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Business As Usual – a sure-fire guide to kill Sustainable Development Goals.


“Only Rupees Two ?. What about the rent of my roof ? With Mumbai realty prices starting at Rupees 6000/ feet square, I only get to save Rs.2 per KW on my electrical consumption and that too for a measly 20years ? A minimum of Rs 4 should be considered. After all it will be installed on my roof and it makes perfect business sense to bargain for more. After all the investor is doing this for profit and not for charity. It must be business as usual for him.”

With EPC for solar hovering at 8.5 Crore  shaving Rs. 4 out of 10 left us with a number which no investor who is not a buccaneer would touch and no banker would believe in. Especially when the user, does not have to pay a single Paise for the Engineering – Procurement – Construction (EPC) or pay for its Operation & Maintenance (O&M)  of the Solar power plant, but just consume the power produced for the full period of 20 years. And the Return on Investment comes via the tariff the user pays monthly, adjusted over the length of the contract.

In my effort to save the planet from global warming, I was pleasantly surprised when a few RESCO ( renewable energy service company ) approached me with the idea of applying Solar Photovoltaic as an alternate day-time energy source for large commercial establishments. It was like manna from heaven. What more could a practising LEED / GRIHA consultant want ? It would make all my buildings much more “greener” than the other green buildings. It was like a dream come true. Thus I ventured out to increase the ambition of my clients to go for Green Building certification, comforted by the fact that I would accrue more points on the certification scale with use of all that is possible with Solar Power.

Little did I know, that no one would be interested in utilizing such opportunity unless they could bargain for more. It is a typical tendency of all Human today. We always seek more. Even in death we seek more. While our ashes would hardly fill a small Urn, we like to have a few hectare of land as memorial. Everybody wants to build the Taj Mahal; the largest tomb-stone of this planet.

Capitalism and Greed ruled then. It rules now. The only difference is that the Emperor did not have to worry about Global Warming and sinking of the landmass under the sea !

It is therefore imperative that the Business As Usual model changes. Nations must act in unison to delete the present Capitalist meaning of Business as Usual. Simply because we are living in unusual times. This trend is evident even at the UNFCCC meets, which have now become more of a tour operators delight and the host country which wins the next round of meeting, prepares like one does after winning the Olympics, to rake in the moolah that would come from packed hotels; a sure-fire way to end the lean seasons of a city. And the repeated failure to come into concrete agreements since the Copenhagen Summit only lays credence to the alleged fact.

People follow the path shown by their leaders. When industry captains and world leaders apply the fundamentals of capitalism and have through that applications benefited self and the Nation in the past, it is hard for the common man not to practice it in one form or the other. In India, since Independence we have followed and still follow the L1 format. Everything has to be sasta-sunder-majboot ( cheap & best ). That we have a major scam a day and still considered 3rd world proves that we are wrong and horribly so. A few shiny glass buildings in 4 metropolis does not change the facts. All an unbeliever needs to do, is come to Mumbai and while staying in any tall-building wish not to spot slum & squalor. His/her prayers would not be answered.

It is therefore necessary for the leaders to take the responsibility of preaching the SREX Report and also the (IWR) Inclusive Wealth Report in our collective bid to forward the Sustainable Development Goals. (SDG)

Millennium Development Goals Postcards

Millennium Development Goals Postcards (Photo credit: US Mission Geneva)

The Eight paths towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)

  1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
  2. Achieving universal primary education,
  3. Promoting gender equality and empowering women,
  4. Reducing child mortality rates,
  5. Improving maternal health,
  6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
  7. Ensuring environmental sustainability, and
  8. Developing a global partnership for development

Which one can achieve by applying the SDG’s charter

  • Action-oriented
  • Concise
  • Easy to communicate
  • Limited in number
  • Aspirational
  • Global in nature
  • Universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.

Till now MDG has hardly percolated to the leaves just below the bud, forget reaching the grass-root.

The way I understand it, the Goal – Ensuring Environmental Sustainability should be the first and foremost focus. It needs to be action oriented and not conference oriented. Because conference by default don’t help in communicating easily. It is meant for the class not mass. And the class already aware of the subject are achieving almost everything as envisioned as long as it serves their narrow interest . It is the pace which is hardly comforting even if one accounts for the narrow interest oriented improvements the agenda of the rich promote.

How difficult would it be for the United Nations, to communicate directly to millions of internet users on a sustained basis and engage them on an one-to-one conversation to partake in Sustainable practice? Which directly benefit them, and thus allow them to make informed choices. How difficult is it that the World leaders come together and de-link the process of sustainable living and its practical methods from the BAU model as practised in the present flawed market system ? Why should the IRR (internal rate of return) and RoI (return on investment) be calculated based on a flawed capitalist system where profit always means self aggrandisement?

