Haat”.

Image of Dilli Haat – New Delhi

While the name “Dilli Haat”, is derived from the same concept; its open nearly every-day thus “shops” as we know them evolved over time.

Even today, in the dusty by-lanes of sleepy mofussil towns & villages, where cultures haven’t changed much since the East India Company days; the shops close for the afternoon siesta and are open but just about 2 hours post sundown. These shops are usually day-lit and most having been designed in vernacular style don’t usually require a fan. Although you would now-a-days invariably find one hanging from the central beam. Immobile as there is usually no electricity to run it. More so in peak summer afternoons.

As all the power that is being generated by the creaking Coal fired Thermal plants in India can’t cope of with the demand the swanky malls require to keep their air-conditioners humming. And the spot lights which is tactically angled with precision to highlight the wares in the hundreds of designer shops within the malls.

But as the saying goes, Time is constantly changing and for all that glitter and glamour the large retails brought in, along with the ease of shopping. It left in its wake a huge carbon foot-print. With the angst of Climate Change being felt around the World the buyers to have begun to discern. Helped by the ease of shopping online and keeping one self far away from the madding crowd has certainly helped boost the E-Retail.

And with some serious high net worth individuals with great social standing and industrial acumen investing in some of the stellar performers, E-Retail is here to stay.

This gives some serious competition to the standard brick and mortar companies. This Diwali there were complaints galore, spread over every newspaper worth its name.

And just as the Newspapers, not very long ago felt the threat of extinction from Televised News; till they evolved and adapted, whilst some perished no doubt. The Brick & Mortar Retail can become competitive if they too wake up and think differently.

Example of Mall Interior. Courtesy -tomsherrillillustrations

All they need to do is build an Energy Efficient Building (EEB) or those who only take up space within a building work towards Energy Efficiency Measures (EEM). EEM’s can be applied to existing buildings and if the management wants it, can register themselves with LEED or IGBC certification. And get a Green Building Certificate. Thus becoming world renowned.

It is a simple Green Business Idea, which would once more prove that Sustainability is the Key. And while the economic pundits, may read you many passages in sustainability, its Ecology which is the master of the game. Thus the more natural the design and function the more sustainable the Retail space will be.

There are various ways to deal with it. In the first instance, the Retail chain could hire professional Interior Designer or Architects who have been long practicing sustainable design. These people would perhaps not have the past experience in designing retail; not because they could not but because they chose not to. As modern retail, focuses more on other aspects, rather than true sustainable architectural design.

This does not deride the ones who do. But the designers, while having wanted to make a form which would follow function in its true sense; are often forced to work on perceptions which have been engrained in the client’s physique.

One just needs to visit one mall and hop to the next. They all look and feel the same. This over time becomes norm in design. Although the better managed, while being energy guzzlers are efficient in many ways, the copy cats typically cut corners and make a mess of things.

The Retail stores work with very thin margin of profits.

Now with the roaring success of E-retail, there is simply no more lee-way with the retail stores to cut corners and yet maintain their competitive edge.

But by designing sensibly or demanding a sensible and energy efficient design of the rental space, they can turn the tide to their favour.

There are many ways to achieve these, both for new as well as retro-fits.

It can be achieved by having a better lighting approach. If one could work with day-light and maximize its usage during the morning business hours then the following difference would be felt. We all know that light produces heat and it is this heat which the air conditioners first need to cool before the space gets conditioned to the desired coolth. That means the air-conditioners need to work more to get the same amount of cooling which translates to higher energy bills. Add to that the operation and maintenance cost of the lights and the compressor/filters of the air conditioner which is running extra.

There are ways and means to provide sunlight to every square foot of basement, 3 stories below. So providing the lighting into the stores and even blending with the desired interiors is not so serious a challenge for those who know how.

The woe gets multiplied in towns and cities where a diesel generator feeds the required electricity. The average unit bill shoots to ₹16/unit when we generate electricity from captive generators running on diesel.

We can today not only infuse sunlight to take care of the lighting needs but also almost eliminate the use of diesel in generators by using alternative technology to fuel it. In-fact the fuel can be produced on the spot out of thin air, the technology is in progress while fuel cells are already becoming a practice.

The Earth and Sun are the final source of energy. And its abundance is infinite. One can in a green-field or existing retail property use Geo-thermal technology to power their air-conditioners and top it with Solar PV to completely disconnect form the grid, in certain cases.

Very few understand that one of the prime expenses in a retail food chain is the gas they use to prepare their food. This too can be completely eliminated or limited to negligible cost if one follows true EEM’s.

When we mention food, we must also mention the highly depleted resource, water. Something any retail would require, to use in cleaning of the show-window or preparing food to simple drinking.

Application of rain-water harvesting can help. But by using expert hydrologist as a consultant, instead of hiring a bore-well drilling company. As they can advise on how to eliminate the cost of drilling deep when water can be had at half the depth. The water source can become near perennial with one good seasonal rain, if proper rain water harvesting technique is applied. This combined with sensible storage and use of Solar Pumps can save huge operational costs.

And while it’s true that high-end technology adds to higher cost. But by designing and building wise this cost can be made viable. In fact a Green Building can at times provide a 20-20-20 saving. That is up to 20% in construction cost, operational cost and earning through voluntary carbon credits by reducing the Green House Gas emission is possible.

Today one can create a 5000 feet square, ground + 1 storied building in 12days and start inhabiting it. A huge cost is saved in the interest of the term-loan, which makes it a sensible decision to take. While at the same time the product that is used to build it eliminates or reduces traditional high-carbon emitting materials thus follows the true Clean Development Mechanism. This is so applauded at the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change. (UNFCCC)

One could also make one of the walls in translucent concrete, to let diffuse sunlight and eliminate dark passages, which thus reduces use of artificial lights. These measures pay back in record time. Thus making the effort viable.

There are also options available to have RESCO’s, renewable energy service companies who work with a select few sustainable design firm, who on being hired, invests in the capital cost of Solar PV, thus eliminating any initial capital expenditure. With the option to pay-back in a 20 year period.

These design firms are presently exploring options to find investors who would fund the complete plethora of EEM’s – Geothermal, Low E-Glazing, LED & Air-Conditioners too. This system already works in the USA.

In fact some have tied up with Avante-grade entrepreneurs in India, who have manufactured products such as refrigerators, air-conditioners, ceiling fans and tube-lights which run with a mere 2 Kilo-Watt of Direct Current (DC) instead of A/c thus complement their efforts on a RESCO model of design.

So with Solar PV on roof-top a small retail shop can become completely self-sufficient in energy. Even with a CAPEX cost the fast pay-back period these product have, the company would have zero energy cost in 5-7 years!

The most important take away from the above is that each individual becomes a stake holder in making India a business power house while keeping sustainability of the eco-system and thus by default ones’ own self and prosper.

It’s time for Retail to adopt and adapt to Green Business Ideas!

Sandeep Goswami

 

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Green Buildings – How most of them are really made, the inside story.


Reams of paper wasted, air-condition switched on even when there is not a soul in the room designated as the architectural design office attached to the site  –  A Green Building which is pre-certified Gold is being built. Firm which is building it takes pride in announcing that all its buildings are LEED certified and it in now their CSR.

Sound familiar ? Welcome to the real World of building Green.

” ‘Green’ certification has become mandatory for buildings above certain meter square area. So, we are just following the law. How our building following guidelines will help save the World, I don’t understand when so many buildings being built are non-green. It is just another head-ache I tell you” – said the architect I befriended and was having an ice-cream soda with.

“So are you really following the guide-lines, like planting 3 trees to every one you need to chop down ?” – I ask.

“Sure we are’- says he, ‘only we have reported 7 trees instead of the actual 23, else we would be having a jungle instead of a building we need to build you know.

“Could you not have designed something which could have avoided cutting some, thus reciprocal planting could have been avoided?” – I asked.

“I could have,but I’m just an employee. The Bosses want a cost effective design and fast. So if we follow the all the guidelines as written, we would be finished. Say for example we  stack top -soil ; with the project taking 3 years to build do you really want us to maintain the top-soil and follow all those mandatory points and jack up the cost of construction? Get real man.We do what is minimum required for documentation purpose. Can’t follow all the rules all the time. We architects need to deliver, unlike you who have loads of money and don’t have the pressure to work and earn a living” – he said mockingly. Somewhere in his eyes I could see the designer who had visualised  a classic sustainable design, but it got quickly extinguished by the sound of his blackberry phone ringing.

The Client has sent back the good for construction design; they want some changes. It seems that they have just hired a new guy who will be in-charge of this project. Had worked in Dubai on tall buildings. Says the new additions will make the building have more saleable area.” – he said while folding and stacking up a neat bundle of size A-0, fine quality drawing sheets. ” Here take this for your baby daughter to draw, with the changes asked all these drawings are defunct.”