Why cant the World Bank and Economists innovate the datum through which sustainable tools and its products get measured for its RoI against the IWR ?

The logic is as follows. Should say, the Government of India decide that following MDG goal # 7 – all Buildings, Factories and Commercial  establishments opt for Renewable energy, as viable depending on the location, these are perhaps a few things that is bound to happen.

A) As the power consumption through fossil fuel would reduce, the pressure on the exchequer too would reduce. This is because we can import less oil. Now with the saved petro-dollars the government can implement all the social up-liftment programmes namely MDG goal 1; 2; 4; 5 & 6.

B) Large Hydle-powered dams would not be needed to be built any more and the lush green ecosystem which along with a few hundred villages, and with it the future of villagers would not have to sink into oblivion. This would directly save many from abject poverty and migration to cities to increase the size of slums. In fact the villagers could benefit by having some electricity themselves and improve their lot as mentioned in my earlier article Green Building Ideas:Using Solar panels as roofing sheet instead of asbestos. while the government benefits further.

C) While promoting gender equality requires the discipline and sobriety fast disappearing from our political class, as evident from the comments they have given on media in recent and not so recent incidents of crime against women. Empowering women can also be possible through use of RE, a few ideas on them can be found in my article Renewable Energy – Empowering Women & Saving Forests.And through this too, as explained in the article the government can save on cross-subsidy and full-fill its promises for uplifting its countrymen.

It is business as usual for one political party not to allow an individual politician form a competing party to implement a good idea, which has mass appeal. Simply because in the next round of election the statesman may win against the politician.

Perhaps at the end of 1000 days in 2015, we will know whether we really achieved what was envisaged in the MDG or we still have to look beyond for the Future We Want.

 

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Eco-Construction – Making a Mazdar of Mumbai


Eco-construction would be most successful when India would allow through it rating systems international participation of Nations. Rather than allowing developers to take part in building its future cities with a narrow perspective. In doing so, India shall harbinger dual benefit. The Western Nations can bring in the technical expertise and discipline which India lacks in Infrastructure building, while India would be able to offer the west with the much-needed business to boost its economy into the right trajectory.

The word Sustainable is all-encompassing. In this all stake holders must have equal participation. It is only then that the Future Cities which we need to build would be Climate responsive. When you walk down Mazdar city, the first thing that strikes you is its Architecture. Arab and responsive to that climate. One of the greatest sustainable city in the world chose indigenous design inspirations to create a city of the future.

The world over, especially in the Western cities of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London or Paris, one does not find buildings which resemble the Indian Architecture. Barring in Las Vegas where a casino looks like the Taj Mahal, not one architect tries to copy an Indian design.  But, walking the streets of Mumbai, Delhi and the entire upcoming Metropolises in India, one would find unabashed and sometime baseless copy of designs western.

Things have come to such pass, in the effort to outdo each other that prime Developers in India, hire the biggest and the best Architectural house in the World. In all this local Architects and Engineers who partner them learn the craft of excellent western design, while indigenous craft suffers a silent death.

The City of Mumbai

Glass façade is the new ‘in’ look for the architectural landscape of Mumbai but may spell doom for its environment and safety, warn scientists from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). Researchers who set out to study the environmental impact of such structures found that temperatures at one glass façade building peaked as high as 17 degrees Celsius more than its surrounding areas. This was a report in Jan 2012 in one of the leading News papers.

What is most intriguing is that India which has 5 different climatic zones should be an architect’s delight. Simply because they can hone their craft in designing Climate responsive buildings and townships in the climatic zones and not using the standard monotonous design they ape form the west.

While the present designs by it-self are par excellence, they in the long run would turn out to be harmful to the surrounding must be understood by the town planner, developers and designers alike.

It is time EcoConstruction takes root in every state across the Nation.

What must be the parameters of such development? The answers are both simple and complex at the same time. Simple because, we already knew how to design indigenously before globalization happened. And complex because we need to adapt the design method to the ambition and aspirations of the people living in the 21st Century.

Therefore while inspiration can be sought from the great Palaces of the past, they need to cater to the needs and comforts of the modern times. And even when an inspiration may look wonderful, caution must be applied when adopting it because one must remember that some of the features and materials used may not be advisable in the resource depleted present.

So how does one proceed towards creating awareness in Eco Construction? The first step would be to heed the advice of those who know. The greats like Nari Gandhi and Laurie Baker and several more whose legendary designs still rule the hearts and minds of every architecture student in India must be revisited.

We have some of the finest design and building materials which HUDCO has over the years advised upon but sadly due to the market economics and lack of support from various stakeholders, adaptation and propagation of the science of building better is still at its nascent stage.