“Could you not have sent them soft copies? I mean, till all the drawings are frozen, why do you guys start building ? Have your client not have heard of 3-D walk through and all the modern design ideas. Buddy, I even wrote an article on it. Green Business Ideas : Virtual World Design can save the real world losses. Did you read it ? – I cried out.

“Ha ha ! You are a very funny guy. Your virtual design ideas are just that – ideas for the virtual world.  Welcome to the real world buddy. Here we still work in the  most practical and economical manner, with high degree of efficiency and work ethics. – He rose to leave, turned and said – “nice talking to you. Don’t mind, you are a good guy but your ideas are a little foolish. There is no such thing as Sustainable construction.”

He walked away. I got up and put back the CD, I had got for him to view the SREX  report and the Stern Review. Which gives the horrifying view of a World hurtling towards destruction of the  life-style we all know and live in. And all due to human induced Climate change.

Yes! there is no such thing as Sustainable Construction….not until we have a Fukushima happening on our very own land. And then perhaps a few more would be required. After all we are a large land mass, with an equally large population. The death of a few thousand …it’s just statistics. Easy to forget.

 

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Green Business Ideas – Using Solar Panels as Glass Facade can reduce Heat Island Effect in Cities and earn LEED credits


glass facade

In the past week I was interviewed by two News media both electronic & print which were very excited about a report by scientists from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) India,  on Glass Façade Buildings in the City of Mumbai, India  and how it is raising the overall temperature by more than 17° C in the surrounding area of the building. Although it could be true, one must explore about how this problem be addressed without making ‘glass’ a bad building material. Things are not always black or white, therefore I would use this as an opportunity to once more showcase how Sustainable Cities  could be planned.

Glass has been a tradition building material for eons now. Colored glass was found from the Babylonian era and some of the most beautiful Churches and Cathedrals draw their prime beauty from the Stained Glass murals. Glass is the only single medium which allows the external environment into the room in a controlled fashion. Which means one can enjoy rain, snow or bellowing wind swaying the tree tops without getting wet or cold and having that curly lock of hair firmly in place.

Yet uncontrolled use of glass can create problems, such as raising the ambient temperature of the city/town and making it warmer. While extensive use of glass in building façade may be considered a good thing to counter the harsh winter experienced in the temperate regions of the World, it is foolish in Hot climes.

The reasons are simple. The word ‘Green House‘ originally meant ( before Global warming became popular) a glass house which kept the temperature warmer than the freezing  European cold and let some plants & vegetables grow. This happens because the heat from the Sunlight gets trapped within the space by the default property of glass.

While this is good for designing a building in say Norway or Alaska, where every drop of Sunlight would bring in the warmth and perhaps help save in reduction of energy consumption required for district heating, the same principle would require enormous amount of  district cooling which otherwise would have been normal in case of a hot and humid city like Mumbai or any other city with similar climatic conditions. And those large  water-cooled Air-conditioning plants placed on the roof tops to cool the buildings do so by pumping cool air inside the buildings while sucking the hot air away and out into the surrounding atmosphere. So a total glass building would not only throw more hot air out into the cityscape it would also use more water to cool itself. Yes, there is air cooled A/c plants too and high-efficiency COP’s have the ‘Green’ label attached but it too consumes energy and heats the sorrounding it however saves on water. Only the most well designed and high-end commercial glass façade buildings conform to all Sustainability criteria. But it does not hold true for all.

Therefore while the building may look swanky and very western, I would caution the tenant in buying space there as their energy bills could shoot up. Moreover by default of design constrains, its cheaper to make the Glass Facade buildings near hermetically sealed. Further no one would want the Air conditioned space to get warm because of a leak in the window casing.

Now the above observations lead to some unique problems for India or for any Emerging Economy in the Third World with similar climatic conditions.

First is the heat & dust. Not only does glass buildings get warmer inside it turns ugly on the outside too because of the perpetual dust. And once the commercial buildings are sold it becomes the building owner association responsibility to take care of maintenance. Maintaining tall glass façade building does not come cheap. It requires a whole new engineering solution, such as façade cleaning lifts and trained people to do it.

Second, we are a ’emerging economy’. Which means only a few rich & super rich have the luxury of having uninterrupted power. Rest are routinely treated with planned load shedding / power cuts and have to generate their own power through fossil fuel smoke belching  Diesel generators. In case of longer duration of power failure, rationing is done to cut cost and even the generators are shut down. And in this case one has no choice but to sit in airless rooms breathing Carbon –Di– Oxide exhaled by the neighboring colleague and hoping to survive the day.

Third, in smaller Tier -II & III towns and even the cheaper business districts within the megalopolis  the buildings only ape the Glass Facade exterior with no  Fire Safety Norms as a priority, and are built by unscrupulous Builder developers who themselves are an ignorant lot along with little or no understanding of EHS ( Environment – Health – Safety ) nor it is understood by the general public. ( the whole of India has only 2-3 dedicated burns center, one in Mumbai. New Delhi has none. However thousands die each year through burn related accidents) . So Glass buildings which are not designed well may lead to catastrophe in case of fire. Further as some are built right upon the road-side in high density areas, during Earthquake or other calamities, it may only compound the problems further with razor-sharp glass falling all over. True the glass have built-in safety feature to shatter into small bits but bad fixing and poor quality glass do not perform as intended.

Business and Scientific report do not go hand in hand. But  Science must be heeded if Business is to thrive. Global warming and its associated risks are too well documented to be ignored.  ( read my article for details:  Climate change – the most significant emerging risks facing the world today ) If the City of Mumbai or any city with similar climatic conditions continues to grow in this fashion and Glass façade buildings become norm and not exception, we are looking at a serious problem.

So we come to the question of what would the Developers and the Public do post reading the NEERI report ? Will tall glass façade building vanish from the cityscape? No chance.

But saving Mumbai ( and other cities ) is a must. Therefore here I will present an alternate thought which the Glass manufactures like ASAI, MODI etc along with the Solar PV manufacturers would I hope discuss over cocktail & dinner and come back with great Eco Ideas which would at least help reduce the problem of Heat Island Effect. And for this we must look at BIPV.

CIS Tower, Manchester

Image via Wikipedia

Building Integrated Photo voltaic (BIPV) has been around for sometime. It produces electricity and can also act as a Glass Facade. (As the image to the right shows, the dark blue glazing with a logo on top )  Now this is an option which has not been explored to its full potential in India and the rest of the World because of the cost verses production of electricity. It is generally understood that BIPV which is still in its nascent stage needs to develop further to truly become the choice for Architects and Builders to consider using it as an alternative to Glazed Building. This can happen only when the cost of the product becomes near equal to that of conventional Double Glazing Unit ( DGU ) which we see all around the city of Mumbai. However we can speed up this process by simply bringing in the economy of scale.

So how does one bring about this economy of scale? Simple, by introducing the Green building concepts which require the use of Solar Power or Green Energy. Both in the TERI – GRIHA  and IGBC -LEED certification process require  to bring energy efficiency of about 14% to the Building Envelope ( skin of the building; the outermost wall /glass surface ) which  at times design constrain and economic factors make  very difficult to deliver. Further Green Building Norms also ask for 10% of the total building energy be drawn from Solar Power. This too, is difficult due to unavailability of required roof-top space in certain cases.

BIPV

Now BIPV  are SPV  (solar photo voltaic) patches of  modules which is sandwiched  between glass.  It not only produces electricity but also reduces the amount of Sunlight from entering the building which is known as the SHG factor for glass ( Solar Heat Gain). So this can act like ceramic frit-glass, which too is an architectural favorite as it has lower SHG factor  and yet have dual function. Further in the Green Building rating system one looks for high SRI  (surface reflective index) content to reduce the heat island effect. Glass has high SRI index. So it reflects more sunlight away and what could have entered the building unhindered gets caught and converted into energy by the SPV cells. So another LEED credit point, credit interpretation could be sought jointly by the SPV as well as the Glass manufacturers.

Now as more and more buildings all around the world are opting for LEED Certification ( Leadership in Energy and Environment Design ), the above two credit points would fit well into the scheme of things. But this may not be enough to reduce the cost of  BIPV. Therefore we can adapt the idea which I have explained (in the article – Green Business Ideas : Cheap Solar Power is possible  ) earlier to manufacture cheaper BIPV’s  and yet creating space for newer research & development. Therefore what NEERI published as a problem can be solved by scientific ways and high-end engineering which follows the basic principles of Sustainable Building Design. And who knows one day we may have enough BIPV clad Green Buildings just as the above French building ( click on image ) which would help further reduce the enormous Carbon Footprint each City has, to make a safer Earth with better business ideas.

 

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