This leads us to the next best thing available. Over the past few years India has seen an exponential increase in awareness to Energy Efficient Building design, popularly known as Green Buildings. Two rating systems, the MNRE (Ministry of New & Renewable Energy)  driven GRIHA and the CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) driven LEED.  Under both this building rating system, the matrix is designed to cater to some of the most pertinent resource deficiencies. Water, Electricity & building materials have been given its due importance.

However in real practice their presence as of now is too small to impact abatement to climate change. Therefore we need true Eco-construction which applies logical progression to design and development of a project in mass which is understood by the sundry and evolved alike.

It must begin with identifying areas for development of new township on the basis of the topography of land, its bio-diversity management and it must be resource efficient.

Let’s for example we identify a few hundred hectares of land for development, as is done by CIDCO in their plan to make Navi Mumbai. What would be ideal for the town planners is, should they get similar opportunity, they must partner with TERI-GRIHA or CII-IGBC to survey the land and chalk out a master plan for the best use of the total land.

If natural elevations and catchments are looked at from the start, large rain-water harvesting tanks which would double up as common recreation centre could be built. More in the lines of the famous stepped well in the state of Gujrat. The municipal water thus collected could then reach by gravity to the under-ground storage tanks of each building to be built, augmenting their own rain-water harvesting tanks. Thus self-sufficiency in water can be achieved. And for it to remain so, the town’s development density must remain below the maximum water usage parameter by 25%, thus insuring water supply during low rain-fall years.

The next Eco-construction is proper use of available building materials on site. Rocks and soil excavation should be done under a common program where the municipal authorities arrange for transport and reuse of any extra material which a developer of an individual plot may produce. Thus stones could be used as crushed sand reducing pressure on river sand excavation which is a major cause of concern. Further, any fertile top soil or most of the top soil should be collected into a common pool and brought into a previously de-marked zone where they can be used for terraced agricultural farming. This would enable the topsoil from the building foot-prints to be stacked vertically and even with the land use change, dual benefits of agriculture and construction can co-exist.

The reason for this suggestion is because if left to individual developers, practical issues of storage and later use of soil becomes a problem, especially in smaller plots. And as of the rocks, the cost and non-availability of required quantity from crushing rocks found within the plot area makes the suggestion of crushed sand a non-practical one.

The other important issue is building guidelines and adherence to the master plan. Eco-construction would be a success only if the complete infrastructure master plan orients itself to the geography of the zone and town-plan is made as per the topography of the area. It must spread from the macro management to the micro management of each sector demarcated. Otherwise one would find that even after putting in efforts at the master planning and creating guidelines, the final outcome is a mix of bad design and execution which is completely detrimental to the spirit of Eco-construction.

Finally to have successful eco-construction awareness of all stake holders is must. The advantages of retaining bio-diversity and having a balanced eco-system while developing newer areas for human habitation must be explained to all in a sustained manner of a long period of time.

One must bear in mind that the building industry is the largest consumer of all other sectors of the industrialized world, it consumes steel, cement, sand at the basic level and wood, aluminium, glass, textile, leather, paint etcetera and the finishing level. What is most striking is that almost all materials used in a modern building is mined, extracted or harvested for the Earth natural resources. This natural resource in its pristine form usually has a GREEN cover. There is usually a lush green forest or meadow full of beautiful green grass & flowers swaying in the cool breeze before the Bulldozer comes in and rips it apart to extract – iron ore, or axes chop down the trees and huge hydro-power dams flood the region and the beautiful scenic valley is under water, never to be seen again. So we destroy this green.

The environmental movement might be said to have begun centuries ago as a response to industrialization. As universal concern about the healthy and sustainable use of the planet and its resources continued to grow, the UN, in 1972, convened the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm. While many laws have been passed over a time for industrial pollution, vehicular pollution etcetera, it was soon recognized that the construction activity also needs to have its act cleaned up.

In the words of World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) the building sector could reduce its GHG emissions by 30–35 per cent by 2050 on an economical basis. Economic in this context means that the initial costs would be offset — and in many cases be more than offset — by subsequent energy savings over time. The potential for increased energy efficiency in the building sector has been estimated through a bottom up analysis to identify energy efficiency opportunities in the building sector. For the potential energy efficiency investments a much wider range of options exits. This set, however, generally represents the diversity of existing, mature technologies.

Such codes are best accomplished through collaboration between governments and the building sector, with governments providing regulatory oversight, enforcement and financial support for passive designs, active technologies and disciplines proposed by business. To achieve an energy-efficient world, governments, businesses and individuals must transform the building sector through a multitude of actions, which include increasing energy awareness globally. New buildings that will use more energy than necessary are being built every day, and millions of today’s inefficient buildings will remain standing in 2050.

We must start now to aggressively reduce energy use in new and existing buildings to reduce the planet’s energy-related carbon footprint by 77%, or 48 gigatonnes (against the 2050 baseline), to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations at the level called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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